As the keystone song of Rainbow’s Rising album, Stargazer is arguably the song that launched this entire series. Maybe more than any other song on this list, you should listen to it loud. Here you go:
Rainbow was Ritchie Blackmore’s vanity project after he got bored of Deep Purple. Unhappy at being one of three big fish in the Deep Purple pool, he dug himself a new pool where he would be the only fish, and hired-and-fired his way through 21 different sidemen across eight studio albums. Rising was the second of these, and widely accepted as the best — certainly the heaviest. It’s important in the development of hard rock as one of the earliest albums to be dominated by swords-and-sorcery themes — something that later became a cliché, but which works here because of the band’s complete conviction (and also perhaps because it was fresh at the time).
The opening song of side 2, Stargazer has long been a fan favourite, and for good reason. The opening drum salvo leads into the monster riff, a simple four-note sequence in E minor: root, then minor seventh sliding up through the major seventh to the octave. The adjacent semitones lend the riff an indeterminate Eastern flavour that complements the desert imagery. That Eastern flavour was itself a novelty — Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir predates Stargazer by a year, but that eastern quality had not been absorbed into the heavy metal idiom (and anyway, I already wrote about Led Zeppelin). The same riff continues to power on through the verses, laying the foundation for Ronnie James Dio’s half-sung-half-howled vocal.
Part of what’s fascinating about Stargazer is that, while the intensity never lets up, the song never becomes texturally boring. Partly this is due to the well-judged deployment of the keyboards, which drift in and out of the song as needed. The inventive drumming also helps, varying between and through sections. Tossing in a symphony orchestra for the last few minutes certainly doesn’t hurt. But the biggest surprise is how often the guitar is not particularly in evidence — for example, through most of the “in the heat and the rain” section it’s all but absent. I guess it just shows that, while Blackmore undeniably had a monstrous ego, he knew when to subjugate it to the music.