A CLOSER LOOK AT RAINBOW’S ‘STRAIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES’
- by J.N.
- Posted on 17-12-2017
The 1982 album entitled "Straight Between the Eyes" by legendary hard rock outfit Rainbow is one of those classic yet somewhat overlooked albums that is too often ignored whenever the discussion focuses on or revolves around the aforementioned band. Naturally, most fans tend to think of and gravitate towards the Dio-era when it comes to Rainbow, which is to say the sublime albums that were recorded and released between 1975 and 1978; the wonderful self-titled debut album (1975), the "Rising" (1976) masterpiece, and the astronomical "Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll" (1978) output. Following Dio’s departure from the band in 1978, the line-up underwent changes and Blackmore drafted in former Cozy Powell’s Hammer keyboardist Don Airey, former Deep Purple colleague Roger Glover on bass, and, somewhat surprisingly, ex-Marbles vocalist Graham Bonnet who had had nothing to do with hard rock or heavy metal whatsoever prior to joining the band. Rumor has it that when Bonnet auditioned for Rainbow he had barely sung the words "I’ve been mis…" to the Purple staple "Mistreated" before Blackmore and his cohorts looked at each other in surprise and decided there and then that he was in and that the job was his if he wanted it. The resulting album, "Down to Earth", marked a shift in tone and style. Whereas the Dio-era had been the perfect blend of grandiose hard rock and medieval-inspired lyrics, the 1979 version of Rainbow was a more streamlined and commercial affair. The band even recorded the Russ Ballard-penned "Since You Been Gone" for the album. How is that for commercial? Still, the record kicks major ass and is a trilling ride from start to finish, but only the epic and otherworldly "Eyes of the World" bears more than a passing similarity to the Dio-fronted albums. Simply put, "Down to Earth" marked a new sound and style geared towards the US market and the songs were much slicker and had less of an epic feel compared to the three classics with Ronnie James Dio. While it is fair to say that the band lost quite a few fans following Dio’s departure, it is also true that the band gained a legion of new ones thanks to radio-friendly and instantly catchy and appealing cuts such as "All Night Long" and "Danger Zone". At first, former Deep Purple bass guru Roger Glover was only meant to produce the album, but he ended up laying down the bass tracks as well. On top of that, he helped write and arrange the songs. Glover played a huge part in crafting the four albums that he ended up recording with the band between 1979 and 1983, namely the aforementioned "Down to Earth" (1979), "Difficult to Cure" (1981), "Straight Between the Eyes" (1982), and "Bent Out of Shape" (1983).
By the time it came to record the follow-up to "Down to Earth" in 1980, Cozy Powell had left the band. In addition, a rift between Bonnet and Blackmore resulted in the former leaving the band before the album that eventually turned into "Difficult to Cure" was in the can. Luckily, the talented and versatile singer Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Fandango) stepped up to the plate and joined Rainbow. The "Difficult to Cure" album boasted some incredible songs such as "Spotlight Kid" and "Can’t Happen Here". Rainbow were back in business and hit the road in order to tour the album. True to form, a line-up change took place before Rainbow started recording its follow-up, the "Straight Between the Eyes" record. Considering the fact that eleven members had come and gone ever since Rainbow’s inception back in 1975, it was hardly surprising to learn that the band was on the look-out for a new keyboardist by the time it came to enter the recording studio once more. Don Airey was no longer a part of the band and so when the word got out that Rainbow was in need of a new person to operate the strings and keys, countless tapes from hopeful candidates made their way to the Thames Talent offices. One tape from a certain David Rosenthal stood out and impressed everyone. In the words of former Rainbow tour manager Colin Hart,
The tapes from eager keyboard players flooded into the Thames Talent once it was common knowledge that the seat was vacant. David Rosenthal was from New Jersey and his tape certainly impressed, even to the point of Ritchie saying he was almost too good, such was his classical background. However, we brought him to a rehearsal and after quite a few hours of jamming he was offered the job. David was only twenty-one years old and looked it. (112)
Once David Rosenthal was onboard, the band got down to business and started rehearsing the material for the next album.
