A Light In The Black 1975 – 1984 (5CD + DVD)
Release date 9 February 2015
Classic British hard rock band Rainbow were a defining moment for guitar legend and firebrand Ritchie Blackmore, who had made his name as a founder member in Deep Purple. Originally formed as a one off solo project to record the Quatermass song Black Sheep Of The Family, Rainbow went on to release seven studio albums on Polydor (initially Oyster) in their original existence. Between the breakup of Deep Purple in the mid 70s and their reformation in in 1984, Ritchie took Rainbow into the charts, around the world, through a number of hard rock angles; from the mystic first album and Man On The Silver Mountain to the majestic Rainbow Rising and the epic Stargazer, then the rockin’ Long Live Rock’n’Roll to the more commercial power of All Night Long and the Down To Earth album, before heading American with tracks like I Surrender and Street Of Dreams.
Rainbow also totally redefined the concept of revolving-door line-ups; Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell, Don Airey, Roger Glover, Bobby Rondinelli and Joe Lynn Turner were just some of the few that came and went, with Blackmore’s volatile temperament never far away.
This massive six disc set covers the entire career, on record and on stage, and the DVD contains the (edited) TV broadcast of the band’s classic 1980 Donnington performance.
Back in the late 60s, guitarist Blackmore had already made a name for himself as a session musician, before forming Deep Purple (originally Roundabout) with noted keyboard player Jon Lord. With drummer Ian Paice, bassist Nick Simper and vocalist Rod Evans, the band recorded three albums and a hit Stateside with a cover of Hush. It was the early 70s, with singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover that Deep Purple moved in a heavier direction and the album’s In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head all became successful staples, Smoke On The Water and the live set Made In Japan say it all. Then with Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale the band moved in a more soulful direction.
It was the end of 1974 that Blackmore, disillusioned with the band’s direction, wanted to record Black Sheep Of The Family solo, and did so with American band Elf, fronted by singer Ronnie Dio. This led to the eponymous Rainbow debut which is where this set starts. With Dio and Blackmore supported by keyboard player Mickey Lee Soule, bassist Craig Gruber and drummer Gary Driscoll, the album’s lyrics centred around Dio’s and Blackmore’s shared medieval interests and the sound moved away from the Deep Purple template. The four tracks from the 1975 eponymous debut here are Black Sheep, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, Snake Charmer and Temple Of The King.
The following year’s Rainbow Rising was a stronger, heavier and more majestic affair, and now with drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboard player Tony Carey. The music was more blistering, but sadly from disc one the box set’s shortcomings are obvious. Nothing previously unreleased from the debut, and the classic 2nd album is only represented by an Early mix of Tarot Woman and rough mixes of Stargazer and Run With The Wolf. There are then two tracks live from Osaka 1976; an 11 minute version of Deep Purple Mistreated, and a 16 minute version of the debut’s Man On The Silver Mountain (a medley that includes a few bars of Lazy and Purple Haze). Criminal the lack of A Light In The Black.
Disc two gets more interesting and centres around 1978’s Long Live Rock’n’Roll (with pianist David Stone and bassist Bob Daisley, although much of the album’s bass was played by Blackmore). The title track is a classic, and The Shed a real rocker. Gates Of Babylon is an atmospheric builder and Rainbow Eyes a mystic gentle number. There’s a rough mix of Sensitive To Light, three live tracks from 1978 and four tour rehearsals from 1977 (including Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desire and the Yardbird’s Still I’m Sad) alongside tracks from the album. The best track from the album though, Kill The King, is absent in any form.
Disc 3 takes us to 1979/80 and a much more commercial direction, and radio airplay too. With new vocalist Graham Bonnet, keyboard player Don Airey and former Purple bassist Roger Glover, the medieval angle was gone. There’s an instrumental outtake of Eyes Of The World (fantastic keyboard work and drumming), and the alternate Ain’t No Love (both previously released on the Down To Earth remaster), alongside several album tracks. A single version of All Night Long and three live 1979 tracks (including a fantastic touch of Beethoven, a sign of things to come) and a version of Stargazer (Donnington 1980, originally released on the festival compilation of the time) finish the disc.
By 1981 and disc 4 saw the sound change even more with drummer Bobby Rondinelli and singer Joe Lynn Turner in for the album Difficult To Cure. The single I Surrender is here (but no Can’t Happen Here), and two live tracks from Hammersmith 1981 include Rule Britannia / Fire. These are a welcome bonus given the amount of earlier tracks previously released. The title track of the album is Beethoven’s Ninth, Ode To Joy, the studio version sadly not here, but it is actually the first song Airey had jammed with Blackmore on joining the band. A great if commercial album and Blackmore’s guitar still cracking, if in a different direction.
1982’s Straight Between The Eyes, now with keyboard player David Rosenthal, still a great album but probably Rainbow’s weakest. It is covered here by several albums tracks (Death Ally Driver and the more balladic Stone Cold stand out). Three live tracks from San Antonio rock, and are taken from the Live Between The Eyes VHS/DVD.
Disc 5 and 1983 saw Bent Out Of Shape (with drummer Chuck Burgi), Rainbow’s poppiest and most keyboard led but perhaps strongest and most consistent album. The single Can’t Let You Go is a touch of class, Turner’s vocals strong and ranging. There’s an outtakes of Drinking With The Devil and Anybody There. The CD finishes with three live tracks from Cardiff 1983 and a further three from Tokyo 1984 (including the classic Difficult To Cure, extended guitar solo / jam and orchestra), previously issued on DVD.
The final disc is a DVD with Rainbow’s classic performance at Donnington 1980. Kicking off with a shower of sparks and guitar shred, the band break into All Night Long, the band energetic and on wonderful form. Commercial yes, but proof that Graham Bonnet a powerful and underrated vocalist (even if he did keep forgetting lyrics). Catch The Rainbow follows, but it’s Eyes Of The World that stands out for me. Blackmore, Powell, Glover, Bonnet and Airey at their best, no argument. Lost In Hollywood features a guitar solo, and there’s the now famous cover of Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
The set finishes with Long Live Rock’n’Roll / Kill The King, plenty of fireworks and Blackmore trashing his guitar. Fantastic, well if it wasn’t SO edited. This is the televised version and there is debate over whether the full show exists on video, but allegedly the audio does – would have been nice to include that as the 30 minute version here is woefully short.
Overall, I’m having VERY mixed feelings about this set. Can’t fault the music, the performances, or the presentation of the package, but none of the discs are brimming; previously released, rare, live, studio tracks, load up the cart please. There are areas (specifically Rainbow Rising) that leave you short changed. And the DVD too – how about some promo videos or TV performances.
I know how much more exists (Cozy’s infamous live tape collection, the Bonnet demos for Difficult To Cure), but no point of harking on because they may simply not have had access, but there’s some meat and veg stiff they could have used.
The music, like the legacy, rocks, and is an essential part of any rock or metal collection. The package, which includes a 60 page book (sadly rather lacking in detail in the extensive / lengthy and interesting notes) full of rare pics, a poster, a 1982 repro tour prog.
5/5 for the music and presentation
3/5 for the tracks used / not used
Phil Aston & Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine