When Metal bands aren’t scaring you with gravity defying clothing, blinding you with light shows that would shame the set designers from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind or guaranteeing that blood will pour from your ears treating you to deafness by the time your 25 – when they’re not insulting your intelligence with terrible lyrics or dazzling you with gymnastic guitar solos by incredible musicians or perhaps giving you laryngitis after being exposed to blood curdling streams – when all the contradictions of the genre – dumb, smart, power and weakness, fun, seriousness, cliches, murder, image marketing, dark thoughtful concepts, timeless riffs, average songs, amazing songs, happiness and fear – when all is said and done – there’s no accounting for taste.
Then there’s that strange beast, the crossover hit. Rainbow made the Top Ten in the UK with Russ Ballard’s song, Since You’ve Been Gone, bringing together some rather different influences to weld Rock and Pop together with apparent ease. Okay so it’s not “Metal” were Rainbow ever Metal? Hard Rock? Not really? Whatever it is there’s a whole lot of unlikely occurrences, partnerships and other unusual circumstances that made this catchy tune a success. Here’s some of the characters that made it happen.
First of all it’s a classic songwriter’s song written by Russ Ballard, perhaps best known as the singer and guitarist in Argent in the seventies, their biggest hit being Hold Your Head Up, a US and UK No. 5 in 1972. But if you are a sixties child you might better remember Concrete And Clay a UK No.1 for Unit 4+2 in 1965 – Argent drummer Robert Henrit and Russ Ballard were the + 2.
As a songwriter – Ballard wrote New York Groove a hit for Hello in 1975 reaching No. 9 in the UK chart and No.7 in Germany, Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley took it to No. 13 on the US chart in 1978. In 1972 Zombies’ singer, Colin Blunstone took I Don’t Believe In Miracles to No.31 in the UK chart. Three Dog Night had a hit with Liar in the US reaching No.7 and No.4 in Canada in 1971. Abba’s Frida recorded I Know There’s Something Going On, a world wide hit including a No.1 in France and Top 20 most everywhere in the world, interestingly, except England where it only reached No. 43. Winning was a No.17 US hit for Santana from his 1981 album Zebop. God Gave Rock And Roll To a UK No.18 single from Argent’s, In Deep 1973 (Hm) was a hit for Kiss from the Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey movie, reaching No. 9 in Germany and No.4 in the UK chart in 1991.
So we’ve established the songwriter although my favourite moments by Russ Ballard are on the Argent albums essential for any record collection in my humble opinion. The band was named after Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone’s Zombies band mate, but you already knew that. Interestingly for all Ballard’s success as a songwriter, all the hits and with all the albums where he is singing lead vocals, he has never had a hit on his own – one of life’s great mysteries.
So next, the singer – Graham Bonnet only sang lead vocals on one Rainbow album, Down To Earth (1979). Since You’ve Been Gone was the opening track on Side 2 reaching No.6 in the UK in 1979. Another hit from the same album was All Night Long opening Side 1 – it reached No.5 in 1980. Bonnet had been the singer in sixties band The Marbles, they had a hit in 1968 with The Gibb Brothers’ Only One Woman reaching No.5 in the UK chart, a Top 10 in most of Europe and a No.1 in New Zealand but for some reason it didn’t chart in Australia. He didn’t appear again until a solo album was released in 1977 with two hits, Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue reaching the Top 5 in Australia and another Bee Gees’ tune, a leftover from Saturday Night Fever sessions, Warm Ride found itself at No.1 in that country. Considering himself more of an R&B singer, joining Rainbow was a stylistic departure for Bonnet and it fundamentally changed how he approached singing after he left the band. In 1981 he found the charts again as a solo artist with Night Games. Next he joined Michael Schenker Group after (Schenker had left UFO to go solo in 1978) for Assault Attack (1982). After exposing himself on stage in a embarassing drunken display, Bonnet was fired after only one show – allegedly? He went onto form his own band Alcatrazz and later joined Impellitteri as lead vocalist. Check out the link below for the project chronology.
In this incarnation of Rainbow the rhythm section had ex Deep Purple member Roger Glover playing bass, he also produced the album. (Glover went onto play bass and produce the next three Rainbow albums). The drummer was Cozy Powell. Powell had played on two Jeff beck albums, Rough And Ready (1971) and Jeff Beck Group (1972) and then formed Bedlam in 1973 releasing an album on Chrysalis, produced by Mountain member and Cream producer Felix Pappalardi. In 1974 he had a No.3 UK solo hit with Dance With The Devil (with Suzi Quatro on bass). He played on many sessions for Rak records (uncredited) see if you can pick him out on Hot chocolate or Suzi Quatro solo records? He formed Cozy Powell’s Hammer in 1974 with Neil Murray on bass (Whitsnake, Black Sabbath) and Tony Martin one of the singers on Sabbath albums when Ozzy wasn’t there. Don Airey also joined on keys.
Powell played on three Rainbow albums leaving the band, like Bonnet after Down To Earth. He played on two tracks on Robert Plant’s debut, Pictures At Eleven (1982). He played on Whitesnake’s Slide It In album in 1984. He also joined Keith Emerson and Greg Lake for the Emerson, Lake And Powell album (1986). He also played on three non Ozzy/Butler Black Sabbath albums, Headless Cross (1989) Tyr (1990) and Forbidden (1995). Unfortunately known as Sabbath’s worst album Forbidden exposes something about the power of a name as despite being generally recognised as terrible it has still managed to sell nearly 200,00 copies in America. At the same time Headless Cross is considered one of the best non Ozzy/Butler Sabbath albums – allegedly. For a more thorough overview of his career see the link below. Cozy Powell was tragically killed in a car accident on the M4 motorway in England in 1988 whilst talking to his girlfriend on his mobile phone – allegedly his last words were “Oh shit”.
On keyboards it was Don Airey – Airey seems to have played with every band that exists in this family tree. He has played with countless bands and has a mind boggling session cv from Colosseum to Andrew Lloyd Webber and beyond. He is a presently a member of Deep Purple replacing Jon Lord in 2002. (Lord died in 2012). He has played in so many bands and so many sessions you simply must go to the link to see.
Oh yes, almost forgot, the guitar player, the moody Ritchie Blackmore with the special touch and tone, no-one comes near him, he is his own thing. To quote Robyn Hitchcock, he’s “The Man Who Invented Himself”. This commercial direction on Since You’ve Been Gone, a faithful rendition of Ballard’s original (except it’s a new and improved version) makes me think that Blackmore must have been the driving force for Deep Purple’s Black Night and Strange Kind Of Woman. Blackmore’s guitar sound and playing adds so much to the song, the arrangement is perfect. They kept that fantastic different chord sequence in the last chorus. If you haven’t ever noticed that, notice it now, I love that part of the song, true songwriter genius. In recent years Blackmore has been following his muse to Renaissance music but comes back this year with a whole new version of Rainbow. In the meantime, party till it’s 1979 with this Pop Rock classic.
Wow that was an information packed post!
One thing that seems characteristic of this style/era of rock music (Russ Ballard, Queen, Head East) is the almost operatic vocal style. Is that what makes it so different from indie rock?