Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy)

Music

Ritchie Blackmore's 10 best guitar tracks

Ritchie Blackmore is one in a million. He’s reinvented himself on two occasions over his career, taking the change from stadium rock into more medieval and pastoral textures with Blackmore’s Night.

With all this in mind, the guitar player senses that the characters and chord changes that form his catalogue have deemed it appropriate for the musician to create a new form of expression that is his and his alone. Somewhere between the cadence and the chord changes comes the voice of an artist who sings from the perspective of their instrument.

And so it came to pass that Blackmore quit Rainbow and Deep Purple for a more uncertain overview of his career. Far Out has elected to reward this change of perspective by taking our overview of his career, trying to look at all three bands for what they brought to the world.

Blackmore is and ever shall be one of the most interesting guitarists of his generation with everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Brian May singing his praises. Interestingly, Blackmore doesn’t sing, but boy does he play guitar.

Ritchie Blackmore’s 10 best guitar tracks:

10. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’- Rainbow

Rainbow at its peak. The shimmering riff remains a pillar of stadium rock, creating a frenzied, furiously expressed hook that showcases the progressive pop guitarist at his most immediate and accessible. This is rock as rock, so the piercing hook is dirty, dangerous and played with gusto and goodwill. The tune was originally written by Russ Ballard, but it’s hard to refute Blackmore’s impact on the finished result. Rainbow’s rendition of the song is instantly hummable, which likely explains why it’s still heard on rock stations all these years later.

Even Ballard conceded that the Rainbow arrangement was better than the lighter he had pencilled for the tune. Listening to the two tunes, one sounds like an abandoned lover venting up years of anger, while the other sounds like a jolly pub singalong that shows some sense of forgiveness to the woman who singlehandedly ruined his perception of love forevermore.

9. ‘Under A Violet Moon’-Blackmore’s Night

After decades of rock, Blackmore made the move into pastoral folk, imbuing the melodies with a sparse, secular feeling that showed an appreciation of the genre, complete with a newfound pathos that had long been missing from Blackmore’s rock-heavy oeuvre. Instead, the music is mostly wooden, creating a mosaic of sound that is built on a resonance that goes beyond the realm of topographical into historical. Pieced together by gumption over gesture, the songs are a part of the tapestry that makes up the modern lexis of rock.

The songs invoke the collaborations entre Mike Oldfield and Maggie Reilly in the 1980s, creating a longing, lingering tune that caters to the intellect as much as it panders to the world of pop. Deeply commercial, and performed with great interest in the topic itself, ‘Under A Violet Moon’ is a tune of great integrity.

8. ‘Smoke On The Water’- Deep Purple

Set aside your anger, and listen to us very carefully: ‘Smoke On The Water’ is a brilliant riff, but it’s also one a ten-year-old could play, so it’s barely a testament to the man’s abilities as a musician, or a person. Things get a bit more interesting during the instrumental coda, but then it’s back to the power chords that a child learning the guitar in a last-ditch effort to impress their parents picks up.

Luckily for the listeners, the finished result is indelible, infectious, inspiring and produced with great interest in the song, as a guitar player of Blackmore’s stature could have cemented the backing with a series of pounding counter hooks that showed the serendipitous nature of his abilities as a guitar player of high repute and attack.

7. ‘Stargazer’ – Rainbow

And we’re back to Rainbow. Wasn’t that an interesting diversion? Make no mistake, Rainbow is all about the guitars, much as Deep Purple were all about the organ. This is one of their more interesting flirtations in the realm of progressive rock, shuffling from straightforward blues to more classical territories. The Eastern hooks centre the tune, as the drums kick in, bringing the blues-oriented number into more interesting and esoteric territories. The recording opens with a barrelling drum solo before the chugging riff enters, bringing more colour to the recording. Then the strings enter, as the tune aims to create a symphonic rocker a la Led Zeppelin and ‘Kashmir’.

The recording also features one of Ronnie James Dio’s most exhilarating vocal performances. He sings from the bottom of his gut, calling to the top of his range, imbuing the soaring falsetto vocals he would put to good use on Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell. Dio was Black Sabbath’s most accomplished vocalist, something Ozzy Osbourne would be hard-pressed to argue against.

6. ‘Temple of The King’ – Rainbow

Move over Dio, this one’s all about the pastoral paintings the guitars creating a bucolic, Beatlesque work that is only shades away from McCartney during his free-wheeling Revolver days. The drums are plaintive, the guitars are chiming and the bass undulates beneath the mass of voices that soak through the piece, never a shred of doubt among them. The characters create an understanding that fits the milieu of the work in question.

