Classic Rainbow is a greatest hits compilation released by Spectrum music and Polydor, and is the only Rainbow CD in my collection. I think I picked it up for around £3 from Tesco about eight years ago and since then it has spent a lot of time in my car stereo. Like Queen’s Greatest Hits volume 1, the tracks are not arranged in chronological order which can be a little strange on the ears as the musical style of the heavy metal group changed over time and the 80s tracks jar badly with the 70s tracks.

Rainbow is seen by many as a Deep Purple side project, formed in 1975 by ex-Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and featuring vocals by Ronnie James Dio. Their second album Rising released in 1976 was hailed by Kerrang! as ‘the greatest heavy metal album of all time’. Various changes in line-up and move away from the fantasy stylings of early hit ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ toward hard rock and the release of two of their best-selling and most recognisable singles ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and ‘All Night Long’ in 1979. Apart from ‘I Surrender’ in 1981 the band was on the wane in the 1980s. They split up in ’84 when Blackmore decided to rejoin Deep Purple.

‘All Night Long’ (1979) has Graham Bonnet on lead vocals (Dio having left to go to Black Sabbath earlier in the year) and along with the third track on the CD ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (1979) are chorus-driven singles taken from the hard-rock album Down to Earth. I enjoy listening to and singing along to them both because they’re damned catchy tunes, but they’re hardly great feats of musicality and very American sounding.

Second track ‘Catch the Rainbow’ (1975) is off their debut album and is rather more laid back than the tracks either side of it with some great Dio vocals and a slow dreamy melody. Here’s a rather indulgent live version recorded in Munich in 1977:

‘I Surrender’ (1981) and all subsequent singles have Joe Lynn Turner on lead vocals. Bizarrely this was Rainbow’s best-selling single. I find it rather repetitive.  ‘Stone Cold’ (1982) is another very American sounding track and reminds me a lot of late period Whitesnake or even early period Bon Jovi. Apart from the nice guitar solo it leaves me pretty cold to be honest and it’s about a minute too long in my opinion. It’s not what I want from Rainbow.

I’m more comfortable with the next three tracks the rocking ‘Kill the King’ (1978) which flies along like the wind with some excellent drumming and guitar pieces. The guitars are similar to various Iron Maiden tracks but Dio’s vocals are far superior to Maiden, and unlike the previous track I could happily listen to a longer extended version.

‘Stargazer’ (1976) has a kind of Black Sabbath/Led Zep vibe and along with ‘Starstruck’ (1976) is taken from the Rising album and features some nice fantasy inspired vocals. Sections remind me of the theme tune for BBC TV version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (taken from Eagles’ ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’). There’s a crazy guitar solo about halfway through the track that also sounds a bit like the Top Gear theme tune (Jessica by The Allman Brothers Band) for a few moments. The track is 8 minutes 27 seconds of sheer quality. Epic.

‘Starstruck’ (1976) is a jaunty number which is the most like a Deep Purple track in my opinion (I’m thinking along the lines of the excellent, almost glam if it wasn’t for the awesome guitar solo ‘Black Night’). The lyrics are very much ‘of the time’ singing about a starstruck woman running after the lead singer.

‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ and ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ (1975) are off the debut album and Rainbow are in full on Tolkien inspired fantasy mode. For me this is what I like about 70s rock and indeed the latter track inspired some of my writing in Tales from the New Found Land. I like these tracks the same way I like the stuff on Queen II, Wolfmother’s debut album and Led Zep’s stuff. I guess I prefer anything released by Rainbow before 1980.

‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ on this compilation is dated with the year 1975, but it sounds suspiciously like the extended ‘indulgent musoes’ version recorded from their live performance in Osaka in 1976. Suffice to say that the original track is much shorter, tighter and to the point while still featuring some amazing guitar work from Blackmore.

‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ sounds a bit like Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ and I guess that’s understandable. It’s my favourite track on the album. Great lyrics, great vocals, great tune, great guitars. What’s not to like? Here’s another full-on indulgent live version recorded in Munich in 1977. Feel free to shout ‘musoes!’ at the screen. Surprised a model of Stonehenge doesn’t get lowered down on wires in the background.

‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (1978) is from the album with the same name which also contained ‘Kill the King’. To be honest I’m usually exhausted by rocking out to the previous track and I find this one a bit too chorus-driven to take it too seriously. Reminds me of songs like Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ (although I obviously think that’s brilliant) and stuff from AC/DC and Kiss. Thing is though it does feature another great guitar solo from Blackmore, so if you can put up with the banal lyrics then it’s worth a listen.

‘Run with the Wolf’ (1976) is the sort of song I expect Star Wars guru Dave Filoni would love judging by the wolf references in Clone Wars and the last season of Rebels. I can’t resist singing along to the declamatory lines like ‘There’s a hole in the sky! Something evil’s passing by!’. It’s a real grower and so too is the next track ‘Lost in Hollywood’ (1979) which tells a good story.

‘If you don’t like Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (1975), like ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’, is the sort of song I can easily skip. It’s a quick track that sounds like something that Elton John might sing and bash out on his piano. For me rock bands singing about rock ‘n’ roll is a bit like reading a Stephen King book where the main character is a writer – there’s too many of the bloody things. You really can’t beat the aforementioned ‘We Will Rock You’ or AC/DC’s ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’. There’s no need for any more.

‘Miss Mistreated’ (1982) and ‘Death Alley Driver’ (1982) are pretty dreadful in comparison the quality tracks on this compilation, and I guess that’s maybe why the compilers stuck them together at the end to fill the album run time.


Featured rainbow image by Sorasak on Unsplash