THE RECORDING AND PRODUCTION
"Straight Between the Eyes" was recorded in Montreal, Canada, but before the band got that far they rehearsed and whipped the songs into shape in a house somewhere in Vermont, New England. As Hart recalls of those cold months toward the end of 1981,
Come November, we journeyed up to Vermont to rehearse in a rented house for the album ‘Straight Between the Eyes’. It went well with ‘Little Joe’ demonstrating once more that he was more than a foil for Ritchie, interpreting his riffs and music structure with strong lyrics. Joe’s voice was exceptionally adaptable and he kept himself in shape too, so he was always ‘on the money’ at rehearsals and recording, which matched perfectly Ritchie’s ideals of professionalism and dedication. (112)
According to Hart, the atmosphere within the band around the time of writing and recording the album was a pleasant and relaxed one: "It was a good time to be around them" (112). As mentioned before, when the time came to actually record the album, the band chose to go about this task in Montreal of all places. Perhaps the idea of being far away from everything and everyone so that they could buckle down and get to work without any distractions appealed to them. Whereas its predecessor, "Difficult to Cure", was recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark, more specifically at Sweet Silence Studios on the island of Amager with producer Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Saturnus, etc.), Rainbow opted for something remote when it came to recording "Straight Between the Eyes":
Rehearsals done we moved on to a snow bound Montreal, Canada to Le Studio (how do they come up with these imaginative names, those innovative French Canadians!) to start the album. The studio had been recommended to Roger by Nazareth, who he was producing. It was very picturesque overlooking a large frozen lake and we were up to our ‘small bits’ in two to three feet of snow. (Hart 112-113)
The band members must have been both dedicated and effective not to mention well prepared when it came to recording their respective parts. The album was more or less wrapped up in only five weeks’ time, which also seems to emphasize the idea that this particular line-up gelled on a musical and professional level and were able to commit to the task at hand in an efficient manner. As Hart says, "The actual recording of the album took only five weeks thanks to the rehearsal time in Vermont. The atmosphere was good and for Ritchie it was prank-heaven, a sure indication that all was well with him" (113). Roger Glover oversaw and produced the album while Nick Blagon engineered it. It had a sense of pomp and power to it yet it was memorable and easy to digest as well. One of its greatest assets is the fact that "Straight Between the Eyes" is incredibly coherent and cohesive, more so than both "Difficult to Cure" (1981) and "Bent Out of Shape" (1983). Despite the fact that the latter two records contain great songs and hit singles in the shape of "I Surrender" and "Street of Dreams", the 1982 effort is filled with strong material from start to finish. It never really lets up or loses momentum. It simply rips!
The songs are quite varied and range from hard-rock airings such as "Death Alley Driver" and "Power" to the ballad "Stone Cold" and further on to the majestic "Tearin’ Out My Heart". "Death Alley Driver" is a powerful track with a lot of drive and energy to it while "Stone Cold" is a memorable and haunting tune featuring passionate vocals by Joe Lynn Turner. "Bring on the Night (Dream Chaser)" has a sense of wonder and mystery to it. The opening riff and groove of "Tite Squeeze" always reminds me of "L.A. Connection" from the 1978 "Long Live Rock n’ Roll" gem, but lyrically it is something else entirely. "Tearin’ Out My Heart" is an emotionally charged power ballad while "Power" slays and rocks like a motherfucker. As to "MISS Mistreated", the curious spelling of the song title (i.e. the capitalization of every letter in the first word) is meant to signify that the song bears no relation to the classic Deep Purple cut named "Mistreated". When it comes to "Rock Fever", this tune is the one that reminds me of the Dio-era of Rainbow the most due to the way in which the opening riff is constructed. This particular riff brings to mind the main riff to "Do You Close Your Eyes" from the "Rising" record. It sounds quite fresh and contemporary by a 1982 standard, so it is not as if the track is a nostalgic or sentimental throwback to the old days. Actually, I kind of like the fact that such an aggressive and hard-edged song figures as the album closer. This is similar to what the hard-hitting "Lost in Hollywood" did back in 1979 on the "Down to Earth" disc or even the nine-minute long epic "Light in the Black" on the aforementioned "Rising" opus.
