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Fresh off the heels of their strongest studio album and the excellent live release On Stage, it was not yet known by 1978 whether Rainbow would settle into a pattern of releasing consistent, quality albums or not. Would the writing team of Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio continue to deliver, or fade away into one-hit-wonder obscurity? Would they recreate and expand on the masterful Rising, or aimlessly plug away with nothing worthy to show for it? Thankfully, Rainbows third release Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll is not only a great album, but resides among the (admittedly expansive) collection of the best albums Dio has performed on. The songs are all focused and fairly heavy for the time, and there is the same pleasing experimentation and versatility on display that the band’s previous albums featured as well.
First things first: the fan-fucking-tastic songs. The evolution of traditional heavy metal energy and attitude can be directly traced to “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It moves along at an above-midpaced clip, the verses supported by Blackmore’s brilliant, bouncy riff and Cozy Powell’s steadfast drumming. However, Dio steals the show here (as he is wont to do), because the man’s singing is so passionate here I have no choice but to sing along every goddamn time I hear this song. The guitar solo is amazing to boot; there’s no mistaking these leads for bluesy nonsense or stoned jams. This is a dead-on, completely over-the-top heavy metal mayhem styled guitar solo that tops off the track. You’ll wish that the chorus goes on forever, and it nearly does! “Live! LIVE! LIIIIIVE!!”
After a song that more or less defined the ethos of heavy metal (soon to be found in everything from Running Wild to Razor), it’s hard to believe anything else would stack up: thankfully, two more tracks to reach the standard of perfection set. “Gates of Babylon” is this album’s epic: a vaguely Middle Eastern-tinged track with a main riff filled with mystique and an extremely powerful chorus. Boasting a keyboard intro similar to that of “Tarot Woman”, the track puts new member David Stone to good use here, as his keys both set the exotic mood present and return in the hook to bolster Blackmore’s riffs. On the other hand, “Kill the King” is less foreign in approach, but just as effective. Introduced a year earlier on 1976-77 tours, it’s a song everyone loves, from Lee Altus to Ralf Scheepers to my own mother. Fast as all hell, with that great, original riff and keyboard lick, it definitely is one of Blackmore’s most overwhelming “metal” creations, and damn does he do it well. More screaming heavy metal solos and an even more intense vocal performance from Dio are backed up by the return of Powell’s destructive double-bass patterns, making a return from “A Light in the Black” on the previous album. These three songs are all among Rainbow’s best songs, demonstrating the band’s undeniable influence on the slowly evolving metal scene: you won’t find anything more reminiscent of power metal by 1978 than “Kill the King”.
The remaining five songs range from great to mediocre, yet enjoyable. “Lady of the Lake” has some stop-start riffing that owes more to rock music than proto-metal, but it’s still a good song which would be worth it’s time in a live Rainbow set. “The Shed (Subtle)” is just incredibly fucking cool when you get down to it: the song opens with a sexy guitar solo, and gets mean as hell in the verses, featuring an aggressive, stomping riff which is guaranteed to force you into a headbanging rhythm. Again, Powell puts up a notable performance, as his drumming is powerful and drives the song along with gusto, hammering his bass drum and snare deep into your memory banks. Although “The Shed” doesn’t quite fit in with anything Rainbow has done before, it’s probably my pick for the band’s most underrated song and one of my personal favorites.
In true Rainbow fashion, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll does indeed sport a few pedestrian, more traditional numbers as well, although I would rate them above the songs of that sort on Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. “Sensitive to Light” resembles “Black Sheep of the Family” from their debut, and I like this one more due to an unexpected melodic break in the middle of the song. Blackmore injects a few good melodies into the song, and prevents the track from falling into complete boogie-rock-n-roll oblivion. “L.A. Connection” is a bit awkward as well, despite sporting a particularly spirited performance by Dio; he’s clearly way into this specific song, for some unknown reason. I don’t know if it’s about drugs, prostitutes or what else, but the song’s slow pace and repeating riff do get tiring faster than the other songs here. However, neither of these songs are embarrassing to listen to, and nothing here mandates cruel and unusual usage of the skip button.
All that is left is the most unique and versatile song here, the album closer “Rainbow Eyes”. A lengthy, quiet song influenced by classical/folk/medieval music (whatever the hell is the right term, it certainly isn’t rock music), it’s a fitting end to the album. Here Blackmore and Dio trade in their raucous, energetic performances for contemplative, emotional ones, and the songs’ quality is difficult to determine. The flutes and other archaic instruments give it an intriguing, Renaissance-esque feeling, but the complete lack of a climax of any sort may put off listeners. Imagine something akin to “Stairway to Heaven, but with more solos and no mindfuck of a finale. I generally enjoy the lucid “Rainbow Eyes”, but some may feel disappointed with its bare-bones songwriting.
Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll is easily Rainbow’s second best album. After this release, Dio would leave and join Black Sabbath, a collaboration that would produce some of metal’s utmost finest releases. Without Dio’s influence, Rainbow would become solely Ritchie Blackmore’s project, and would stagnate in a rather hilarious manner as it headed in a more commercial direction. So here ends what was one of both rock and metal’s most promising outfits, not to mention the band that catapulted Dio to the front of heavy metal glory. And Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll is a more than adequate chapter to ends this book: a consistent and rewarding combination of the proto-power metal of Rising and the rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Let it live!