Rainbow’s first at forty

A beaten up American original copy on sale this week at Laguna Records; $9.99

A beaten up American original copy on sale this week at Laguna Records; $9.99

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.

The album came out in Japan in October

The album came out in Japan in October

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.

The inner gatefold featured a montage of older photos

The inner gatefold featured a montage of older photos

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.)

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37 Responses to “Rainbow’s first at forty”

  1. Adrian Says:

    Come Taste The Band has withstood the test of time better than this first Rainbow album. CTTB, especially the Shirley remix/remaster pushed the album to all time classic status. Very much underrated when it came out, received a lot of flack, this album, but full of high energy rock an roll. Firing on all cylinders. All musicians are great throughout, Bolin shines! Rainbow’s first album hasn’t aged well. Even when it came it it sounded muddy. 3 good songs, Man on the Silver Mountain was good. Was this shoddy album the reason he left Purple? At least Dio showed promise.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Well yes, no contest between those two for me either. Although I think the Shirley remix butchered it. Apparently EMI refused to put it out they thought the remix was so poor but got pressured into it.

  2. Mohan Thampi Says:

    My impression of the first three albums compared with later day Rainbow was that they were the closest to Deep Purple in song and spirit unlike later incarnations. I recall Paice making a comment that Blackmore left DP saying he wanted to do something new but when Rainbow came out it was similar to what he had been doing with DP. Lyrically and songwise, I thought it was DP meeting Uriah Heep with Blackmore more often playing longer solos and fills to carry the band.

    Interesting to read the liner notes of the Stormbringer remaster that Blackmore was listening to French Christian medieval music in 1974. A few years ago I picked up Volume 2 3-CD set of Frances’s most popular songs in the 20th Century. I was surprised to hear similarities in style of to a number of songs by Blackmore Night’s -. Took 20 years! However, in 1975-78 the iconic Rainbow was heavily influenced by Eastern music -Blackmore incorporated Eastern/Indian scales like he had done in Fireball for the Mule – very strong sitar like guitar playing..

    Talking of “Still I Am Sad” – what about his backup singer Shoshana who did the chorus. Oddly enough when Hurricane Sandy hit New York/New Jersey.in 2012, I was checking up on internet latest news when I remembered Blackmore’s Night had a concert and RB lived in Long Island – a search pops up a long interview with Candace Night who said RB had a home once in Marco Island, Florida, about 25 miles south from where I resided. A quick search up pops Shoshana Fenstein’s name and her web page bio said she sang backing for Rainbow. She is a seasonal resident between New York area and Florida with her parents having retired to Marco Island. Now of all things, there is a road name “Blackmore Court” on Marco Island. No idea if RB was an investor and bought some plots and build a house and got his name on a lane. Marco island is a pricey getaway with many second homes/mansions for the very wealthy along with beach resorts. Use Google Map and check it out and Shoshana web and facebook page. I think her latest song is “Rainbow of Life”.

    Anyway now back to “Still I am Sad” chorus. I was looking at a 1971 Hindi movie called “Hari Krishna Hari Ram” and listening to its hit song “Dum Maro Dum” where the star is smoking pot with hippies in Kathmandu. The chorus of the song is very much similar to the “Still I am Sad” done four years later!! Check it out. On the same theme check out Alanis Morissette’s song “Uninvited” for the 1998 movie, City of Angels – I thought that the song’s instrumental climax was based on “Stargazer” especially the orchestra part!!!

  3. Lee Says:

    Great article, shame about the album. Can’t fault Blackmore’s performance on this or Dio’s, although he hasn’t totally developed the Demonic Roar he is known and loved for at this point, that would come on Rising. However, the rest of the band aren’t great, especially the drummer whose R ‘n’ B plod is more boring than John Bonham’s, if that is possible? So you can see why Blackmore binned them all for the subsequent tour and recording of Rising. Material wise, Black Sheep isn’t as good as the Quatermass original, If You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll is crap, Self Portrait is a great guitar solo within a poor song and The Temple Of The King is just a bit too twee. The rest rocks, but nowhere near as much as the live versions of some of the songs on On Stage with Cozy Powell behind the kit. Such a shame that Cozy wasn’t on this.

  4. Greg Says:

    Is it that long ago I heard Man On The Silver Mountain blaring out over the radio for the first time? That riff knocked me off my feet, classic Blackmore. After I picked myself up I raced into town and bought the album. On first hear I was mildly disappointed with the rest of the album, expecting a whole album of classic Blackmore riffs. Over time I came to appreciate some of the quieter moments on the album, particularly Catch the Rainbow and The Temple Of The King. Both these songs show Ritchie growing creatively and willing to try something different. That cowbell is still very annoying on Still I’m Sad, otherwise its a pretty good instrumental. The rest of the album comes across as a bit of filler, all very competent and well played but not particularly inspired. Despite this the album deserves a place in any Rainbow fans collection.

  5. Mike Sorenson Says:

    hi.. long time reader, first time poster. If this album was ever to be re-mixed, I wonder.. who would they market this to? I mean, those of us that are approaching/ have approached middle age already have this LP. I just can’t see the new/next generation buying a copy. I hope I’m wrong, but still….

    • simon robinson Says:

      I can’t see it happening Mike, as you say sales would be limited anyway, though I feel there is a great album bursting to get out, enough to make people who have the original want to hear it anew.

  6. Dave Stoddard Says:

    I remember the in store display at my old local record shop, if I remember rightly it was the large photo used on the inner sleeve that was housed in a large clear domed display box, only saw it once, very nice tho

  7. Tony B Says:

    It’s good for me to be reminded of the songs I found interesting on the first LP like Snake Charmer, Temple of the King and Self Portrait.

    I think it would be a great idea if the album was remixed from the original tapes to press maybe a limited edition LP from it (and a CD version of it too). I’ve always thought how the production/mix sounded ‘muted’ or restrained for want of a better word.

  8. Bernard Maasdijk Says:

    Nice one, Simon. There is so much wrong with this album and still, for me, the quality of songs and performances shines through the weak production/mix, not up to Martin Birch’s usual standard. I have always liked the studio version of Man On The Silver Mountain and consider the up tempo, extended live version of it as quite a different song altogether. The less said about If You Don’t Like… probably the better. I may be the only person alive who thinks the instrumental Still I’m Sad is great, cow-bell notwithstanding.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Still I’m Sad is pretty good in many ways, but let down by the mix (and that bell!). I can’t blame Martin Birch too much, you can imagine he was pretty much having to do as he was told on the balance.

  9. IAN DOUGLAS Says:

    Love this album and remember so clearly the day I got it!

  10. Jeff Says:

    This album never left my turntable for like two months when it came out. I have always thought that this is the best Rainbow album. If I had to keep only one Rainbow album (and I have them all), this would be the one! Blackmore and Dio are both on record as saying that they felt this was the best album as well. I don’t disagree with some of the comments in the above article especially the criminal mistake in mixing with “Still I’m Sad.” If only the guitar was 10% louder and the cowbell was 10% lower! I think the bass playing was much more interesting (and audible) on this album than ANY other Rainbow album. I think the drummer did a great job and the fills are distinctive and well executed. Clearly Driscoll didn’t have the visual impact of a Cozy Powell so I understand the change, but the contributions of these two individuals are historically under-rated/appreciated. Martin Birch was an amazing producer. This album was very close in sound to the last few Deep Purple albums which in comparison are not as glossy as the production of “Rising.” I think that while Rising had more sheen and power the lack of bass on Rising offsets those positives. Even the album cover of this first Rainbow album is incredible!(I love that image of Blackmore on stage on the inside cover (with the dry ice)…sooo cool. They seemed to have passed right over this album on the “DELUXE EDITIONS” series and that is a major bummer. Does anyone know if the expensive SHM pressings out of Japan make an audible difference? I agree that “If You Don’t Like Rock and Roll” is a throw-away track but so is “Sensitive to Light” (and later “No Time to Lose.”) This was an amazing album and if anyone of importance in the industry can find the masters PLEASE re-release this. Extra songs probably don’t exist but a remix and state-of the Art remaster would be Holy Grail -like.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Nicely put Jeff. I think we were all just expecting far too much from the project at the time, plus it was begun as a solo project and then sort of morphed into a full blown band. But Ritchie should have had the courage of his convictions and stayed with the line-up live for a while.

  11. Neil Cutler Says:

    I was surprised and at the same time intrigued by the comment that Blackmore ‘often fell back on the Smoke backing for his ideas’ for the first Rainbow album.
    Can somebody please elaborate on this with a track breakdown to explain? Thanks.

    • Leftin Says:

      Only one track followed any sort of Smoke… blueprint, and that’s Man on the Silver Mountain – the riff is in the same key (G), and also played in fourths. But Burn, All Night Long, Can’t Happen Here, and possibly Painted Horse, all share those characteristics, and none of them sounds too similar to SotW or each other for comfort. 16th Century Greensleeves, whose riff was written in Mk.2 days, owes nowt to Smoke…

  12. Mike Burnett Says:

    Brilliant article Mr R. It immediately made me want to listen to the album which is not something I’ve done in ages. You are quite right – the album barely gets a look in vs Rising and On Stage in chez Burnett but there is some really good stuff on the album albeit in embryo form. Here’s hoping another anniversary comes up soon as I really enjoyed this article and would welcome more. Especially as it saves me having to rummage in the attic for my old DPAS mags. Although saying that, you’ve put me in the mood for some 79-82 era reading so up the ladder I go!!.

