Rainbow: Live in Munich 1977

At the core of the live set is Ritchie Blackmore, one of music's often overlooked guitar wizards, plying his trade and making it all look so easy.


Live in Munich 1977

Label: Eagle Records
US Release Date: 2006-06-13

History has not been particularly kind to Ritchie Blackmore. Arguably rock's first guitar virtuoso, Blackmore planted the seeds that were to sprout everyone from Yngwie to Satriani, and was the creative force behind the tremendous commercial success of Deep Purple. Despite such an impressive resume, Blackmore is rarely mentioned in conversations dominated by the likes of Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, and Tony Iommi. Such an oversight borders on criminal, as Blackmore was a veritable tour de force during the '70s and into the '80s, and a prime influence for the generation of metal gunslingers that followed. And while Purple's legacy is firmly cemented on rock's regular playlist, it is Blackmore's Rainbow that remains a rare gem, seemingly forgotten to time.

What started as the foundation for a solo excursion away from Deep Purple, Rainbow became a massively popular touring and recording entity for nearly a decade. Though plagued by Purple-esque lineup changes through its duration, Blackmore's post-Purple project afforded the guitarist ample artistic freedom, and gave him complete control. By the time the Live in Munich concert was recorded in October 1977, Blackmore had guided the band through a pair of strong albums (1975's Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and 1976's Rising) and a lengthy world tour. Rising's critical acclaim came largely from Blackmore being complemented by vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Cozy Powell, and the three rock veterans formed the nucleus of a band that was heavier and tighter than just about anything else at the time. Though Dio was to depart a year after Live in Munich, Rainbow is most closely identified with his relatively brief tenure.

Musically, Live in Munich 1977 is as fine a concert album as there is. It catches Rainbow at its peak over two discs, and contains all the necessary elements for a superb recording: crisp production, ear-piercing vocals, and of course, Blackmore's monster guitar work. Most interesting is the ease with which Rainbow shifts gears and morphs itself into various incarnations, seamlessly blending everything from speed metal to classical orchestration. The soaring Purple-esque opener, "Kill the King", stands in stark contrast to the brooding extended jam of "Mistreated", yet the two fit together flawlessly to commence Disc 1. Similarly, the aptly titled "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" offers up some standard metal fare, replete with medieval imagery and Blackmore's dabbling in centuries-old classical snippets. The 17+ minute "Catch the Rainbow" continues to showcase Rainbow's dexterity; the band stretches out in a lengthy, and sometimes directionless, exploration (with the obligatory gargantuan guitar solo) closely following the live Zeppelin-Floyd template. The disc closes with "Long Live Rock'n'Roll"; juxtaposed against the preceding four songs, the rollicking, up-tempo track rolls along with ease, and features a spirited Dio-led sing-along.

As much as Disc 1 represents textbook '70s heavy rock, Disc 2 epitomizes overwhelming bombast and artistic self-indulgence. "Man on the Silver Mountain" is a quarter-of-an-hour hodgepodge, much of which features a clash between Blackmore's Stratocaster and Dio's magnificent vocals, with David Stone's keyboards acting as referee. At the song's midpoint (following Blackmore's soloing) a blues jam materializes out of nowhere, and ambles confidently along for three minutes; it is so startlingly Hendrix-like, one would be hard pressed to think Blackmore had not decided to move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over.

And then Armageddon arrives …

"Still I'm Sad" begins ominously, with Lon Chaney and his pipe organ (from the 1925 film, Phantom of the Opera) being channeled on stage. Four minutes pass, then Blackmore unleashes his most compelling work on the album, with Dio surfing wave after wave of furious riffing. Blackmore downshifts slightly, then segues into a completely divergent groove, picking and strumming his way through a Christmas carol/hymnal hybrid, leading his cohorts into several minutes of genuine head trip fodder. Stone's keyboard takes over once again, and paves the way for Powell's drum solo. Up until this point in the set, Powell had pounded away in relative anonymity, but augmented by a cacophony of cathedral bells and invisible symphony chiming in, his featured moment behind the kit is jaw-dropping in its intensity and production, and exhausting to simply listen to. Twenty minutes into the song, the end could have been expected, but Dio retakes the helm for the remaining five-minute push, eventually bringing the epic performance to a close. Yet despite the magnitude of "Man on the Silver Mountain" paired with "Still I'm Sad" on the live audience, Rainbow still had a final 9:37 rendition of "Do You Close Your Eyes" left in its arsenal. It is a full-blown assault, with Dio's voice as strong as it was an hour earlier, and Blackmore's six-string precision guiding the band with calculated abandon.

Overall, Live in Munich 1977 is an exquisite twin-disc set documenting one of Rainbow's best, and most storied, concerts. It bears sufficient residual Purpleness to appease hardcore DP aficionados, but is far enough removed for Rainbow loyalists. It also serves as a fascinating blueprint of Blackmore's past and present (as of 1977), while also showing glimpses of the guitarist's future commitment to medieval stringed music. Nearly 30 years after its original recording, Live in Munich 1977 still resonates as an impressive hard rock performance. And at the core of the live set is Ritchie Blackmore, one of music's often overlooked guitar wizards, plying his trade and making it all look so easy.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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