10 Greatest Ritchie Blackmore Tracks
Amid numerous guitar maestros, Blackmore stands out with his unique style and dazzling display of brilliance
For many classic rock fans, Ritchie Blackmore is one of the guitar heroes. After a successful stint with the hard rock band Deep Purple in the first half of the 1970s, he formed Rainbow with super-vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
To mark his 76th birthday this week, we look back at 10 Blackmore classic tracks. But before getting into the list, a bit more about the man for new fans: With Deep Purple, he was part of the famed Mark II or second lineup, along with vocalist Ian Gillan, keyboardist Jon Lord, bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice. Among other things, he was known for writing one of the most recognized guitar riffs, in the song “Smoke On The Water.” The band kept having internal squabbles, and Blackmore stayed on after David Coverdale replaced Gillan. However, he too decided to branch out, and had more control in his new group Rainbow.
Vocalist Dio was with Rainbow for three albums, after which the band had other singers. The guitarist reunited with the Mark II members and was back in the Deep Purple lineup with the 1984 album Perfect Strangers. He stayed there another decade and was replaced by Steve Morse.
In 1997, in a complete change in sound, Blackmore teamed up with vocalist Candice Night to form the folk-rock group Blackmore’s Night. She later became his fourth wife. The band’s new album Nature’s Light was released earlier this year.
While his career has had its twists and turns, fans know Blackmore for his dazzling virtuosity and ability to pump up a song with sheer energy. He would be dressed in black, wearing a uniquely-cut collar buttoned down to reveal his chest. The magic would then flow.
The 10 songs here are a mix of his work with Deep Purple, Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night:
“Black Night” – Deep Purple (1970)
This was one of the early songs where the members of Deep Purple’s Mark II lineup made their intentions very clear. Paice and Glover tighten up the rhythm section and Blackmore and Lord come up with clear, energy-filled solos. The guitarist’s screaming riff towards the end is a classic example of controlled mania. The song was released as a single, and became a concert staple. It was later used in the 25th anniversary edition of the In Rock album.
“Speed King” – In Rock, Deep Purple, (1970)
In Rock was Deep Purple’s fourth album, and the first to feature vocalist Gillan and bassist Glover. The track “Speed King” is an out-and out Blackmore beauty, where he begins with a lot of shredding, before matching his guitar to Gillan’s screams. The middle part features a call-and-response between him and keyboardist Lord, cutting the tempo before he ends with Jimi Hendrix-ian pyrotechnics. The album also features the classic “Child In Time.”
“Highway Star” – Machine Head, Deep Purple (1972)
This has all the elements required in a complete hard rock song – energy, rhythm, solos, sing-along words and teamwork. While Gillan sings in his trademark style, Lord, Glover and Paice chip in wonderfully. Blackmore takes over just before the song touches the four-minute mark and comes up with a spitfire solo. The Guardian once said that with this song, the spirits of Bach and Hendrix had come together, the former being a reference to the heavy classical influences on the organ and guitar. The song is featured on the Made In Japan live album.
“Smoke On The Water” – Machine Head, Deep Purple (1972)
Everybody who’s heard even the basic level of rock music would recognize the opening riff. The song was written after a fire broke out when Deep Purple were to play in Montreux, Switzerland. While the central theme was developed by Blackmore on his Fender Stratocaster guitar, he also claimed later that the main power chord was an interpretation of an inversion of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The main riff became so popular that it led to events where hundreds of guitarists would gather to play it together.
“Burn” – Burn, Deep Purple (1974)
By 1974, vocalist David Coverdale had replaced Gillan. The first album of Mark III was Burn which also had Glenn Hughes on vocals and bass. The title track saw both singers excelling in their parts, especially in the eagle-screeches, but it’s Blackmore’s solo that provides an out-and-out treat, till it melds into Lord’s Hammond organ. For two years after its release, the song replaced “Highway Star” as the band’s concert opener. Ace guitarist Eddie Van Halen of the group Van Halen described Blackmore’s solo as one of his favorite guitar pieces.
“The Temple Of The King” – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rainbow (1975)
This was the first album by Rainbow, the band Blackmore formed with Dio on vocals. The song is known for Dio’s melodic voice, the harmonies and overdubs, but Blackmore’s consistent theme sticks in one’s head. A short but brilliant guitar interlude solo adds to the magic. At concerts, audiences have often sung along to the opening lines, “One day in the year of the fox came a time remembered well; When the strong young man of the rising sun heard the tolling of the great black bell.”
“Stargazer” – Rising, Rainbow (1976)
A fantastic example of the Blackmore-Dio combination, the song talks of a wizard’s attempt to fly. Once again, it has a recognizable theme riff which sticks as an earworm, with Dio’s vocals in total control and Blackmore’s solo taking it to new heights. The composition, which also features the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in the original recording, has a distinct classical symphony influence towards the end. Another highlight is Cozy Powell’s drumming.
“Gates Of Babylon” – Long Live Rock n’ Roll, Rainbow (1978)
This was the last Rainbow album to feature Dio, and this song had a very Middle Eastern touch. While Dio dazzles on lines like “Sleep with the devil and then you must pay; Sleep with the devil and the devil will take you away; Oh gates of Babylon,” Blackmore comes up with one of his most distinct solos, full of surprises and changes in tonality.
“Fires At Midnight” – Fires At Midnight, Blackmore’s Night (2001)
In 1997, Blackmore formed the group Blackmore’s Night with singer Candice Night, an American. This time, he focused on folk music, and he diversified to also play the acoustic guitar, mandolin, hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa, besides electric guitar. The title track of the 2001 album Fires At Midnight is based on a traditional song, but it’s got its special Blackmore touch, with a nice guitar solo thrown in.
“Second Element” – Nature’s Light, Blackmore’s Night (2021)
“Second Element,” the latest video of Blackmore’s Night, was released last month. It is an adaptation of a Sarah Brightman song, and Candice Night gives it a special touch with her distinct style. Blackmore’s acoustic guitar forms a perfect backdrop, but the highlight is the presence of two Stratocaster solos in the middle and the end. The album also has an instrumental track “Darker Shade Of Black,” where Blackmore proves his class for the nth time, as it transforms from a moody folk tune to a sizzling guitar coda.
These songs are a representation of Blackmore’s work from his hard-rocking Deep Purple days to his current, mellow, folk-filled music. Fans may talk of many other songs, specially Deep Purple hits like “Child In Time,” “Lazy,” “Space Truckin’,” “Mistreated” and “Soldier Of Fortune,” but therein lay the genius of Blackmore. In an era where guitar maestros were as common as umbrellas in the monsoons, Blackmore stood out with his unique style and dazzling display of brilliance.