Rainbow: Down To Earth - Album Of The Week Club review

Out with Dio, in with the Hawaiian shirt bloke. What was Ritchie Blackmore up to with Rainbow's Down To Earth?

Rainbow - Down To Earth
(Image: © Polydor Records )
Rainbow - Down To Earth

(Image credit: Polydor Records)

All Night Long
Eyes of the World
No Time to Lose
Makin' Love
Since You Been Gone
Love's No Friend
Danger Zone
Lost in Hollywood

Ritchie Blackmore always played smart, and never more so than with his brilliant reinvention of Rainbow in the late 70s. 

Deciding that Ronnie James Dio’s demons-and-wizards shtick was passé, Blackmore replaced him with Graham Bonnet, whose quiff and Hawaiian shirts didn’t sit well with Rainbow’s denim-and-leather demographic but he was ideally suited to the radio-friendly rock of Down To Earth.

With former Purple bassist Roger Glover joining the band and producing the album, Rainbow had Top 10 hits with Since You Been Gone and All Night Long, while Eyes Of The World maintained a link to the past.

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Background

It was December 1978, and 20 degrees below freezing in Darien, Connecticut. Don Airey had left England in such a rush that he’d forgotten his coat. The keyboard player had been asked by his old friend Roger Glover to fly to the States to join Rainbow as they geared up to record their fourth album. As he walked into the rehearsal studio he passed a familiar figure on the way out

“I said to Ritchie: ‘Was that Ronnie? Is he coming back?’” Airey recalls today. “And Ritchie said something like: ‘Nah, he’s gone.’ And that was it. I don’t know what had happened, and I still don’t.”

They began auditioning singers, flying them to Geneva. Cozy Powell had some old tapes, and music by a band from the late 60s called The Marbles came on. Blackmore looked interested. “What happened to that guy?” he asked.

The guy in question was Graham Bonnet, a 32-year-old R&B singer from Skegness who was enjoying modest success in Australia as a solo singer. 

First impressions weren’t favourable. Glover remembers the band’s shock at the shortness of Bonnet’s hair – unthinkable for a rock’n’roll band in the 1970s. And he wasn’t familiar with the song he was supposed to sing, Deep Purple’s Mistreated.

“Graham was over the other side of the room when the intro began,” Glover recalls, “and I thought: ‘He’s forgotten it already.’ Right when the vocal was about to start, he leapt across the room, grabbed the microphone and he nailed it.”

Don Airey was so shocked he stopped playing. “He started singing, and we were gobsmacked,” he remembers. “The thing ground to a halt.”

Bonnet flew back to London unsure of whether he wanted the job. “It was totally alien to me,” he says. “Everybody was like semi-classical musicians. I said to my manager: ‘I don’t think I’m right for this’. My manager, thinking we could make money out of it, said: ‘No, you’ve got to do it’.”

So Bonnet returned to France and joined Rainbow. 

Other albums released in July 1979

  • Rust Never Sleeps - Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  • The B-52's - The B-52's
  • Low Budget - The Kinks
  • Nine Lives - REO Speedwagon
  • Highway to Hell - AC/DC
  • John Cougar - John Cougar
  • Bop till You Drop - Ry Cooder
  • Can - Can
  • Duty Now for the Future - Devo
  • First Under the Wire - Little River Band
  • No Promises...No Debts - Golden Earring

What they said...

"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 immortalised 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." (Rock Music Radar)

"All the while, the charismatic Bonnet tackles every song with verve, throwing himself into each performance, and his energy is infectious. A song as silly as the band's cover of Russ Ballard's ebullient Since You've Been Gone has no right to work as well as it does, but while Blackmore sleepwalks through the track, Bonnet makes it all his own with a performance that's too charming to resist." (Pop Matters)

"Inevitably, the coming and going continued with the departure of both Bonnet and drummer Cozy Powell. Which means Down To Earth becomes a transitional album in the Rainbow catalogue: steering the band from Ye Olde Rainbow to the slicker Joe Lynn Turner era. But with shades of both styles and a timeless hue of Deep Purple too, it’s a stone-cold classic in its own right. Could I be wrong? No." (Heavy Metal Overload)

What you said...

Chris Wigmore: Ah yes, the Miami Vice years. Graham Bonnet - short of hair, huge of pipes. This is where they took the shagging songs from Rising and made a full album out of them. The opening track would not sit well in the #MeToo era, but there's a massive key change in the middle and Graham's voice soars. 