Three singles were released, namely "Stone Cold", "Power", and "Death Alley Driver" (Japan only). Videos were made for "Death Alley Driver" and "Stone Cold", both of which can be found on YouTube:
The "Straight Between the Eyes" tour was very much geared towards the American market, the market that Blackmore so intensely wished to break. Interestingly, the ever-brilliant Iron Maiden, one of the most popular heavy metal acts of all time, supported Rainbow on this leg of the tour:
Bruce and the agency were planning the next attack on the US market with the release of ‘Straight Between the Eyes’ and the inevitable tour to promote it. Rainbow were now very mainstream rock, but for all that, still considered THE band to support to get on the rickety ladder to rock stardom. The American leg would be a mind numbing 105 days long starting on May 10 in London, Ontario, Canada supported by Iron Maiden and country rockers .38 Special. Ritchie decided we would travel by tour bus rather than flying, which made life a lot easier for me as we were not constricted by airline timetables or have the fuss of checking in to airports. Travelling was now far more flexible. (Hart 114)
Traveling by means of a tour bus also meant that Rainbow were able to visit many smaller and often ignored cities that were easier to reach by means of a vehicle. Logistically, it must have been a breeze compared to many of the earliest Deep Purple tours in the US when there was no logic to the traveling schedule and the distance between the different venues was vast. In the late 60s, the band and its entourage were forced to crisscross the country and embark on grueling treks that would have forced most bands to throw in the towel and simply go home. For some weird reason, the "Straight Between the Eyes" tour never made it to the UK, which most have been a blow to the British rock fans. Perhaps Blackmore and the Rainbow management felt that the US was where it truly mattered and that the European territories were slightly less important. Who knows, really?
In relation to the fact that Iron Maiden supported Rainbow on their US leg of the tour, it is worth noting that Bruce Dickinson watched the latter perform each night. As Hart recall, "On this tour, Bruce Dickinson, who had joined Iron Maiden three months before, once their set was finished, would sit beside the stage watching our show, ever the faithful fan" (115).
While the "Straight Between the Eyes" tour appears to have been a success on all fronts and devoid of any sense of drama or problems (at least to the outside world), Blackmore did throw in the towel when the band played Milwaukee and left the audience disappointed and understandably so:
On June 5th, we played The Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Milwaukee ad it was freezing despite being early summer. It was the wind, you see, which must have been from the north straight from the Arctic sweeping across the lake. Ritchie stood it for thirty minutes then did the old ‘guitar off / lay on top of amp / switch off / exit stage left silently’ routine and we were done much to the disgust of the locals who were obviously made of far hardier stuff. (Hart 116)
Funnily, when a buddy of mine and I attended the Joe Lynn Turner concert at Madam Felle in Bergen, Norway, on March 25th 2017, we ran into a guy in his 50s outside the venue who had apparently attended the 1982 gig in Drammenshallen in Drammen, Norway. Following the US tour, the band went to Japan for a few shows and then kicked off the European tour in the aforementioned Norwegian city that is Drammen.
We arrived in Japan on October 10th, two days prior to playing three nights at the Festival Hall in Osaka as a prelude to a tramp round the country ending on 22nd with the obligatory two nights at The Budokan in Tokyo. Seven days and five thousand miles later we started the European leg in Oslo, Norway at the Drammenshallen supported by those infamous female rockers Girlschool. (Hart 118)
One of the anecdotes that the person we met outside Madam Felle told us involved Bobby Rondinelli lunging into the wrong song, which prompted Ritchie to immediately turn around in anger and make a cutthroat sign to the hapless drummer. Poor Bobby, maybe he had just overlooked something or simply forgotten which song came next, but I can totally imagine how that must have provoked or upset Ritchie. On a side note, Drammenshallen is in fact located in the city of Drammen and not in Oslo.
