It’s Britain, May 1978. Rock is dead. Metal is for morons. Punk has taken over. And anyone who says different needs to be humiliated and punished. First in the pages of the NME, then anywhere you go, for the rest of your life.
However, if you take a look at the UK album chart dated May 7, 1978, at No.1 you will find not The Jam or The Stranglers or The Clash, but the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Hot on its heels at No.2: 20 Golden Greats by Nat King Cole.
Elsewhere in the Top 10 are the soundtrack albums to The Stud and Pennies From Heaven, alongside the latest scrumptious offerings from Wings, ABBA and Johnny Mathis.
The rest of the Top 30 tells the same story: a sprinkling of new wave – old hippies dressed as punks, such as Elvis Costello and Blondie – and a lot of Billy Joel, ELO, Fleetwood Mac and Rita Coolidge. Safe City.
There is, however, one chink of light in the bleak, drowsy fug of that UK chart in May 1978. Straight in this week at No.7, pop pickers, it’s Rainbow and Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll. The third album by the band formed by former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and previously unknown American singer Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll is proof that, far from dead, rock with a capital ‘R’ is alive and well, and in exile no more.
“I don’t think any of us paid any attention whatsoever to punk,” Ronnie Dio would tell me years later. “I still saw what we did as being more unique, what Ritchie and I called ‘medieval blues’.”
But where the unpredictable Blackmore had originally seen his collaboration with Dio as an upgrade on the rock-meets-classical format of heyday Purple, three years on he was now more interested in the colossal success of Foreigner – the US-based rock band built around the abundant talents of another English guitarist, Mick Jones.
Blackmore was by a mile the better player. Jones was by a mile the better hit maker. The result: two Rainbow albums weighted with accolades and plentiful sales in every country in the world – except America. In the same period were two multi-platinum Foreigner albums that no one outside America rated at all, but with combined sales of more than 10 million in the US, along with four giant hit singles.
“I think Ritchie was getting a lot of people at the record label whispering in his ear too,” said Dio. “Pushing for the band to go commercial. Hence the actual song Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll. I didn’t consciously write the lyrics that way, but it was definitely seen as having ‘hit potential’, as they called it.”
Ritchie certainly hoped so. He liked having Ronnie around.
The story of the Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll album, like the story of so many fork-in-the-road records, begins with the story of the band’s previous album, their second, Rising, released exactly two years before.
The only studio album by what is now viewed as the classic line-up of Rainbow: Blackmore and Dio augmented by Jimmy Bain (bass), Cozy Powell (drums) and Tony Carey (keyboards), five years after its release it was voted the greatest heavy metal album of all time in a new magazine called Kerrang! We’re talking properly fucking heavy.
Expectation among fans was that the next Rainbow album would be at least as good, probably even better. Such was the momentum in the wake of Rising – made even greater by the release in the summer of ’77 of the live double On Stage, recorded in Japan on the final leg of the Rising world tour.
Rather than the expectation piling on the pressure, Blackmore would later explain to me, “it had the opposite effect. I’m at my most free when expectations are high.” Free enough to fire both Jimmy Bain and Tony Carey from the band on the eve of making the next album, moves made unilaterally by the guitarist that would have repercussions on the future not just of Rainbow but also on the history of rock and metal.
“Ritchie made those decisions, but you could see them coming,” Cozy Powell would later tell me. “Tony Carey had already been fired a couple of times – he used to get on Ritchie’s nerves. Jimmy was a party animal – and a big pal of Ronnie’s.”
Indeed Bain’s dismissal hit Ronnie particularly hard. Although the two men were outwardly very different – Jimmy the up-all-night-every-night type, Ronnie the retreat-to-your-room-and-read type – the two had bonded over a shared love of British humour and Indian food.
“I loved Jimmy like a brother,” Ronnie told me. “When he got fired from Rainbow I thought it was very cold. It was a week before Christmas. I thought that was unnecessary – even for someone as calculating as Ritchie."
It made for a tense, unnecessarily drawn-out start to the making of Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll. There had been a US tour scheduled for the start of 1977 that now had to be postponed while they looked for replacements – something that proved much trickier than Blackmore had envisaged.
