Hard for some of us to believe, but the first Rainbow studio album – generally referred to as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – is forty years old this month. It’s an album which perhaps gets overlooked in the light of the astonishing follow up, yet nevertheless had an important place in the history of Deep Purple and of course the guitarist himself.
At the time we were all quite (!) excited at the idea of a Blackmore solo album, a chance for him to stretch out and show off, to capitalise on the incredible playing he had exhibited during the 1974 Deep Purple tour. Rock, blues, whatever – anything seemed possible. This level of excitement, fuelled by the breathless studio updates in Sounds, perhaps made the disappointment more intense. The first issue of what became the DTB fanzine carried a review from one of our contributors (a big Blackmore fan) which seemed to echo these feelings, and pointing out how often Blackmore fell back on the Smoke backing for his ideas! Even David Coverdale seemed thrown, having like the rest of us expected much more, and writing it off in a contemporary interview as sub-standard Deep Purple.
Polydor put plenty of work into the album; there was loads of press promotion, full page adverts, incredible shop window displays and in-store posters. And it sold fairly well, yet in many ways the album struggled to satisfy the differing demands placed on it. Apart from those of us wanting a guitar showcase, the project evolved from a one-off single, to a solo album and then a new full-blown band project. Along the way compromises were certainly made. We got a couple of cover versions, one or two attempts at a commercial single, and then a mix of hard rock and laid back material which showed promise. Even the production was skewed, with Blackmore subsumed for far too much of the time and by the time it was finished, having already decided the musicians mostly had to go (with the keyboards largely buried even before the album came out). By then there was no time or budget to go back and rework it, the album had to sink or swim.
Personally I would have relegated Black Sheep Of The Family to a single only track, and downgraded If You Don’t Like Rock & Roll (which was too much like an Elf out-take really) to the status of b-side. Still I’m Sad needed to be reworked as a massive instrumental set closer rather than the badly mixed version we get (which on the CD gives more importance to the effing cow-bell than the guitar). Even on stage this failed to properly develop into the mid-set showcase it deserved to be, and was largely thrown away amidst the end of set madness. Overall the LP could have done with one other guitar heavy piece to bulk the album out and knock us dead. Perhaps even the idea of bringing the introspective material together on one side; imagine Catch The Rainbow and Temple Of The King extended and linked to form one amazing sequence in the way they did Stargazer / Light on the second album? Older fans noted nods towards Soldier of Fortune on the latter and Hendrix on the former, but despite that these tracks still managed to offer something new and promising.
The heavier tracks all seem to be shortened on purpose, trying to keep them more commercial, when there was no great need. It was only ever going to be the fans who rushed out and bought this album on release. Longer cuts with more guitar would have worked, and if singles were needed, just trim them down for 45s afterwards. As it was most of these numbers only began to fully demonstrate their potential once done live.
But despite the issues and compromises, there is still plenty to make Rainbow’s debut worth checking out and on the heavier side Man On The Silver Mountain, C16 Greensleeves, Snake Charmer and Self Portrait all have something about them, and it’s fascinating to listen to these now and remember what came next when Ritchie found his feet, and a band who could take it up a level (though for me there is no doubt Elf were up to it given the right circumstances – you only have to listen to their final album Trying To Burn The Sun to see that). Curiously the sleeve seemed to sum up the project; a great idea but poorly executed. Imagine that design done by Frank Frazetta?
Collectors – should look for the original UK Oyster label edition, a great pressing, and only available for a couple of years. Pension fund managers – should seek out the ultra rare Purple Records edition from New Zealand. Those who have gone digital – well, I personally prefer the older CD issue. The remaster from a few years ago is very clipped and too loud, but it’s about all there is, the album never made it to the Universal deluxe series. There is no doubt that the album has long been in need of a really sympathetic remix now that it no longer needs to fit the moment, though whether anyone even knows where the masters are these days seems uncertain (never mind would the man himself allow such work.)