The set list for the tour was a balanced one consisting of songs both old and new. Check out the one for the gig at the aforementioned Drammenshallen:
THE LIVE RELEASE
Luckily, the "Straight Between the Eyes" tour was caught on official tape, which is to say that the band’s show in San Antonio on the 18th of August was filmed and eventually released bearing the highly original (?) title of "Live Between the Eyes". The great thing about this video is that it captures the Blackmore/Glover/Rondinelli/Rosenthal/Turner in full force and at the top of their game. It also gives us an interesting glimpse into the stage setup at the time, which consisted of a set of eyes similar to the "Straight Between the Eyes" album cover that would glow from time to time throughout the show. Ironically, this incredible feet of 20th century engineering seemed hell-bent on doing as it damn well pleased, refusing to bend to the will of any man:
In San Antonio, the show was filmed for the video release ‘Live Between the Eyes’. This tour was, of course without the now long-gone, famous rainbow arch. The ‘centre piece’ was now two giant blood shot eyes mimicking the ‘Straight Between the Eyes’ album cover with two huge spotlights acting as the iris of each eye. Another great idea badly executed as some nights, when the eyes descended from behind the curtain up on the rig, the ‘eyes’, (which were supposed to be synchronised to look left then right and beam straight out into the audience as one and look as if they were ripping our your soul), got an independent life of their own. Alas, they, hilariously, became ‘cross-eyes’; one would not work or would start winking. Ooooh, scary! Not quite the effect we were hoping for! (Hart 116)
If interested, have a look at the live video track list here:
LOST UNDER WHEELS OF CONFUSION
By the time the "Straight Between the Eyes" tour came to an end and reached its conclusion, a sense of uncertainty and doubt seeped into the Rainbow camp, primarily due to Ritchie being deep in thought as to what to do next and which road to take in relation to the band. As weird as it may seem now, Blackmore had hoped for more in terms of commercial success and was obviously not willing to settle for anything less. Rainbow had released six brilliant and successful albums that still to this day sound vibrant and fresh. We are talking timeless music here, folks. Why he was not satisfied puzzles me. Was something or someone bugging him? Given the fact that the ever-elusive Blackmore is an utter enigma, we will probably never know. While Ritchie pondered his next move, Rainbow was more or less on hiatus and certain members found themselves out of a job for the time being:
The tour over, with surprisingly no British dates, those band members and crew who were US residents, returned home to Connecticut for Christmas and an uncertain future for some. The tour, though on the surface successful, had not pushed Rainbow to the super group stature that Ritchie expected and demanded. He was very quiet on the return flight, deep in private conversation with Bruce. Would the inevitable Yuletide team changes be made once more, I asked myself, as 1983 approached? Ritchie, in a rare moment of indecision decided to come off the road while he thought his future through. Bruce, having no short term plan for the band decided to ‘lay off’ Joe, David and Bobby indefinitely which didn’t go down too well, but it was better that way than giving them false hope. (Hart 118-119)
It must have been both disheartening and disappointing to Joe Lynn Turner considering how much he had given to Rainbow since joining the band during the tumultuous recording of "Different to Cure" and how he had contributed to writing songs and providing lyrics and so on. Turner was a huge asset to Rainbow and had a major hand in shaping the sound and atmosphere of the band. Have you ever glanced at the writing credits for those three albums that he recorded between 1981 and 1983? His name is everywhere. Knowing that Blackmore only wished to credit those who had actually contributed something to and written the songs, one can safely surmise that Turner was a major player in the band. Fortunately, Turner did not come with a huge ego.
Rumors of a Deep Purple Mk. II reunion were rife in 1983. Although it must have been extremely tempting to reunite with his former bandmates from a financial point of view, Blackmore did come to his senses and decided to make one more Rainbow record and tour it, which is what lead to the band traveling to Copenhagen in 1983 to record the "Bent Out of Shape" album with producer Flemming Rasmussen. Sadly, despite the album containing nothing but quality songs and even boasting the hit single "Street of Dreams", Blackmore eventually jumped ship and laid Rainbow to rest in 1984 in order to take part in the Purple reunion:
Bruce had always kept in touch with Phil Banfield, Ian Gillan’s personal manager and more than once I heard the rumour around the office that the two of them were ‘in a huddle’ over, if not a complete reunion of Deep Purple, at least a one off concert with the fabled line-up. […] The rumours of a Purple reunion persisted until March when Ritchie told me he would have one last attempt at breaking Rainbow. I was mystified as we were a massive draw in most markets, were we not already ‘broken’? Just what was he after? The albums, although not triple platinum, still sold in considerable number and the tours were always pretty much sold out in most venues. He had the respect of virtually every musician you could shake a stick at and Bruce had ensured his personal wealth was not only intact, but also expanding. In truth, he was not exactly unhappy, more restless and ill at ease. I guess the words was ‘unfulfilled’. (Hart 119).
