I know that it’s technically “Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow”… but isn’t the band less famous for its namesake, former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, than it is for its short-time lead singer, one Mr. Ronnie James Dio? If you don’t believe me, just listen to the song “Man on the Silver Mountain.” It’s OK. I’ll wait.
Ronnie James Dio scared me when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. Not because he was a tiny dude with big hair and massive heavy metal pipes throwing up the devil horns. Which he was. No. It was because of the album covers by his band Dio, specifically 1983s Holy Diver, which freaked me the hell out. I’d never even heard the music before, but I can remember seeing it at whatever chain record store used to be in whatever mall it was I used to go to in Columbia, South Carolina back then. It wasn’t your run of the mill stuff, man. That demon thing was whipping a priest with a chain! Good thing Ronnie James changed his last name though… because a band called “Padavona” wouldn’t have sounded as evil.
Back to On Stage. I bought this album for two reasons. First, it’s live… so there’s a cool factor there. But also because it contains one of the great rock/proto-heavy metal songs of all time, “Man On the Silver Mountain,” which I’ve written about before. That song was flat out ahead of its time, standing as a prequel to the hair metal of the early 80s, but better. And the version on On Stage doesn’t disappoint. It appears on the first side of this double album, one that starts oddly with the opening notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” (get it… rainbow… like the band name!) something too preposterous to make up. But man when they turn up the speed to 11 and crank into “Silver Mountain” it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll. It is a bit odd, though, that that rock attack is followed immediate by a slow blues jam and some seriously sad bastard acapella on “Starstruck”… at least before it breaks back into “Silver Mountain” and rocks out again! Oh Rainbow, you tricksters!
There were still three more sides to go after that, and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the rest of the material, being unfamiliar with it. Side B is given over entirely to the nearly 16-minute “Catch the Rainbow,” which is a pretty epic, wandering prog rock tune and not a song about Skittles. It actually reminds me a tad of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” (but the end is very “Stairway to Heaven”). A lot of fancy guitar quasi-soloing here, but it’s still Dio that separates Rainbow from the rest, his soaring voice, the passion, the clarity of it. You left us too soon, Ronnie James. RIP.
Side C is also one long track, the 13-minute “Mistreated.” Once again, Ronnie James brings it, singing about how once again his baby has mistreated him. Ronnie wants you to feel the pain with him, his struggle, the agony. The music tries to match his passion but can’t. This is a man’s struggle, and music can’t do it justice – only the human voice can. Side D is more of the same with “Sixteen Century Greensleeves” and “Still I’m Sad.”
All in all, On Stage is a bit of a one trick pony for me. It’s not that it isn’t good – it’s just that the intensity of “Silver Mountain” isn’t there on most of the songs. But if you can find it used at the right price, give it a spin.