Obviously it's got the Rainbow song for people who don't like Rainbow on it - Since You Been Gone - and it's a great song an all, but this album is all about Eyes of the World. Its epic, it hoofs along on a galloping riff, ramping up the drama as it goes. Ritchie is playing all of his exotic scales and the keyboards are providing the swirly drama, with some wonderful piano stabs in after the solo, just before our Graham hits his peak. I think it's my second favourite Rainbow song.

My now defunct band - We Will Have Victory - supported Graham at the Bristol Bierkeller about five years ago. He opened up with Since You Been Gone. The sheer balls of that. It meant I was able to go home after the third song - Eyes of the World. Thanks Graham!

Philip Qvist: Okay let's get straight to the obvious; this is no Rising - but then again very few albums are.

While it was more commercial than the previous three Rainbow albums, it doesn't mean Down to Earth was a bad record - on the contrary, it is a damn fine album.

Two iconic singles and plenty of other great songs, while Graham Bonnet was more than a decent singer. What more can you ask for?

Pelle Andersson: I was very disappointed at first. I still think that Ritchie, Ronnie and Cozy had one or two good albums in them. On the other hand, Graham does a fine job, in the studio at least. I do not care too much about Since You' Been Gone, All Night Long and such but Danger Zone and a few other songs are good. Not a classic. Rainbow made better. Yes, the best ones during the Dio era but the sons are strong on one or two from the Lynn- Turner era, if one likes the more commercial era.

Chris Downie: A very good choice for this week, I can think of few albums by a "classic" band as divisive as this one! 

While it doesn't hold a candle to the Dio albums, it has its moments - and not just the two 'hits', either - most notably Eyes of the World. That said, my everlasting thought on this album has always been that it's one of the great 'what-if' scenarios in hard rock, as we will never know what the next album would have sounded like, had Bonnet been retained (much as I admire Joe Lynn Turner, it was no longer Rainbow IMHO). 

Ultimately, Bonnet is a great singer, better than his limited, brief tenures in bands would suggest and I think this album stands up as the last great Rainbow record.

Mike Knoop: This and the next lineup of Rainbow were one of the many good, if not great, hard rock bands that bridged the gap between mid-70s coliseum rock and the hair metal explosion of the early 80s. Still too off-puttingly hairy for the girls and too much focus on riffs at the expense of Zepplinesque epics for the musos. But it was the perfect soundtrack for parties at the lake - or the mall parking lot. (See also pre-glam Whitesnake, Nazareth, Montrose, UFO.) 

The album opens with Ritchie Blackmore's great riff for All Night Long, then Graham Bonnet's great growl of a voice, but bassist and producer Roger Glover's very dated lyrics demote it to rank of guilty pleasure. Same problem with the otherwise stellar Makin' Love: great music, embarrassingly vapid lyrics. 

Side two (yes, I'm old) generally rocks harder and has aged better than side one. The band are at their absolute best with their cover of Russ Ballard's power pop gem Since You Been Gone. Add anguished ballad Love's No Friend, and the closing two rockers, Danger Zone, and Lost In Hollywood, and you can see how Rainbow was this close to making all the pieces fit to build a U.S. hit machine. 

And what a band it was. This lineup is a who's who of "Hey, that's the guy from...": Keyboardist Don Airey from Ozzy's band, the mighty Roger Glover from Deep Purple, and drummer Cozy Powell from far too many bands to mention. And poor Graham Bonnet... never could find a band to take him to the top. The Michael Schenker Group and Alcatrazz didn't get him there either. Maybe too many pairings with temperamental guitar gods. Ultimately, given Bonnett's short tenure, this ends up being a transition album before Rainbow finally had a string of hits with equally powerful (and mainstream) singer Joe Lynn Turner.

Colin Livesey: Bonnet is a great vocalist but, like most, suffers when compared to Dio. This album is Richie turning to more 'pop' oriented music. If Down To Earth hadn't have come after those Dio albums it would be seen as a better album but Rainbow with Dio had set an expectation. I sit with those who prefer the Dio albums but there is still much to be liked about this album. For many it marked the beginning of the decline of Rainbow but it is far and away the best of the post Dio Rainbow output.

Jonathan Novajosky: If I had to recommend one great, underrated rock artist to someone, it might just be Rainbow. The first three albums with Dio are all fantastic (especially Rising). Under Graham Bonnet, the band took on a much more radio-friendly sound. This was something Blackmore wanted, and it definitely shows. 

