The Great Rainbow Debate (Part 3): Tip-Top Turner
The raging three-day debate reaches its dramatic – some might say demented – conclusion! Yes, it’s the final part of Classic Rock’s Ronnie vs. Graham vs. Joe triple-threat Rainbow mash-up.
A couple of days ago, Dave Ling stoutly stood up for Ronnie James Dio as the pre-eminent Rainbow vocalist.
Yesterday, Malcolm Dome took an 007 route in putting the case for Graham Bonnet.
Today Geoff Barton flies the flag for Joe Lynn Turner.
(No disrespect to Doogie White, but this is strictly a three-way symposium.)
Right, seconds out! Here comes the concluding round. Will JLT deliver a knockout blow? Take it away, Geoff…
I am unchastened. Unbowed. I have no regrets. I will not backtrack. I shall not yield.
I stand by my judgment that Joe Lynn Turner was – indeed, still is – the best singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
My review of Rainbow’s Anthology 1975-1984 in the October issue of Classic Rock caused a bit of a rumpus… and maybe even ruffled Ronnie James Dio’s romper suit along the way, who knows?
One CR reader was so incensed, he wondered if my wife has been sleeping with Dio. I can positively state that this is not the case. She wouldn’t fit in the cot!
Indeed, my review caused so much of a rumpus that no one noticed a terrible mistake in my interview with Kiss’s Paul Stanley, where the title of the band’s Animalize album somehow got changed to Adrenalize. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?
But… thank heaven for small vocalists? Gimme a break.
It hasn’t always been the case. Way back in the May 22, 1976 edition of the late, lamented Sounds music weekly, I celebrated the release of Rainbow Rising with a delirious dose of hot-flushed hyper-enthusiasm, describing the album as being jam-packed full of ‘thermonuclear rock’n’roll’.
Uncannily predicting the future, I wrote: ‘If court minstrels of yesteryear had electric guitars instead of lutes, their odes could well have sounded like this.’
I also penned the following paragraph: ‘Through his work with Elf, Dio has always been recognised as a talented vocalist. Yet with this album, lyrically, he comes into his own. His words lean towards fantastical, sword and sorcerous subjects; truly epic tales! His hook-lines – i.e. ‘Lady Starstruck, she’s nothing but bad luck/Lady Starstruck, coming after me’ – make an instant impression.’
But, like I said in my Anthology review, times – and opinions – change: ‘Rising might’ve been the greatest album of all time in ’76 but colour TVs were the size of brick outhouses and the Austin Allegro was the peak of automotive excellence.’
In other words: would you rather watch Stan Mortensen clodhopping around a bog-like pitch in his hobnails in grainy Super-8, or witness Cristiano Ronaldo ponce his way past hapless defenders like a slippery eel in eye-boggling hi-def?
I concluded: ‘It’s time for a reassessment of Rainbow… Ronnie James Dio has been getting away with the same old stodge for 35 years.’
What cemented my belief that JLT was/is better than RJD was seeing Over The Rainbow perform at Sweden Rock this past summer.
Helmed by Turner and featuring Jürgen Blackmore (Ritchie’s son) on guitar, plus Rainbow alumni Bobby Rondinelli (drums), Greg Smith (bass) and Paul Morris (keyboards), OTR were a revelation.
The Dio-fronted Heaven And Hell, who also appeared at Sweden Rock, were, by contrast, dull, clunky, old, doddery, decrepit, uninspiring.
What’s more, as well as excelling on his own songs such as Death Alley Driver and Can’t Happen Here at Sweden Rock, Turner handled Dio-era tracks like Tarot Woman and Man On The Silver Mountain with ease and aplomb.
Can you imagine Dio trying to twist his truculent tonsils around Turner’s tunes? Talk about putting the pixie boot on the other foot. Ronnie’d be severely outside his comfort zone of pitchfork-wielding gnomes and suchlike. He’d be bent out of shape completely. The results would be horrendous. Unlistenable. Grimace-inducing. Calamitous.
Dio has had a long and distinguished career, of that there is no doubt. But, again, as I said in my Anthology review, his broadsword has become well and truly blunted over the years.
Picture, if you will, a man with very thick glasses in a Gore-Tex jacket and Wellington boots stumbling across a recently ploughed field. He waves his metal detector about and – breeeeeeep! – discovers the aforementioned broadsword half-buried in the mud. The next thing you know, the crusty weapon is on display inside a hermetically sealed cabinet in a museum.
Well, that’s exactly what Dio’s work in Rainbow sounds like now: a decaying old curio.
It’s like having medieval porridge washed down with rancid gruel for your breakfast.
The undeniable fact is that when Joe Lynn Turner joined Rainbow he immediately sparked a lighthouse beacon of brilliance. And as a consequence, the wearisome wizard’s shadow was well and truly obliterated. (And of course there’s no sun in his bleedin’ shadow. It wouldn’t be a shadow then, would it?!)
JLT embraced wholeheartedly Ritchie Blackmore’s glittering new commercial vision and helped create AOR-tinged ditties of liquid gold. Scintillating, streamlined songs such as Street Of Dreams and Stone Cold that today sound totally timeless. Like I might’ve mentioned, we’re talkin’ ‘Toto times 10,000’ here.
Porridge and gruel? Do me a favour. Turner’s time with Rainbow was a giant supercharged cereal bar laced with gallons of Red Bull and Lucozade. And sprinkled with amphetamines.
Just the sort of thing that gets me going of a morning, while I’m slumped in my armchair at the retirement home for rock writers.
– Geoff Barton