Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Best of Ronnie James Dio: Part I

Without a doubt one of the most recognizable voices in all of heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio rocked and rolled for over 50 years. Dio, standing at only 5'2, possessed the voice of a giant. He was known for his consistently powerful live vocal performances, lyrics dealing with wizards, dragons, swords, and sorcery, his warm accommodating nature toward fans and fellow musicians, and the popularization of the famous "devil horn" hand signal you see flashed at literally every concert. (See example below.)


Dio tragically passed away, aged 67, in 2010 but his legacy lives on. There are 3 Dio tribute bands on the tour circuit at present. All 3 bands feature previous members of Dio's solo bands as well as other metal musicians that admired the leather-lunged Italian American singer. Numerous bands have done covers of Dio-penned tunes and a few bands are even named after Dio songs. ("Mob Rules" and "Dream Evil" come to mind.) There are also several Dio tribute albums in circulation or atleast songs written as a tribute to Dio. Dio has fronted several bands; Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, Ronnie and the Redcaps, The Electic Elves, Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Heaven and Hell. So one has a very deep well of musical royalty to dive into if you're thinking of checking out the awesomeness that is Ronnie James Dio. A lot of the early singles and vinyl only releases have become very difficult to find and still there's plenty of Dio rocking to be had out there on CD and digital download services like Amazon and i-Tunes. Starting below I'm going to list every studio release from Ronnie James Dio that I have personally collected and give each album the proper look over it deserves. The intention of this article is so that you, the living ones above ground, can get acquainted with his stellar catalogue and pick a couple albums that most interest you and find them! No live albums, just studio cuts. Though I do recommend trying those out too. Remember I am the grand horned one and I demand you listen to Dio or I shall have your soul! 

1. Elf Elf- Elf, as a band, is not what one would really consider heavy metal. It has more in common with old school rock n' roll and blues rock. My favorite track on the album is "Nevermore," a great track that starts slow but picks up tempo and rocks maybe the hardest of all the tracks on the album. The lyrics have a grim Edgar Allen Poe feel which I suppose is only appropriate since it shares its name with a Poe poem. It also serves as a showcase for Ronnie's stellar vocal range. Other tracks like "I'm Coming Back for You" and "Love Me Like a Woman" really bring the bluesy boogie and highlight the rock n' roll roots of the band.

2. Rainbow Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow- The first Rainbow album also showcases a blues rock sensibility and that's most likely because Elf morphed into Rainbow. You see Ritchie Blackmore discovered Elf when they would open for his band Deep Purple. When he decided to leave Deep Purple after Stormbringer he called them up and asked them to be his new band. And so, Rainbow was born. Despite the blues elements on some songs, the Rainbow debut rocks harder than Elf. "Man on the Silver Mountain" is probably the most famous track from the album and for good reason. It's a powerful vocal performance a great guitar riff and it sticks in your head like peanut butter in the roof of your mouth. "Catch the Rainbow" is a wonderful slow song. Lyrics like, "Life's not a wheel, with chains made of steel. So bless me! Bless me," are easy to sing along with and carry greater meaning than just "boys and girls." Songs like "Black Sheep of the Family" and "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" carry real groove and "The Temple of the King" lays the template for their second album. 

3. Rainbow Rising- Rainbow's 2nd album is, to sum it up, the true beginning of power metal. Just one spin and you'll know exactly what I mean. The guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all pack a sonic punch that to this day can still out rock much of what it is played against. It opens roaring with "Tarot Woman" and follows up with the equally stomping "Run with the Wolf." "Starstruck" is one of Dio's famous "evil woman" type songs. "Lady starstruck, she's nothing but bad luck. Lady starstruck running after me. Lady starstruck, she's nothing but bad luck. Bad luck! Bad luck!" "Do You Close Your Eyes" is one of the poppiest cuts ever produced in Dio's tenure in the band and still it roars like no pop song before or after it. "Stargazer" is a 70s metal epic on the same level as "Stairway to Heaven," "July Morning," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Child in Time." All the elements of power metal are in play here. Lyrics that reference a wizard, Egyptian history, astrological bodies, and sweeping deserts. Dio roars at the high end of his vocal range and the guitar and bass pounding are unrelenting. Cozy Powell kills on drums as well. "Stargazer" is followed by "A Light in the Black" and there couldn't be a better closer. It is worth mentioning that Ronnie and Ritchie are the only musicians from the first album that play on Rising.

4. Rainbow Long Live Rock N' Roll- Rainbow's 3rd album was the end in ways. After this album the band would reach for a more radio friendly sound and of course, Dio would not be with them. Ronnie packed up his bags and replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath not long after Long Live Rock N' Roll, but he went out with a bang. The album opens with the title track and no one with a love for rock could not like this song. If you don't find yourself headbanging and foot stomping you're dead! "Lady of the Lake" tales of the mythical lake lady responsible for delivering King Arthur's legendary sword Excalibur. "L.A. Connection" is a another rocker but it ditches the sword and sorcery lyrical content for a tale about a broken man who can't get work in Los Angeles because he doesn't have any connections. "Gates of Babylon" is the "Stargazer" of this record and it rips and roars with more killer Ricthie Blackmore riffing and as always, a soaring vocal delivery from Mr. Dio. "Kill the King" is one of the heaviest metal songs of the era and a return to what Ronnie knows best from a lyrical standpoint, the medieval. "The Shed (Subtle)" and "Sensitive to Light" keep it rocking and the album closes with the somber "Rainbow Eyes." A personal favorite. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 when we examine Dio's time in Black Sabbath!

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