Are you ready to rock? Well, tough, because we've decided it's Metal Monday. In other words, friend, it’s non-negotiable: you are gonna rock!
Now it’s time to make with the metal, and to get you revved up for the start of a new week, we’re taking a look back at the musical life and times of Ronnie James Dio by offering up 10 tracks that take you through some of the major moments of his 53-year rock and roll career.
Elf, “L.A. 59” (1974)
If you’re wondering about that 53-year figure in the intro, Dio started his first band, The Vegas Kings - later known as Ronnie and The Rumblers, then Ronnie and The Red Caps, and then Ronnie and The Prophets - when he was in high school. After all of those permutations, the band finally dropped the “Ronnie” conceit altogether and started calling themselves The Electric Elves...and then The Elves...and then by the middle of 1972, they released their first album as simply Elf. In America, "L.A. 59" was the title track of the band’s second album, but they would only release one more before the band dissolved, mostly because all of the members ended up joining Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
Rainbow, “Stargazer” (1976)
By the time Rainbow released its second album, Rising, the only former member of Elf remaining in the lineup was Dio, and he only stuck around for one more album - 1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll - before moving on to his next musical endeavor. Still, during the course of his three albums with the band, Dio definitely helped Rainbow forge its reputation as a solid rock band, and this track is arguably the best song he recorded during his tenure.
Black Sabbath, “Neon Knights” (1980)
If you’ve got to pick a new musical endeavor after leaving Rainbow, Black Sabbath ain’t a bad way to go. Once again, Dio wasn’t in the band for the long haul - he replaced Ozzy Osbourne on Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, and he left due to conflicts during the mixing of the band’s 1982 concert album, Live Evil - but considering the heavy metal icon whose shoes he was stepping into, fans and critics alike agreed that he did an amazing job. This track was released as a single from Heaven and Hell, and it’s one of Dio’s signature tunes from his time in the band.
Dio, “Holy Diver” (1983)
Enter the solo career? Not so much: although many didn’t necessarily perceive it as such, Dio was actually a band, one which - at least when it first started - consisted of future Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, former Rainbow bassist/keyboardist Jimmy Bain, and drummer Vinny Appice, who’d followed Dio when he left Black Sabbath. This tune was the title track from Dio’s debut album, and it definitely served to set the musical tone for what the band was all about.
Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark” (1983)
Without question, this is one of the songs for which Dio is best remembered - not only for the band, but for the man as well. You might be surprised to discover that it never actually made the Billboard Hot 100, but thanks to the video being played incessantly on MTV, the single did climb to No. 14 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.
Dio, “Mystery” (1984)
A co-write between Dio and Jimmy Bain, this was the first single from Dio’s second album, The Last in Line, and although the title track was ultimately more successful, this tune did crack the Top 20 of the Mainstream Rock, if only at No. 20.
Dio, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children” (1985)
This was the first single from Sacred Heart, which turned out to be the final Dio album to feature guitarist Vivian Campbell, who was sacked while Dio was in the middle of touring behind the LP. Again, a solid hit on the Mainstream Rock chat, albeit one which only made it to No. 26, but it still showed that Dio’s fanbase was out there and ready to support their rock god.
Dio, “I Could Have Been a Dreamer” (1987)
This single from the Dream Evil album reveals that Dio was utilizing his songwriting skills to embrace melody over metal, which is not to say that he wasn’t still rocking just as hard, only that the strength of songwriting was progressing. Alas, the chart placements were still dropping, but this nonetheless proved to be a Top 40 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart.
Black Sabbath, “TV Crimes” (1992)
Just when you thought he was out, they pulled him back in! How Dio's Black Sabbath reunion came about was kind of weird: Geezer Butler joined Dio during a date on his Lock Up the Wolves tour and performed “Neon Knights” with him, and when both Dio and Butler went to Tony Iommi and said they’d be up for another go with Sabbath, Iommi literally disbanded the existing lineup of Sabbath and made the reunion happen. The resulting album, Dehumanizer, was a creative success, but Dio bailed in the midst of the tour behind the LP, annoyed by Sabbath agreeing to open for Ozzy Osbourne on a few dates of (what was supposed to be) his final tour. It would not, however, be the last we’d hear of Dio playing with his Sabbath bandmates.
Heaven & Hell, “Bible Black” (2009)
When Dio joined forces again with Iommi, Butler, and Vinny Appice to record three new songs for a compilation entitled Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, the bond between them was so strong that they ended up going on tour together, calling themselves Heaven & Hell. After the tour, they entered the studio and recorded what would prove to be their lone studio album, The Devil You Know, and the fact that it was as good as it was...well, frankly, it surprised a lot of people, but it was really, really good. Might there have been a follow-up if Dio hadn’t succumbed to stomach cancer? It seems quite likely, which makes it all the more tragic that he died on May 16, 2010 at the age of 67, since odds are that the follow-up would’ve rocked just as hard as the album that preceded it.