Auditioning new players in LA, it looked like former Vanilla Fudge keyboard player Mark Stein was in. In a strange twist of fate, Stein had most recently been in the band Blackmore’s replacement in Purple, guitarist Tommy Bolin, had put together for his solo career. When Bolin died of a drugs OD in December ’76, Stein was looking for a gig.
He was certainly good enough. But Ritchie had a last-minute change of heart and Stein was out again. Next in the frame was ex-Procol Harum man Matthew Fisher, who had played on the original demo of first Rainbow album’s Black Sheep Of The Family. But again Ritchie, inexplicably, changed his mind about him.
Next up was Eddie Jobson, a staple of Roxy Music and various Bryan Ferry solo line-ups, who seemed perfect on paper. But not to Ritchie. Then along came David Stone, keyboard player with unknown Canadian prog outfit Symphonic Slam, classically trained, master of the weird soundscape.
After a baptism of fire getting to know Ritchie and Cozy, Stone was offered the gig. By then, however, the search had gone on so long that Tony Carey had actually been brought back, albeit temporarily, and was on board for the first three tracks recorded for the new album, including the title track, Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll.
Finding a bass player proved equally difficult. Ronnie had hoped his former Elf band mate Craig Gruber would land the gig. Gruber had played bass on Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, then been fired along with the rest of Elf when Blackmore came to put the live line-up of Rainbow together.
Out of respect to Ronnie, Blackmore allowed Gruber to rehearse with the band for a few weeks – after which it was made clear that he wasn’t seriously being considered for the gig. Enter former Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum bassist Mark Clarke. He was another player who looked like a good fit on paper, but Blackmore soon decided he disliked Clarke’s jazz-style finger technique – a complete 180 away from Bain’s more rudimentary rocktastic pick-thudding – and sacked him.
With recording of the album already under way, Blackmore simply decided he would play bass on the album. That is until he finally agreed on a permanent replacement for Bain, and brought in the Australian former member of Widowmaker, Bob Daisley, who arrived in time to play on three tracks on the album.
Even the studio the band worked in was unusual. As Blackmore explained at the time: “I usually like to record in Germany.” His then wife Babs was German, they had a home there, and Blackmore had a preference for Musicland studios in Munich, where he had first worked with Deep Purple and where the first two Rainbow albums had been made.
However, with ELO already ensconced there making what would be their double album Out Of The Blue, the decision was taken to head to France, to the 18th-century Château d’Hérouville, near the Paris suburb of Pontoise – quickly dubbed ‘Pantyhose’ by the band.
Nicknamed the Honky Château after Elton John recorded his 1971 album of the same name there, it had since become the go-to residential studio for boho-minded rock aristo-cats such as Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Bad Company, to name a few.
It also came with a reputation for being haunted. Bowie had refused to sleep in the master bedroom, claiming there was “a darkness and coldness” to the place.
When Blackmore heard this he absolutely insisted on sleeping there. But then Ritchie’s fascination with the supernatural was already well established, and the Château Horrorsville, as Dio nicknamed it, became the location for some of Blackmore’s infamous séances.
As Ronnie recalled: “Ritchie liked to get out his ouija board and get us all to sit with him while he tried to contact whatever spirits happened to be hanging around.”
The séances would be conducted most nights. Ronnie was pretty sure Ritchie must have been moving the glass with his finger, but that could not explain some of the strange things that resulted. Like the night Thor the God of Thunder appeared at the table – and a huge thunderstorm suddenly erupted outside.
Or the several occasions when a night at the ouija board was followed by the discovery that all the tapes of the day’s recording had been mysteriously wiped clean.
Or the times the 24-track tape machine would actually turn itself on and off.
The most terrifying occasion, though, was the night Baal, the pagan god of fertility and war, paid them a visit, spelling out the following message on the board: “I am Baal. I create chaos. You will never leave here, so don’t even try.” This upset everyone so much that they insisted Ritchie put the board away for the night.
But later, after Ritchie had left the room, the others couldn’t resist laying out the board and alphabetical numbers again. Once again, Baal appeared. This time the message spelled out: “Where is Blackmore?” – just as the door opened and in walked Ritchie.
With Ritchie joining them at the board, this time the glass took on a life of its own, whirling round the table before taking off and smashing against the wall. Meeting over!
