Back To Earth
Rare Earth/Motown, 1975
REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/27/2011
The most important detail about Back To Earth was Jerry LaCroix replacing lead singer Peter Hoorelbeke/Rivera. This change made an overlooked masterpiece, “Delta Melody,” possible.
Before getting to the music, there are three facts about Rare Earth that I should mention. First, Rare Earth was Motown’s first all-white band that produced hits. Second, Motown named its rock label after the band. Third, the late and great Gil Scott-Heron mentioned Rare Earth in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Here’s what Heron said: “The theme song (of the revolution) will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.”
That’s a helluva reference. For one thing, Heron puts “the” in front of the band name, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did this intentionally. Look at the four names cited before Rare Earth: all famous white singers. Heron could have chosen any white band to represent the white group, but he went with Rare Earth. This choice strongly suggests to me that he found Rare Earth a perversion of Motown. If Heron had referenced The Doors instead, for example, his statement wouldn’t have been as provocative or appropriate.
I mean no disrespect to Heron when I say that I find Rare Earth valuable. Five years after “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Rare Earth released Back To Earth, and 36 years after that I found myself listening to the album’s fourth track, “Delta Melody,” as I was leaving the Mississippi Delta this summer. I damn near cried.
If you’ve never visited the Delta, you are missing out on a unique bittersweet experience. The region is flat and poor; it’s almost as if God slapped the land ages ago and it never recovered. The catch is that the Delta, while home to some of the most impoverished people in the United States, has incredibly fertile land and culture. You can see for miles on the road, and the people in the Delta are much like the land: what you see is what you get for the most part. When I leave the Delta, I am relieved and happy to see hills again, but another part of me feels I shouldn’t have left.
“Delta Melody” is a great summation of these mixed feelings. It was written by Doug Duffey, a native of Monroe, Louisiana, which is part of the Louisiana Delta (Duffey’s website says Monroe is in the Mississippi Delta – regional definitions are flexible things). Duffey’s chorus is as authentic as they come: “I miss the sweet delta melody / It haunts all my dreams / And it feels me with sadness / ‘Cause I miss the gladness / That each day brought to me.” It’s a strange thing when something sweet haunts you, but that’s what the Delta does.
So back to my original point: lead singer Jerry LaCroix joined Rare Earth at the right time for “Delta Melody.” LaCroix is also a native of Louisiana, and although he wasn’t born in the Delta, I know he experienced it. According to his website, he grew up in the parish of La Salle, which borders the Louisiana Delta. But really, LaCroix’s vocal is enough evidence that he knows the Delta. In contrast, original Rare Earth lead singer Peter Hoorelbeke (who would change his name to Peter Rivera) grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He would have never been able to deliver a song like “Delta Melody.”
LaCroix was also a great fit for Back To Earth’s concluding track, “City Life,” a song about leaving a city’s neon lights behind and working one’s way back home. “City Life” is the second best song on the album, mainly due to LaCroix’s delivery and Barry Frost’s energetic drumming. Incidentally, Frost also replaced Hoorelbeke. Rare Earth’s original lead singer was also the original drummer.
The remainder of Back To Earth isn’t as powerful as “Delta Melody” or as interesting as “City Life,” though “Walking Schtick” is an enjoyable instrumental that sounds like Weather Report. The two singles, “It Makes You Happy (But It Ain’t Gonna Last Too Long)” and “Keeping Me Out Of The Storm,” have serviceable moments, but they’re rather generic. The other three tracks are the weakest. Their titles say all that needs to be said: “Happy Song,” “Let Me Be Your Sunshine,” and “Boogie With Me Children.”
Back To Earth will never be considered a great album, but it would be a shame if “Delta Melody” is never recognized as a brilliant song that coincided with a major line-up change of Rare Earth. If you doubt the song’s authenticity and power, just play it while you’re leaving the Delta.