Blackmore and Dio made a strong partnership until they didn’t, and like many duos, they were barely on speaking terms when it ended. “That was kind of sad,” keyboardist David Stone remembered. “Ronnie was always a really nice guy – no ego, really easy to get along with. Just one of the guys. A regular guy from Upstate New York, really. Blackmore was…he liked to control everything. So I could tell he was telling Ronnie what to sing and what to sing about. It limited Ronnie I think, creatively, quite a lot.”

5. ‘Burn’-Deep Purple

David Coverdale, of Whitesnake and Coverdale-Page fame, fronted Deep Purple for a bit during the mid-1970s, and he has been grateful for the opportunity ever since. “And I tell you I’m eternally grateful to those guys,” Coverdale testified, “To Ritchie (Blackmore), Jon (Lord), Glenn (Hughes) and Ian (Paice) for giving an unknown (a break). I was really untried and untested, I’d never been in a proper recording studio. I’d never played in more than a pub audience and these guys took me under their wing, and I got the gig for my 21st birthday!”

He lets out a fiery vocal during a soaring vocal, punctuated by Blackmore’s funky, frenzied chord work. The song lets loose and rips out, creating a dizzying song that only gets more exciting the longer it goes on. The Coverdale era is ripe for re-appraisal, particularly because it inspired so many intricate riffs that defy pigeon-holing or genre classification.

4. ‘Highway Star’- Deep Purple

The first thing you notice about ‘Highway Star’ is how tight Deep Purple sound. There’s barely any space between them, as the vocals ricochet over the rocketing guitar hooks and dense organ that cements the track. Vocalist Ian Gillian throws himself into the furnace, brandishing a giddy falsetto that gets more animated the more he begins to fantasise about the woman with whom he wishes to fellate. The instrumental passage focuses on the organ, but the fast fingerwork during the middle is also interesting, showing what Blackmore is capable of when he’s pushed to the sidelines. This is a guitarist of consideration and contradiction.

The second thing you notice about ‘Highway Star’ is that it plunges along with the weight and depth of a musician determined to brandish a more pulsating approach to their instrument. When Blackmore finally gets the chance to let out a guitar solo, it’s done emulating the melody and harmonies that wetted the song up until this point of its journey. Iron Maiden could take pointers from this exhibit.

3. ‘All Night Long’ – Rainbow

And we’re back to Rainbow, who were only the band Deep Purple could have been. Alan Partridge jokes aside, Deep Purple were a rock band with a capital R. The guitars were air-tight, the drums were punchy, and the vocals were almost always heroic in their demonstration. This tune, a tasty return to the stop-start fusion of the 1960s, showed the singer’s ability to reach an impossibly high falsetto, as the ground is laid out with a collection of tight, tasty hooks. Indeed, the guitars are pervasive and continue to deliver a collection of impressive notes.

Rainbow was a brilliant band, unapologetically rock in their outlook, and uncompromisingly ragged in their views on the world around them. The band continued to flourish as a studio enterprise, giving Blackmore a voice as an instrumentalist Deep Purple never quite gave him. And what a voice it was.

2. ‘Way to Mandalay’ – Blackmore’s Night

If Rainbow harnessed Blackmore’s voice, then it was Blackmore’s Night that allowed him to express it fully, and with nobody else to pander to. What we get with Blackmore’s Night is the artist in every sense, showing his desire to return to the spiritual world, changing from the rock template to something that was historically more European in its outlook and output. Indeed, ‘Way to Mandalay’ is a very expressive piece of European music, and suggests that Blackmore would not have carried on as a rock guitarist if he’d had the choice.

The tune was released in the new millennium at a time when rock was swiftly becoming synonymous with past endeavours and artists tarnished with the label of industry rock were as good as dead in the world at large. Blackmore maintains a high level of the invention on a track that showcases the musician in an excitingly new light as both a person and a creative force.

1. ‘Nur eine Minute’ – Blackmore’s Night

We finish this list with a charming composition that Blackmore plays virtually entirely alone. The piece is unadorned by vocals or by lyrics, which gives the guitarist complete reign to play all over the fretboard, showing his familiarity with the instrument as a vessel of truth and interest. The tune lasts for one minute only, but it’s an enjoyable tune, showcasing the bravery and intent of the guitarist in question.

Where Blackmore will go next with his art is bound to be speculative, but it’s interesting to note that he’s at his most powerful when he’s given complete autonomy over his work. Perhaps more artists should follow his lead, and discard the trappings of stadium rock for something fresher and more intricate.