As cool and memorable as the two Purple outputs that saw the light of day in the 80s were, namely "Perfect Strangers" and "The House of Blue Light", it would have been extremely interesting to see where Rainbow would have headed next following the 1984 tour. Blackmore and Turner were incredible together and the latter was the consummate pro who never led the team down or missed a gig. Despite the ever-changing line-ups, Turner had been a constant presence since 1981 and lent his voice to three kick-ass records. They could have gone much further with him at the vocal helm. He could handle the Dio and Bonnet classics effortlessly and he was a great writer who came up with excellent lyrics and strong vocal melodies. What was not to love about JLT?
THE LEGACY AND AFTERMATH
These days Joe Lynn Turner is the only one who is keeping these brilliant compositions alive and visible out there. If you wish to hear tunes such as "Death Alley Driver" and "MISS Mistreated" performed live, you need to catch Joe Lynn Turner on the road somewhere. When said singer paid Bergen a visit back in March this year, we were treated to red-hot renditions of "Jealous Lover" and "Can’t Let You Go" among others. "Death Alley Driver" was the opening track and the entire crowd was swept off its feet immediately. That JLT is immensely proud of what he achieved with Rainbow is evident. When I interviewed him in 2015, we discussed Rainbow as well, as you can see below.
How do you look back on that time in your life, i.e. 1980-1984 while with Rainbow? It seems to me that you have always been very proud of the stuff that you accomplished with Rainbow, and you have kept a lot of those songs alive and visible over the years by means of performing them live. I mentioned Over the Rainbow earlier on as well as the "Live in Germany" album, which features mainly Rainbow material. I guess that what I am trying to say is that I am really thankful and grateful that you are performing those brilliant songs live. They are timeless classics in my opinion.
Thank you again for your love for this music. I do feel like the fans deserve to hear it performed. My time with Rainbow was a time when I truly knew I made it "big" as a singer/songwriter. When we played the Madison Square Garden it was really special because I am from a city in New Jersey that is very close to New York City. It was like a homecoming! Plus, I had seen some bands at the Garden and were inspired by them. To play that same venue fronting a great band like Rainbow is an experience I will never forget. The Budokan shows in Japan…also a huge highlight and as you probably know, those shows were recorded live and released on video.
The current version of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, which is fronted by the highly talented and versatile vocalist Ronnie Romero, primarily focuses on the material from the Dio-era and to some extent "Down to Earth" and "Difficult to Cure". Neither of the three shows that took place in 2016 nor the three that took place in the UK this year featured any material from "Straight Between the Eyes". The only tune from the Joe Lynn Turner-era that made it into the set list was "I Surrender". It would have been interesting to hear Romero tackle "Death Alley Driver" or "Stone Cold", but that was not to be. Whether or not that will change when Rainbow hits Europe in 2018 remains to be seen.
Nowadays, "Straight Between the Eyes" still stands tall and proud as the great classic rock album that it is. One a side-note, Joe Lynn Turner still holds the album in high regard and even lists it as one of his favorites. When interviewed by Moshville and asked what his favorite album from his back catalogue was, he said,
I think Straight between the eyes was a great album. It was the first time I wrote all the songs with Ritchie, and Roger (Glover) chiming in of course. I think we had it soup to nuts on that album, I really do. It’s a great hard rock album. I love that album especially.
Ritchie Blackmore – Guitars
Roger Glover – Bass
Bobby Rondinelli – Drums
David Rosenthal – Keyboards
Joe Lynn Turner – Vocals
Produced by Roger Glover
Recorded at Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec, Canada
Mastered at Sterling Studios, New York.
Tracks 1, 8 by Blackmore, Turner
Track 7 by Blackmore, Turner, Rosenthal
Track 9 by Blackmore, Turner, Rondinelli
Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, by Blackmore, Turner, Glover
Hart. Colin (2012). A Hart Life. Wymer Publishing