Heavy metal was a surprisingly conservative genre of music to grow up in, you were taught positively old-fashioned family values. The principal one of which was ‘respect thy elders’. We were taught to seek out the classics and enjoy them respectfully – the exact opposite of the punk, post-punk and indie scenes where a more iconoclastic approach was lauded. Your Coverdales, Youngs, Blackmores, Plants, Rodgers, Iomnis, Gillans and Dios were all firmly established in the pantheon of Rock Gods* and even us youngsters paid our respects at the foot of their statues in the, umm, Grand Temple of Rock. Which is why even the scuzziest street-punk glam rockers of my acquaintance at the time had Deep Purple and Free LPs nestled between ones by Vain, Tigertailz and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Which is precisely why a young 1537 could be found walking the mile back to his farm from the bus stop on a surprisingly hot October day in 1989 clutching a pristine copy of Rainbow Rising. This record’s pedigree was such that it should really have been carved on a stone tablet rather than etched on vinyl. Dio after quitting Elf had teamed up with Ritchie Blackmore who for this LP created a band based around the amazing Cozy Powell on drums, with Jimmy Bain & Tony Carey. They were leather bellbottom wearing Rock Gods and trainee Rock Gods to a man. I certainly never paused to wonder why these old farts would have anything of any relevance to add to my life, which is just as well as Rising, for the most part is a storming LP.
As always where Dio was concerned though, this stuff was completely beyond parody – except maybe by Tenacious D. Just check out the titles: Starstruck, Stargazer, Run with the Wolf, Tarot Woman. You know what you’re getting here, solid, grade-A Dungeons and Dragons lyrics** belted out in that atomic voice of his. You know the sort of thing, women were mysterious sex-gypsies, prone to being mean to us warriors, or at the very least stalking poor unassuming Rock Gods like ‘mean cats’, wizards loomed large in these songs as did darkness and light. In fact if you ever see Dio’s lyrics written out they are almost surreally bad without that incredible delivery to distract you – Fact! What was required here was a willing suspension of disbelief and relevance in order to enjoy this collection of tunes to the max. All the above is with the exception of the track ‘Do You Close Your Eyes’ (‘when you make love’ the lyric goes) which made for a slightly discordant intrusion of the real into this LPs atmosphere, frankly I much preferred the wizard-stuff, having Dio sing sex-stuff was intrinsically yucky. I didn’t want Mr Dio’s broadsword to be any kind of metaphor whatsoever.
I do like a bit of Deep Purple, but for me this LP has a chunk of Ritchie Blackmore’s finest playing on it. Just check out the flying riffage on ‘A Light in the Black’, of the chunkier variety on ‘Tarot Woman’; or more importantly the 8 and a bit minutes of ‘Stargazer’ (the only lyric reproduced in the gatefold cover), with its Eastern intonations. In fact this tale of building a monumental, umm, monument to a wizard steals the show here completely and whilst Cozy Powell’s drumming is fabulous as always it is always a 50/50 call whether I buy into this track, or not – if so then I find myself borne upwards to Asgard on the wings of bombast and if not, I just snigger at the bit where Dio sings about ‘Hot Wind’ and the line ‘See how he glides why he’s lighter than air’. Listening to it again today I was in full-on sniggering mode.
My favourite track is ‘A Light in the Black’ which I think shows off everyone’s talents without the, umm, desert wind. The riff hurtles past at a positively punky speed (although this LP is a product of a very different 1976 altogether) and Dio really let’s rip full-tilt towards the end, I even love the keyboard solo too and that isn’t something I get to type very often. It really is a thing of awesome power and beauty. Now enough! A humble mortal like myself cannot listen to the music of the Gods for too long; one cannot dwell on the slopes of Olympus *** I must away to other, less rocky pastures for a while. Or as Dio puts it so well,
Climbing up my stair
I’ve just got to beware
* capital letters seemed appropriate here.
** Fine by me, my life was ruled by D8’s and HP at this time.
*** apart from Greek people, obviously.