The opening track All Night Long is unique in that it doesn't contain a single rhyme, yet it somehow flows together so well. It is one of the best songs on Down To Earth. The big hit on the record is Since You Been Gone, and it was actually the first Rainbow song I ever heard. I'm sure there are plenty who hate the song for its pop-y hook and sappy lyrics, but I absolutely love it. Down To Earth is short and to the point--there really isn't a bad song on the album. Eyes Of The World includes an impressive buildup, Makin' Love has a light groove to it, and Bonnet's vocals in Danger Zone climb up to a very nice high pitch.

If you're a big Rainbow fan, this album probably won't blow you away like Rising or the debut does, but it is still solid throughout. Graham Bonnet may be an odd fit for Blackmore and Rainbow, however I think he deserves a ton of credit for stepping out of his comfort zone and delivering some strong performances. It is more accessible (and that may not be to your liking), but Ritchie Blackmore is successful in implementing a new singer and writing songs that fit to his style in Down To Earth. 8/10

Anthony Latz: The times were Changing. Punk had come and so did the New Wave of Hard Rock. Older bands were either dying or had to adapt to a new sound. Led Zeppelin came out with In Through the Out Door, their most disappointing offering, where as Scorpions produced Lovedrive, Priest had British Steel. Down to Earth was the first album I queued to get on its release.

And I was not disappointed. It still had the raw energy, but Blackmore's playing was more restrained and to the point. Blackmore at the time was the best and most dangerous axeman at the time. Clapton was comatose, Page tired, but Blackmore was still throwing Fenders left right and centre.

Robin L Haddon: As someone who grew up with Purple and Dio era Rainbow (first gig) the release of this album was a bit of a shock. My local record store owner stuck Since You've Been Gone on his system and asked me who it was. I had no idea until the guitar bridge. Hmmm, this was white label album precursor. 

Bought the album on release and yeah it is great but in the context of the end of punk, the rising NWOBHM and the other classic rock still shining this felt divisive. Particularly lyrically all this love and heart break. It does contain some gems in Eyes Of The World, Lost in Hollywood, the two singles and Love's No Friend, but Danger Zone (solo aside) is second division at best. The subsequent tour was extraordinary (sadly no Samson), along with the very first Donington Monsters Of Rock, so the future did seem bright

Iain Macaulay: The first band I was ever aware of as a kid was Rainbow, due to back patches on local bikers' cut off denim jackets. Particularly the Rainbow Rising patch. The first tape I ever owned was the first Rainbow album. I remember the singles of this album from the local youth club juke box and seeing the videos somewhere, probably Top of the Pops

So, this album has a massive nostalgia aspect for me and the band had quite an impact on my formative years in making me inquisitive about rock music. Yes, it’s not the best Rainbow album. Yes, it’s very accessible and yes it’s a bit lyrically... um .... dated, shall we say. There are even ‘moments’ within some songs that somehow remind me of Kiss, specifically Gene, with lyrics and vocal inflections, not the guitar playing! 

But does any of that matter when the musicianship is so fantastic? The groove of Cozy Powell is so addictive in holding it all together, the singing so formidable, the guitar playing top notch and the songs so highly memorable. What more do you want? Other than the singles, Lost in Hollywood and No Time To Lose are favourites.

Steve Norton: If you are a Blackmore fan like me then if you look back over his career you appreciate the amazing variety of music he writes 

There's no right or wrong in liking or disliking parts of his career. I don't like Blackmore's Night or MK1 Purple, so although the first three albums are my favourites I love this album.

All Night Long and Eyes of the World are my two favourite tracks and Eyes would have fitted into Long Live Rock 'N' Roll perfectly with Dio singing 

Rainbow were always an amazing live band, and still are, though the same intensity is not there now that Blackmore is over 70

Michael Anderson: I had to go re-listen to this one. Is it a great record? No, it probably isn't, but it's a very good one. I personally wish Bonnet had a chance to make a second record. Listening to this CD made me go listen to the last one with Dio singing. Much different sound, but I actually appreciated the addition of backup vocals on this CD. I give it a 7, and I enjoy it much more than the Joe Lynn Turner CDs.

Bill Griffin: I didn't particularly appreciate the shift in direction with this album but it is what it is. They would get better at sustaining the commercial material over the course of an entire record but this one would have been better served if the four extra tracks on the deluxe version had been included instead of some of what was, particularly Weiss Heim. What an incredible song. 

I have to say that Bonnet's voice started grating on me by the end of Makin' Love but became less so over the course of the second side. He does a pretty decent job of conjuring up Dio on Love's No Friend.

Although it has a lot of good tracks with some filler, I don't think I'll be playing this one very often.

Curtis McCraw: This has aged rather well and is often played in my house, I hated it back in the day though as I was a huge Dio fan but the older and wiser me gave it a fair crack of the whip a couple of decades ago and much to my surprise loved it.