There were other strange incidents – Ritchie claimed he was looking in the mirror when the distorted reflection of Mozart, no less, appeared to be staring back at him. Cozy claimed he’d been locked in his room one night and all the books came flying off the shelf. The ouija board was retired after that. The only sign of the turmoil it caused was in the dedication that would appear on the album sleeve: “No thanks to Baal”.
The music itself was topnotch, and for many Rainbow fans of the era it was as good, maybe even better than that on Rising. There was certainly an impressive degree of overlap in terms of quality. But then the title track actually dated back to the Rising sessions of two years before. As did another cornerstone moment, the epic Kill The King.
The catchy, anthemic Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll became the first single from the album and, equally predictably perhaps, gave Rainbow their first Top 30 hit single. Already familiar to Rainbow’s live audience, Kill The King opened side two of the album in a similar take-no-prisoners style.
Given its title, many assumed it to be another of Dio’s fantastical tales from the misty past. In fact, as Ronnie later revealed: “It’s actually about a chess match.” A superb chess player himself, Ronnie saw the game as “a metaphor for life and death”.
Indeed the use as metaphors of kings and queens, pawns and knights, would become a recurring theme in Dio’s writing. More prosaic were songs including LA Connection, inspired by the departure of Tony Carey, who was always calling home to LA, homesick. Another thing Ritchie found irritating. Or as Ronnie put it for him: ‘Oh, carry home my broken bones and lay me down to rest/Forty days of cries and moans I guess I’ve failed to pass the test.’
Other bread-and-butter tracks, like Sensitive To Light and The Shed, were similarly shorn of Dio’s signature lyrical mysticism, harking back to his days with Elf, when Ronnie still sang about the same come-on-baby things as all the other singers.
The steaks on the plate though – Gates Of Babylon and Rainbow Eyes – were the real deal. The former was the last track recorded for the album, after the band had returned to the Château to finish up in December.
By then the new Blackmore-Dio-Powell-Stone-Daisley line-up had toured extensively and were, as Cozy put it, “tighter than a duck’s arse under water”.
Although David Stone wasn’t credited on the album, it’s his ominous keyboards that set the melodramatic tone, before Blackmore’s grandiose riff begins pounding like a metal hammer, and Dio weaves a tale of magic carpet rides, genies, cities of ‘heavenly sin’ where you will ‘sleep with the devil’ before he takes you away to the very ‘gates of Babylon’.
In Sweden, a kohl-eyed young guitarist named Yngwie Malmsteen was so taken by the track that he built a career for himself around its phantasmagorical imagery, and later even covered it on one of his own albums.
It’s the final – and longest – track on the album that is, in retrospect, its most intriguing: the beautiful Rainbow Eyes. A ballad, a paean, a promise, this was Ronnie Dio singing directly to the love of his life, Wendy. With Blackmore delivering a kind of extended musical meditation on Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, Dio opens his heart and lets his love light shine. The title, Rainbow Eyes, he later told me, came from the fact that Wendy’s eyes often appeared to change colour depending on her mood: “Sometimes they are green, sometimes blue, sometimes they are hazel.”
Augmented by violins, cello, viola and flute, if any track demonstrated the versatility of Rainbow, this was it. The fact that the lyrics were also based on Dio’s real-life relationship – one that would endure until his dying day – only made the statement more powerful.
The couple had only just returned from their honeymoon when Rainbow set out on what it was hoped would be their breakthrough US tour: 60 shows that stretched throughout the summer.
With both management and record company talking up the new album as the one that would finally “put them over”, when Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll became the band’s least successful album so far in America, peaking, if that’s the word, at No.89 in the Billboard Hot 100, Blackmore’s moods grew blacker than his shirts.
The plan had been for the band to take Special Guest spots, playing second fiddle that summer on arena shows by Foghat, REO Speedwagon and Alice Cooper, before moving up to headline their own arena dates. But with the album stuttering to a halt before the tour had even begun, and the single making barely a dent on the all-important AM radio formats, Rainbow were forced to redraw the tour map and schedule their headline tour around theatres and concert halls.
Bad feeling bedevilled the shows. Barely 45 minutes into a show at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh (capacity 2,800) Ritchie walked off and refused to come back on. The pissed-off audience almost rioted. At another show, when someone threw a large firework at the stage as the band were returning for an encore, Blackmore again simply turned on his heels and refused to come back. Cue more pandemonium.
