Blasphemy, oh sweet blasphemy. After Rainbow‘s resounding successes Rising and Long Live Rock’n’Roll, the master decided to take a different route. Down to Earth took a much more commercial tack that sent the mainstream haters into flight mode.
In other words, Dio defected and landed in the bosom of Black Sabbath as a first step. One huge ego thrust into another bunch of huge egos, wow. But – quite predictably – not for long, ’cause he then got out of dodge relatively quickly to settle in his own gig. So, things were pretty simple back then.
Well, not quite. The album should actually have a blood-red color, so sanguine were the ‘killings’ amongst the band. Ritchie Blackmore already got rid of Jimmy Bain (RiP) in 1977, kind of right after Rising finished touring. I read some rather snotty remarks from Mr. Blackmore about Bain not cutting it and whatnot. Well, he hired him in the first place, so I don’t quite get it. Also some words undermining his and other musicians’ work, just because he can.
This kind of talk still gets my blood boiling after so many years. Blackmore sounded like an early version of present-day Trump. Not quite coherent and shooting off at the mouth for no good reason. And – besides – Bain went on to feature on many of Dio‘s future albums, so the quality of his bass work was probably pretty decent.
The replacement bass player Bob Daisley and David Stone (keyboards) were already on their parting legs shortly after Dio‘s demise. Blackmore then hired Roger Glover (ex Deep Purple at that time) as producer and impromptu bass player. Glover lasted until 1984 with the band and then joined Deep Purple again once this band reformed. So, the whole of Rainbow‘s history is intimately connected to Blackmore‘s alma mater, like it or not.
The thorniest task probably was the replacement of master-of-screams Dio. This got Graham Bonnet his one-time ticket to appear on Down To Earth for Rainbow. I always found him a pretty good replacement with his style to belt out them lyrics to make Hetfield go pale with envy.
Now – apparently – that exact detail did not sit well with Blackmore, who squished him swiftly after this album. And perhaps Bonnet should have been left in his spot. Joe Lynn Turner surely did not improve matters later with his somewhat sugary style.
Down To Earth got a pretty good reception amongst the young and innocent. Yet the critics really had a go at the album. Too commercial, boring delivery, lost the inn-ooo-vation virus – what have you. And indeed, gone was experimentation and in came Status Quo-esque chugging that can truly frighten the not so casual listener.
They also brought in ghost writers to have a go at tracks. Like Since You Been Gone written by Russ Ballard. The same guy who worked on Rainbow‘s demise down that slippery slope to the soapy ’80s mainstream. With tracks like I Surrender that appeared on Difficult to Cure. This means that the band was on its merry way to join Foreigner and their ilk with songs in disco-ready bite-size format. Oh, so groovy – by jove. But for this here album you’ll still find enough Hard Rock crunch to please without going all glittery on you.
But hey, in hindsight Blackmore did exactly the right thing. Down To Earth charted much better than its more fantastic brethren headed by Dio ever did. And hit gold in the UK charts that very year of 1979 to drive that specific point home.
Yet, the critics got a point too. Whilst the record is fun to listen to and rocky to a point, the lyrics clearly suck. And this starts with the first track and groupie sweetener All Night Long. Bonmots like “…I need a girl who can keep her head all night long…” or “…don’t know about your brain, but you look alright…” kinda sound like a teenager’s wet dream, but don’t really add any meaningful quality to the album. But then again, this track charted at rank #5 on the UK Singles Chart. Go figure for cheap thrills, right?
Yet, the record is not without its qualities. Eyes of the World is an absolute kicker. The meaty riffing with keyboards and all, belted vocals, plus otherworldly solos just take the cake. You can’t get away from that one. And in truth the solos really are THE lifesaver on this record. Say what you will about a crappy new style and what have you, but guitars and vocals really are on the sunny side of things. Some hidden jewels lurk in the background too, like the low-tempo, bluesy Love’s No Friend. With some pretty decent solo to boot.
But then the band tries to drown you in a sea of mediocrity in tracks like No Time To Lose. Another dafuq moment on that album. Or Rainbow will get on the lighter side of things with Since You Been Gone, the Ballard track. Again with lyrics that are just about on the acceptable side of things. And this track was a big hit back then, believe me. It positively howled out of every fucking lo-fi music box installed in pubs and bars back in the early ’80s.
So, what about this roller-coaster of a record?
Whilst clearly a turning point in Rainbow‘s style and direction, Down To Earth retains a freshness that will keep your attention at high levels. Never mind what cheesy deliveries come next, this record clearly packs a punch, commercial direction or not. Blackmore forever immortalized tracks like Since You Been Gone, Eyes of the World or – then again – Lost in Hollywood. And those alone render the record worthwhile to own. Duds, fillers and all that jazz included.
If you don’t have Down To Earth in your music collection, now is a good time to add it. Because it will not exist for very long in music stores anymore. The record is controversial, yes. But at the same time good down home Hard Rock fare for the rock music lover.
Well, now then. This record should definitely appear on the famous Old’n’Tasty fanboy page. Right? Let’s wait and see. And see you will, make no mistake.