Carl Black: I had Long Live Rock 'N' Roll, and I'm from a heavy metal background. Dio is a legend. In every respect. So Graham Bonnet who has a completely different approach was going to have to pull it out the bag. I'll always think of a white jacket. You'd never catch Ronnie James Dio wearing one of those. But... And I say it quietly.... I prefer Graham Bonnet's voice. It's so rock'n'roll. And he effortlessly gives it 100%, which gives every song a kick. 

I can take or leave Richie Blackmore, but he knocks it out here. I love it when he and the keyboard player play in sync. I got the straight up rock'n'roll, All Night Long, but I also got a slight, very slight prog tinge. Not 2112, but just a slight push of the envelope. And then a shout out to Cozy Powell on the drums. A super group in every sense of the word. But given the choice. I'd rather see Ronnie up front. Sorry Graham.

John Davidson: Back in 1979 I desperately wanted to love this album. It was Rainbow. it was heavy(ish) and had songs you could dance to at the school disco and. it had Eyes of the World.

But it was no Rising. In truth it isn't even as good as Long Live Rock 'N' Roll.

When Black Sabbath resurfaced with Dio on vocals in 1980 singing about Heaven And Hell it was pretty obvious what was missing.

Back to Down to Earth... it's by no means a bad album and despite the fact the lyrics from the most popular songs are a bit cringy now with their overtures to young groupies, Graham Bonnet has a decent set of pipes on him that's for sure. Nothing Blackmore produced afterwards was anywhere near as interesting, as he delved ever deeper into AOR territory but I prefer to think of this as the last good un as opposed to the beginning of the end.

Brian Carr: Poor Graham Bonnet - talented singer, but replaced a Mt. Rushmore of metal singers in Ronnie James Dio. He does fine work, though I did find myself thinking he had only one vocal delivery until I hit the fantastic Love’s No Friend. Bonnet was followed by one of my favourite rock voices in Joe Lynn Turner (though many in this group don’t seem to be a big fan of those records). But let’s get Down To Earth.

Some of the Down To Earth tunes were geared towards radio. All Night Long rocks, but I struggle with Since You’ve Been Gone because I always want to sing “Louie Louie.” Love’s No Friend and Eyes Of The World are more reminiscent of the classic Rainbow sound to my ears and the electric guitar riff on Makin’ Love reminds me of Perfect Strangers-era Purple. Blackmore is a guitarist I find myself liking more and more as I get older and he is excellent here. The band is solid and driving and the songs rock, though a couple seem to go on a little longer than necessary. Glad you chose this record and got my mind (and ears) on Rainbow!

Gary Claydon: I was a big fan of Dio-era Rainbow, not so much later line-ups. It wasn't that they became bad and they certainly had their moments post Dio but their slicker, more commercial offerings didn't quite do it for me. At the time I kind of understood Blackmore's desire to move away from the 'fantasy world' element that Dio brought to his song writing(although it does seem a little ironic now given that Ritchie seems to have been living in a medieval cosplay world for the past two decades). I went out and bought the album as much out of curiosity about the new vocalist as anything else.

To deal with Graham Bonnet first, I always liked his vocals. He often sounded like a cross between Coverdale and Hughes to me( without being as good as either) and that can't be a bad thing. The only time I saw this line up live was the first Monsters Of Rock in 1980. Bonnet was always going to struggle to match Ronnie James Dio in the live stakes but he was OK. His Hawaiian shirt certainly made him a very visible front man ( as an aside, I was also present at Sheffield University when he made parts of himself a little too visible during his extremely brief MSG debut!) 

Bonnet's vocals on Down To Earth are fine, even very good at times, particularly on the pick of the tracks Eyes Of The World and Lost In Hollywood. The former is the most Dio-period-type offering here while the latter is one of Rainbow's most underrated and oft-overlooked tracks. It rocks along at a jaunty old lick and I really like Bonnet's performance on this one. 

The low points on Down To Earth for me are the two hit singles. Rainbow's take on the Russ Ballard penned Since You Been Gone is much preferable to the one by Head East which was released a year or so earlier, but that really is damning with faint praise while the best thing about All Night Long was the B-side on the 45, Weiss Heim.

Blackmore's playing is up to it's usual standards here, as is the rest of the band and Roger Glover does a fine production job, but apart from the aforementioned Eyes Of The World and Lost In Hollywood there is nothing here that really grabs me. A decent album but nothing more.

Final Score: 7.67 ⁄10 (413 votes cast, with a total score of 3168)

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