On other nights Blackmore would do the whole show with his back to the audience. At yet another show, he actually climbed out of a dressing room window and left.
At the 17,000-capacity Omni Arena in Atlanta, during Rainbow’s support run with REO Speedwagon, somebody threw a bottle that hit Dio smack in the face, nearly knocking him out. While he was carried backstage, where one of the emergency medics put stitches in a bad head wound, the band kept playing until he was able to stagger back on, blood still running down his face.
“They said I should have gone straight to the hospital,” he later recalled, “but I hated the idea of letting down the fans.”
After the show, a pissed-off Ritchie got into a row with REO’s tour manager, followed by Rainbow and their crew smashing up the dressing room.
The tour came to a fittingly anticlimactic halt during Rainbow’s headline show at the 3,000-capacity Palladium in New York. What should have been a triumphant ending, at least, to a troubled few months of touring instead turned into another disaster.
The band were just three numbers into their set when the PA crackled and fizzed to a halt. They were forced to leave the stage while the crew sweated blood trying to fix the problem. But when, after an hour and half, the PA stubbornly refused to sputter back to life, Ronnie was obliged to go out and apologise to the audience. “We’ll make it up to you next time, New York!” he reassured everybody.
But there would be no next time – not for this line-up of Rainbow.
"For years afterwards, people would tell me how surprised they were when I left Rainbow,” Dio later recalled. “I would smile and say I was kind of surprised myself. But that was just to disguise the frustration I felt. I loved being in Rainbow, I felt Ritchie and I had something special going, as songwriters and performers. But by the time I made my decision to leave, I felt I had no choice.”
Blackmore had already fired Bob Daisley and David Stone in the weeks that followed the tour. Convinced more than ever that Rainbow needed a drastic change in direction if they were ever to crack the American market the way bands like Boston and Foreigner had – art for art’s sake, hit singles for fuck’s sake, as the old music biz maxim in the 70s went – he was also now prepared to sacrifice the only other member of Rainbow who had previously seemed indispensible: his singer, co-songwriter and soon to be former friend, Ronnie James Dio.
The first inkling Dio had of these sudden changes came from an unlikely source: former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, who was hired by Ritchie to be the producer of the next Rainbow album.
With Blackmore and Dio no longer on speaking terms, after Ronnie steadfastly refused to comply to Ritchie’s demand for him to “stop writing in such a fantasy-oriented way and write some love songs”, it was left to Glover to try to sell the singer on doing a cover of Carole King’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a big UK hit for The Shirelles in 1961, which Blackmore thought might make for a hit single for Rainbow.
Ironically, Dio had already released his own version of the song back in his Ronnie And The Prophets days. It had been a tremendous flop then, and he saw no reason why it wouldn’t be for Rainbow as well.
Singer and guitarist ended up having a huge row about it. Shortly afterwards a press release was issued announcing Dio’s ‘departure’ from Rainbow. “Ritchie always inferred he fired me. But as far as I recall, I left,” Dio told me.
What appeared to be a bad turn in the road actually became the making of Ronnie James Dio, who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath just a few months later, and after leaving that band enjoyed a hugely successful career in his own multi-platinum-selling band Dio in the 80s.
Blackmore eventually got his wish for Rainbow to become more commercial, when he brought in singer Graham Bonnet and finally scored the first of a handful of fully legit hit singles with the Russ Ballard song Since You Been Gone – although not in the US, where no Rainbow single would ever make it into the Top 30. And while Rainbow never did turn Will You Love Me Tomorrow into a single, they did perform it live, in 1980 when they headlined the first Monsters Of Rock festival.
Interviewed by Newsweek in 2017, Blackmore was asked if he had been disappointed that he wasn’t able to invite Dio, who died in 2010, to take part in Rainbow’s 2016 reunion shows. He replied: “I hate to say it, but no, I wasn’t. I’d finished with Ronnie a long time ago, and we kept in touch now and again but I went on to other things and he was in other things.
"We kept it very convivial and that, but I think neither one of us really wanted to get back together. He was a strong alpha male, and so am I. He wanted to go one way, I wanted to go the other.”
You could also say they were heading in the same direction: both of them in pursuit of that pot of gold that lies somewhere over the rainbow.