The rainbow I’m referring to is actually the band Rainbow, formed in 1975 by Ritchie Blackmore and the members of Elf, minus the guitarist of course. Blackmore was increasingly fed up and isolated in his then current band Deep Purple (of which he was a founder member). The funk and soul influences of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes didn’t sit well with Blackmore’s much more straight ahead rock n’ roll approach. Although Burn had been positively received by the band and the public (and by me, that album is almost flawless), the follow up, Stormbringer, veered too far into funk rock and a more chilled out vibe than Blackmore in particular was comfortable with. He even labelled the album ‘crap’ in an interview from the time.
Blackmore can also be, to put it politely, difficult to work with. He had had no difficulty in the past of firing people unceremoniously from Deep Purple before, being a major part of the decision to fire Rod Evans and Nick Simper from Deep Purple Mark I, and being the driving force behind Roger Glover’s departure from Mk II in 1973. Two years later, he would leave himself and really leave the remaining members of Deep Purple in the lurch. He’d already spent time in the studio with most of the members of the band Elf recording a demo of a cover of Black Sheep of the Family, a cover of a song by Quartermass, and the newly composed Sixteenth Century Greensleeves. Happy with the results of the demo, Blackmore decided to extend it from a single and B-side to a full album. The album was called Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. And so what was originally supposed to be a solo single evolved into a new band. This was no equal partnership however. This was Blackmore’s band and he would run it the way he saw fit. And that was true from the off, as Blackmore fired everyone bar Dio after the first album was released. That lineup of Rainbow never played a live show.
For most Rainbow fans, including me, the first three albums with Ronnie James Dio on vocals are the best of their discography. They truly embody what Blackmore and Dio originally wanted to do with the band. Hard hitting rock with a classical twist to it. Add in Dio’s fantastical and mystical lyrics and the foundations of power metal are laid. Tracks like Stargazer, A Light in the Black, Gates of Babylon, Kill the King and Lady of the Lake demonstrate that blend perfectly. The instrumental passages showcase the talent of the band Blackmore assembled for those albums. Despite the ever changing lineup, the quality of the band’s output with Dio never wavered.
Down to Earth is a jarring album to listen to when listening to Rainbow albums back to back. I imagine it’s a bit like listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Dark Side of the Moon back to back. It’s like listening to two completely different bands. The glaring difference from the off is Graham Bonnet on vocals. His style is completely different to Dio, much more R’n’B and commercial pop than heavy rock or metal. But that was the direction Blackmore had decided to go in. Down to Earth features much less extended instrumentals. The songs on the whole aren’t quite as memorable as those on earlier Rainbow records, but there are two stand out tracks. All Night Long and the brilliant SInce You Been Gone. I loved this song long before I ever got into Deep Purple or Rainbow or Ritchie Blackmore in general. The end solo is just superb and proves beyond doubt that Blackmore could restrain himself and play exactly what was needed for the song. Down to Earth doesn’t quite match up with Rainbow’s earlier releases but what it does it does extremely well.
Unfortunately, the rough point then hit as Blackmore continually changed musicians and recorded weaker and weaker songs. By the time he left to rejoin Deep Purple Mk II in 1984, Rainbow had become middle of the road and way too commercialised. Their material was one dimensional and stagnant. But when the right group of musicians were together and firing off each other, in the studio and on stage Rainbow was hard to beat.