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Perfect Pop Singles: Vol. 14
Why It’s Perfect: Ah, to be adolescent again. I’m convinced that the reason traditional heavy metal so appealed to me at this age wasn’t because it spoke of power and confidence I’d never have, or because it made me different from my peers or any of that other rot. Sure, it’s loud and aggressive, but loudness and aggressiveness are qualities expressed in the performance. It’s texture, like biting into a crunchy cookie. The songs themselves are often quite tasty, with a geeky-gothic slant to their melodies well known to fantasy nerds and videogamers. The much missed Ronnie James Dio’s Rainbow in the Dark is about the best example I know of moat metal with this confectionary blend down pat. First, take the goofiest patch on your keyboard and (badly) play a ridiculous lilting renaissance lick. Double it with huge driving guitars (abusing pinch harmonics), add caveman percussion, sprinkle sub-Tolkien fantasy lyrics and mix at a reasonably brisk tempo. It’s a generic recipe, and one much inclined toward tedium, but Ronnie had a way of elevating this stuff with cheerful alacrity. Yes, he’s got that majestic growl and a dreamy-eyed croon to match it, but any number of (mostly Italian) singers can capably imitate it these days. Ronnie was different because his genuine pleasure to be making fantastic metal came through in the passion and craftsmanship he always brought to his work.
Rainbow in the Dark is one of those times his effort was rewarded with a stellar product. His lyrics are his usual potpourri of clichés, rhymes for rhyme’s sake and oblique references, and they become downright hilarious when you consider that they’re about Ronnie leaving Black Sabbath, but AAAANNNNYWAY he delivers them with awesome spirit, ringing high and clear as often as he does low and testicular (by the way, you knew Ronnie was phoning it in a bit whenever he just roared through a track instead of using his entire vocal repertoire intelligently) . Perennially disgruntled guitarist Vivian Campbell responded with some of his best ever axework, hitting every baroque angle of the riff and then sending out showers of sparks throughout his flashy solo. And that freakin’ keyboard lick, bashed out by Ronnie himself, is the very definition of metal’s camp appeal. There isn’t a moment of intentional irony in Rainbow in the Dark, much as was the case with Ronnie himself as a musician. He was always sincere about making powerful, encouraging and above all fun music for his beloved fans. And ‘fun’ is what Rainbow in the Dark is, fun like Dr. Feelgood or even The Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is for people who think slaying goblins and casting spells would be more fun than getting drunk in a nightclub. It’s perfect pop for unpop people. Thanks for it, Ronnie.
Defining Moment: “LIKE A RAINBOW” [pause] *dinky keyboard riff* “LIKE A RAINBOW IN THE DARK” [pause] *dinky keyboard riff* “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHHH”
I agree with that sentiment.
Other Great Songs by Dio: Ronnie had, arguably, the longest apex period of any single metal musician. From 1976, when his band Rainbow released Rising to 1983’s solo Holy Diver, he was unstoppable. Much of what came to define metal was created in part by Dio’s various ventures. Singles like Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (Rainbow), Die Young (Black Sabbath) and The Last in Line (solo) solidified his credentials, while album tracks like Rainbow’s magnificent Kill the King and Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell became FM radio staples. If you want some traditional metal, there’s much to gorge on here.
For previous instalments in this series: