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Top 10 Dio Songs

Ronnie James Dio
Paul Kane, Getty Images

With the sad passing of Ronnie James Dio on May 16,  2010, we wanted to take a moment and celebrate the most important part of his legacy – the music. The singer, born July 10, 1942, was a giant in metal, bringing a wealth of great songs and stage presence to a lengthy and successful career.

Even early on, when he was fronting upstate New York bluesy rockers Elf, Dio always seemed poised for bigger things. It’s no surprise that when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple and was looking for a magnetic frontman for his new band, Rainbow, he quickly recruited Dio.

After a hugely successful run of four studio albums with the band, Ronnie quit Rainbow for to become the new singer in Black Sabbath.

The marriage of Tony Iommi’s molasses-thick guitar tone and Dio’s authoritative vocals made for heavy metal magic, and everything the new Sabbath put down on tape should already be in your music collection. Though the pairing of talents worked so well artistically, other factors lead to Black Sabbath Mark II’s end in 1982. That same year, Ronnie formed the band that would take on his surname.

In Dio, the vocalist was joined by former Sweet Savage guitarist Vivian Campbell (currently in Def Leppard), bassist Jimmy Bain, and Vinny Appice, who also had played with Ronnie in Black Sabbath towards the end of his time with the group. Dio would go on to have numerous member changes through its three decade career, but the high quality of their material never wavered. Noisecreep has compiled a list of 10 essential Dio (the band) songs. Anyone who has followed the group throughout the years already knows how tough it was to put this thing together. We’ve tried to include songs that touch upon several periods in the band’s career. With so many triumphs, it was definitely a tough task.

‘Holy Diver’ From ‘Holy Diver’ (1983)

If there had to be one song that most metal fans associate with Dio — the band and man — it would have to be ‘Holy Diver,’ the title track of his 1983 debut solo album. Vivian Campbell’s ominous guitar riff and mid-paced stomp was the ideal sonic backdrop for Ronnie’s crystalline vocal performance. Though there’s an unflinching confidence in his delivery, there’s still a looseness in it that serves the song perfectly. Even his vocal improvisations at the tail end of the track hit the bull’s-eye. There’s no heavy metal connoisseur on the planet that would disagree — ‘Holy Diver’ is one of the most thrilling moments in the genre’s history.

‘Rainbow in the Dark’ From ‘Holy Diver’ (1983)

In a VH1 documentary, Dio explained that the lyrics to ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ were inspired by the dejection he felt after he split with Black Sabbath. That’s probably why the song features one of the singer’s most moving performances. The signature keyboard hook that drives the track lends it a poppy quality, but it’s tempered by the gravity of Dio’s voice. Also a staple of their live sets, ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ will go down as one of the bands’s most moving moments.

‘We Rock’ From ‘The Last in Line’ (1984)

While ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ had a classic rock factor in its presentation, ‘We Rock’ looked, smelled and sounded like pure, unadulterated heavy metal. Campbell’s dramatic opening riff alone has gone on to inspire bands like Helloween and Queensrÿche — it’s undeniable. ‘We Rock’ is ferocious from start to finish. Drummer Vinny Appice and bassist Jimmy Bain lock in the propulsive rhythm, allowing Ronnie and Vivian to work their magic over it. Throughout the years, many artists have told us how hard they rock, but few have backed it up so convincingly.

‘The Last in Line’ From ‘The Last in Line’ (1984)

This one starts off innocently enough with a sweetened vocal from Dio and lush instrumentation from his band. But at about the 40 second mark, the clouds split and an air siren-like keyboard line arrives, letting us know things are about to head in a different direction. The way Dio sings over and in between the stop and go guitars of the verses is truly beautiful. Meanwhile, Campbell lays down the kind of spirited guitar solo that reveals his adoration for the melodious six-string work of the underrated Thin Lizzy.

‘Sacred Heart’ From ‘Sacred Heart’ (1985)

Compositionally speaking, this song finds Ronnie looking back to his days with Tony Iommi. Its lumbering rhythms and humongous riffs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the ‘Mob Rules’ or ‘Heaven and Hell’ albums. Sadly, the ‘Sacred Heart’ album would be the last time Vivian Campbell would ever record with Dio, but his influential work throughout further proved what an asset he was to the group.