  13. Chris Clark Says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve always preferred the first Rainbow album to the 2nd. Yes, the two epics on side two of Rising are godlike, but side one to me always sounded a bit forced. The first album is a nice, laid back group of songs with a more even track to track quality.

    • simon robinson Says:

      You’re probably right about the shorter stuff on Rising. I must admit I tend to play the live versions when I’m in the mood rather than the studio cuts. Time for a revisit.

  14. Les Hedger Says:

    I remember the little sticker placed on it that stated RB had left Purple. I wonder how this album would have sounded with Lord and Paice on it? What would have happened if, in 1973, Gillan had been replaced by Dio and Glover allowed to stay in the band?

    • simon robinson Says:

      Blimey, there are some ideas to conjure with Les. But even with Lord and Paice, I think the mix issue would have relegated their performances as well.

  15. Kosh Says:

    Fantastic stuff – I personally prefer the debut to LLR&R from the early period. It pales alongside the sonic mastery/majesty of Rising yes, but for me contains some of the best work from TMIB et al.
    I mentioned in a previous post, my feelings re a deluxe version of this album. A proper mix bringing out the buried guitar parts – in particular on MOTSM would be a dream. But the master tapes appear to MIA.
    I still rate Temple of the King as a stunner, and yep – it must have surprised the fan base back in the day – too young to be there! sadly… Greensleeves remains a cracking rock song and I utterly love Self Portrait.
    We all know the songs we skip, but it’s not a bad album and I think I prefer it to LLR&R for what followed it in Rising. LLR&R kills me as Rainbow Eyes fades… what could and should have been! Alas Dio departed and for me the end of the true Blackmore era was very near indeed.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Temple was indeed an astonishing listen when it first appeared. I’d got a decades worth of Blackmore in the collection by then (having dug out loads of his pre-Purple stuff too) but never expected to hear anything like that.

  16. Roy Davies Says:

    Its an album I go back to more these days than I ever did during the 1980s Rainbow era. Self Portrait has gradually become a personal favourite. I agree another track could have made the difference- maybe Kill the King or similar would have been the icing on the cake. A decent remix and a few studio alternates would help put the collection into the right perspective all these years later!

  17. Gabriel Gonzalez Says:

    Amazing album! The best!!

  18. jmst1 Says:

    Yes, I have to agree with the main thrust of your criticism of the album but I still have a lot of affection for it all the same. I expect much of the better memories and feelings rest in pure teen nostalgia and how we felt when first getting our hands on the album. The shiny gatefold was quite wonderful even if the graphic did leave something to be desired. The music? Once the initial thrill of a Blackmore ‘solo’ album faded a little even us total RB fanatics had to feel somewhat deflated – too ‘commercial’, poorly mixed and generally falling between all stools at once. Having said that, listening to it all these years later can be very pleasurable. The contrast with the mighty follow-up makes it feel like a long lost, somewhat hobbled but lovable family member. How I wish I still had the old Oyster original but that got lost in the passage of time. Oh well, the CD will have to do for now. Imagine of someone did do a solid new mix? Could be quite revelatory.

  19. timinox Says:

    A great item, Simon, although I feel like I’ve just read an obituary! You’re bang on about the loud side/quiet side idea. My first Rainbow listen was ‘Rising’, and I seemed to spend most saturdays that year in HMV, looking at this sleeve and wondering what the contents would sound like – and was of course disappointed when I finally had enough lolly to buy it – a very rare ‘from new’ purchase for me in those cash strapped days. I liked ‘Still I’m Sad’ from first listen (and by then had heard ‘On Stage’ so was thrown by the lack of vocal!), but found most of the rest very limp, the exception being Catch the Rainbow – for me this version is truly majestic. IF you can find the masters I’d be very happy to create an extended version of this for you – and of course find out why RB left off the vocal on ‘Sad’ – I bet the vocal track is there, but has been accidentally set to ‘mute’!

  20. Gary Critcher Says:

    I still have both the album and the single (MOTSM) on vinyl on Oyster Records – quiz: where did they get THAT name from??

    • simon robinson Says:

      Oyster? I think it was something to do with the pearl emerging from the old shell type imagery! But they did spend a lot on the branding, I remember some snazzy acrylic paper-weights in their offices at the time. But being an honest chap neglected to lift one.

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