Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rainbow - Rising (1976)

Rising, released in 1976, was the second album released by the hard rock band Rainbow. While the album is not very well known outside of hard-core fans today, it was an extremely important album for the history and development of the hard rock and heavy metal genres. The album played a key role in launching the careers of certain band members, and even served as one of the primary inspirations for an entire sub-genre of music.

Rising was release approximately one year after Rainbow's debut album. The band was originally billed as "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow" ostensibly due to the fact that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (formerly of Deep Purple) was by far the most famous member of the group. Some would argue that Rainbow really began as Ritchie Blackmore's solo project that took on a life of it's own. By the time they released Rising, Blackmore's name was dropped from the title, and the band was officially billed as "Rainbow".

Their 1975 debut was a result of a personal rift between Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan within Deep Purple. Ritchie struck out on his own, and recruited most of the members from the band Elf, who frequently played as Deep Purple's opening act- including Elf's dynamic (and soon to be well known) singer, Ronnie James Dio. After their initial album, Blackmore replaced the entire band, except for Dio with new members who would record their follow-up album, Rising, in 1976.

The Rising linup consisted of Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) on guitar, Ronnie James Dio (Elf, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets), Cozy Powell (Jeff Beck Group, Bedlam) on drums, Tony Carey on keyboards, and Jimmy Bain on Bass. Blackmore and Dio were the songwriting team- they wrote only six songs for the album, however, two of them, "Stargazer" and "A Light in the Black" were epic-length pieces in excess of eight minutes apiece. "Stargazer" also included orchestral parts provided by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

Blackmore's guitar style represents a fusion of the blues and classical music. The story goes that his father agreed to buy him his first guitar under the condition that he take classical guitar lessons. An interest in rock music naturally brings in a blues influence- which permeated, and even defined most early rock music. In his tenure with Deep Purple, the blues influence was far more prevalent, however, with Rainbow, Blackmore chose to bring his early classical training more to the forefront.

Ronnie James Dio, now a heavy metal legend, had experience as a doo-wop singer, and later, with Elf, blues based rock. Dio claimed to have never had formal vocal training, and credited his powerful, almost operatic, voice to good breathing technique learned while playing the French Horn as a schoolkid. Similar to Blackmore, his musical background spanned both traditional blues-rock, and more classical influences.

The first side of this album (yes, back in 1976 they were still actual vinyl albums that you had to flip over halfway through!) features four (relatively) shorter songs that are more straightforward hard rock. Two of these tracks "Tarot Woman" and "Run With the Wolf" feature somewhat fantasy-oriented lyrics, while "Starstruck" and "Do You Close Your Eyes" are more traditional hard rock songs with more mainstream lyrics.

The second side is where things really get interesting. The two tracks that make up the second side- "Stargazer" and "A Light in the Black" are really a two-movement epic story that boldly fuses hard rock with classical music, and even incorporates middle eastern style passages in their characteristic harmonic minor key signatures. The overall structure, flow and thematic elements are a blend of equal parts "sword and sorcery" fantasy literature, and progressive rock. This unusual blend of ideas makes Rainbow's early work difficult to classify - in terms of style, they seem to be most easily defined as a hard rock band, but they also bring in elements associated with the early heavy metal movement, and the progressive rock movement.

"Stargazer" and "A Light in the Black" follow a story that seems to be loosely based on the mythical "Flight of Icarus" story combined with ideas taken from biblical "Tower of Babel." In the Dio/Blackmore piece, the story is largely told from the point of view of people enslaved by a "wizard" who has an insane dream of flying to the stars. This "wizard" already built a wing that can allow him to fly, but to reach the stars he will need a very high place to take off from. To do this, he has his slaves build a tower tall enough to reach the stars in the middle of the desert. In the end, the tower is built, and the "wizard" attempts his flight, only to meet dismal failure when he falls to the ground- revealing himself to be not some magical, powerful figure, but simply a regular man with a crazy idea. "Stargazer" also seems to imply that the "slaves" are actually willing participants with the lyric /We built a tower of stone/With our flesh and bone/Just to see him fly/. The song ends with the "slaves" wondering what to do next - implying that the "wizard's" failure leaves them without purpose with the lyric /Now where do we go./

"A Light in the Black" continues the story, and appears to focus on how the "slaves" deal with this sudden loss of purpose- /All my life it seems/Just a crazy dream/Reaching for somebody's star/. The song features a fast tempo, and long keyboard and guitar solos that trade off- and seem to represent this conflicted attitude. In the end, the "slaves" journey back to their homes to pick up where they left their lives off before becoming involved in the "wizard's" mad plan- /Something's calling me back/Like a light in the black/Yes I'm ready to go/I'm coming home, home/.

Rising, more so than any other album, typifies the style that Ronnie James Dio would go on to explore for the rest of his long and storied career. In 1978, creative differences between Blackmore, who wanted to move in a more commercial, mainstream direction, and Dio, who wanted to explore the fantasy themes and heavier music, parted ways. Ritchie Blackmore continued his long career after successfully transforming Rainbow into a commercial, album-oriented-rock act. Dio followed his own path, bringing his fantasy inspired imagery to the heavy metal world, first with Black Sabbath, then with his own, self titled band. He is often considered one of the most dynamic and influential vocalist in heavy metal and hard rock history, and is frequently cited as the inspiration for the "power metal" movement. Tony Carey went on to perform as a highly sought after session musician involved with numerous projects. Bassist Jimmy Bain went on to a long career performing briefly in several bands before reuniting with Dio's own band in the mid 80s. Cozy Powell also enjoyed a long and storied history after leaving Rainbow with bands such as Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, and E.L.P.

Rainbow was a band known for changing members frequently, but the lineup from the Rising album is the most recognizable one from the band's early years. An attempt, lead by Cozy Powell, to reunite the Rising-era lineup of Rainbow for a reunion tour and possible album was made in the late 90s. The attempt was very close to becoming a reality, as all the key players agreed to the project- most importantly Blackmore and Dio set aside their old differences for a trip back to the old days. Unfortunately, the project was canceled in 1998 after Cozy Powell's unfortunate death in a high-speed car accident.

Rainbow left a lasting legacy on the world of hard rock and heavy metal. It introduced the world to a few amazing talents, and explored a wide variety of styles through it's long history. For me, Rising is still the emblematic Rainbow album- representing the band at it's peak, and with the most long-reaching influences. It established the style elements that would characterize the rest of Ronnie James Dio's career for the next 32 years- until his tragic death from stomach cancer in 2010. It was an important stop in Cozy Powell's career, and through him, spread the band's influence far and wide. With Ritchie Blackmore essentially leaving the world of hard rock to pursue a medieval-folk-rock fusion project called "Blackmore's Night," Rainbow is mostly consigned to a fond memory.

Despite the band fading into the past- in 2009 several former Rainbow members spanning the entire history of the band came together to form an all star tribute band under the name "Over the Rainbow" - this project was the brainchild of singer Joe Lynn Turner- who was with the band during their more mainstream phase in the 80s. Turner enlisted the aid of a guitarist little known outside of Europe named Jurgen Blackmore- Ritchie Blackmore's son from a former marriage. With a Blackmore on-board, other former Rainbow members followed suit- including Rising-era keyboardist Tony Carey. Carey later left the band due to health issues- but managed to survive a particularly bad brush with cancer. "Over the Rainbow" has successfully toured in Europe, performing covers from every phase of the band's history, and may or may not decide to produce new material in the future.

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