‘All the Fools Sailed Away’ From ‘Dream Evil’ (1987)

After the departure of Campbell, Craig Goldy was brought into the fold. The guitarist had been playing in Rough Cutt, a hard rock act managed by Ronnie’s wife, Wendy. ‘Dream Evil’ was the first album with the new lineup. Filling Vivian’s shoes was not easy, and Goldy got his share of lumps from the metal journalists of the time, but much of the criticism was unfounded. From the supercharged stuff like ‘Night People,’ to the slower numbers, he always served the song first and only showboated when the moment called for it.

‘All the Fools Sailed Away’ is more of a saga than a song. Clocking in at over seven minutes it’s a marathon, but the band handles the proceedings with expert ease. Claude Schnell’s keyboard solo sounds a bit dated listening to the track now, but that’s more of a production issue than anything else. In the end, Ronnie and Craig Goldy’s bewitching songwriting makes ‘All the Fools Sailed Away’ essential listening for any Dio fan.

‘Strange Highways’ From ‘Strange Highways’ (1994)

Although you might not associate Dio with the genre, don’t kid yourself — ‘Strange Highways’ is a straight-up doom metal song. The verse and chorus riffs are monolithic and rival anything by Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus. Dio always had a wickedly talented guitarist by his side, and on ‘Strange Highways’ he’s joined by Californian Tracy G. The new addition’s tone is thick enough to plow the sludgy riffs on this track, but it’s the little nuances in his delivery that sets his performance apart from lesser players. His subtle use of harmonics is a winning touch, coloring some of the sections, but never taking attention away from the bigger picture. There isn’t a note in ‘Strange Highways’ that doesn’t complement it.

‘Fever Dreams’ From ‘Magica’ (2000)

This beast of a track possesses many of the attributes that made the Dio band so irresistible. The radiant lyrics, simple yet epic guitar parts, and Ronnie’s dramatic vocal assault are packed into ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers.’ After an absence of 3 studio albums, Craig Goldy re-joined the band, and his Ritchie Blackmore-styled picking on the refrain riff is air guitar heaven. Dio might not have been selling as many albums in the ’00s than they did during their ’80s commercial peak, but it wasn’t because their material wasn’t worth the attention. ‘Fever Dreams’ should have been on rock radio, and no one will convince us otherwise.

‘Killing the Dragon’ From ‘Killing the Dragon’ (2002)

It’s too bad no Hollywood film studio ever had the sense to give Ronnie James Dio a budget to write a fantasy epic in the vein of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Conan the Barbarian.’ There are glaring examples throughout his legendary discography that prove the man had a blockbuster just waiting to get made. ‘Killing the Dragon’ came later in his career, but its cinematic lyrical style illustrates how in tune Dio was with the storytelling side of his musical identity.

‘The Man Who Would Be King’ From ‘Master of the Moon’ (2004)

We fittingly close out our list with another epic. ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is as huge as its song title would suggest. The beginning of the cut is all orchestration and Ronnie’s softer vocal side. But then it breaks into a Sabbath-esque march. The next thing you hear is the narrator’s warning of, ‘We laugh at your religion / you people of the sand / we have no superstitions / you can read it in our hands.’ One time AC/DC member Simon Wright brings his former outfit’s less-is-more drumming style to the song, and his tasteful performance anchors it well. The last track on ‘Master of the Moon’ is a song called ‘In Dreams,’ but there’s a resolve about ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ that makes Noisecreep feel that it would have made for a better choice to close out the band’s recording career.

If you close your eyes during the keyboard lead closing section of the song, you could almost imagine the end credits rolling down a movie screen.

That’s our list of Top 10 Dio Songs, and yet there’s so many more Ronnie James Dio songs the music great has left behind. Thanks Ronnie for the dedication and passion shown to metal over the years. Let us know your thoughts on this list in the comments section below.

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