While Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow have assembled a back catalogue synonymous with high quality hard rock – among them classic albums such as Rising, Long Live Rock’n’Roll and Down To Earth – the band’s artistic triumphs have often come at a price, not least where the longevity of Blackmore’s bandmates is concerned.
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Rainbow’s history has been heavily punctuated by line-up changes. Their initial nucleus of Blackmore, former Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Cozy Powell was fleshed out by keyboardist Tony Carey and bassist Jimmy Bain for their much-lauded second album, 1976’s Rising, yet the latter pair had already departed prior to ’78’s Long Live Rock’n’Roll, for which Blackmore laid down the majority of the bass parts himself.
Containing evergreen fan favourites such as ‘Kill The King’ and ‘Gates Of Babylon’, plus minor UK hits courtesy of ‘LA Connection’ and the anthemic titular song, Long Live Rock’n’Roll rewarded Rainbow with UK Top 10 success, yet Blackmore remained unsatisfied with the band’s commercial yield and Dio’s fantasy-themed lyrics. Consequently, after an extensive world tour across 1977 and ’78, Dio departed, along with bassist Bob Daisley.
Blackmore retained Cozy Powell’s services, but when he began to work up new material for what would become Rainbow’s fourth album, Down To Earth, late in 1978, he was still to establish a new working line-up. He had, however, headhunted his former Deep Purple bandmate Roger Glover to produce the new record, and the pair began co-writing songs in earnest prior to recruiting a new keyboardist, respected sessioneer Don Airey, fresh from contributing to Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die!
Replacing the charismatic Dio, however, proved problematic, with Blackmore initially considering, then rejecting, Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan and Trapeze frontman Peter Goalby. Rainbow’s frontman dilemma remained unresolved by the spring of 1979, by which time the band had brought in ex-Pretty Things bassist Jack Green and decamped to the south of France to record their new album at the Chateau Pelly De Cornfeld.
Green’s tenure was brief, however, and producer Glover eventually handled bass duties for the album. The search for Rainbow’s new frontman, meanwhile, finally ended when Glover tracked down Lincolnshire-born singer Graham Bonnet, formerly of late 60s rock duo The Marbles. With his short hair and sharp, new wave-style dress sense, Bonnet’s imaged contrasted with the era’s quintessential long-maned heavy rock frontmen, but he had a formidable vocal range and was immediately hired after auditioning in France.
With the album in the can after further sessions in the US, Polydor released Down To Earth in July ’79. Indicative of the record’s muscular, yet radio-friendly hard rock sound, its trailer single, ‘Since You Been Gone’, shot to No.6 on the UK Top 40 in August, providing Rainbow with their first major smash hit.
Propelled by strident Blackmore riffs and a belting Bonnet vocal, ‘Since You Been Gone’ was actually penned by ex-Argent-turned-songwriter-for-hire Russ Ballard. Blackmore and Glover, however, supplied Down To Earth’s second classic single, the raunchy, anthemic ‘All Night Long’, which cracked the UK Top 10 in February 1980. The album could easily have delivered further hits, too, with the urgent ‘No Time To Lose’ and the steely, Free-esque ballad ‘Love’s No Friend’ also reflecting Rainbow’s newfound accessibility.
Elsewhere, fans of the band’s trademark virtuosity were catered for by the moody, shape-shifting ‘Makin’ Love’ (which included an exquisite, double-tracked Blackmore solo) and the epic, six-minute ‘Eyes Of The World’. The one concession to prog-style complexity found 03on Down To Earth, the latter afforded Bonnet a further opportunity to shine, while an on-form Airey responded to Blackmore’s intricate, phased guitars with a sweeping, classically inclined piano solo.
Down To Earth’s invigorating, hook-friendly rock’n’roll paid dividends for Rainbow. Peaking at No.6 in the UK, it rewarded Ritchie Blackmore’s crew with a gold disc and their highest chart placing to date. A high-profile headlining slot at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock festival, held at Castle Donington in 1980, suggested mainstream acceptance was within their grasp, but a further bout of internal tension led to Graham Bonnet’s departure, and another new frontman, Joe Lynn Turner, helming 1981’s Difficult To Cure.
Down To Earth can be bought here.