With the release of DIO: Dreamers Never Die, it’s been one Dio assignment after another just recently, and I, for one, am not complaining. In line with the premiere of the film this week, I was asked to put together a top twenty of Ronnie James Dio’s best-ever songs.
Words: Mark Rotherham
Only twenty? I hear you ask, and you’d be right. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t what songs you put on the list. It was which songs you left off the list is the problem. As they said on an old sitcom from the ’80s, boy, whadda decision to make!
So here’s my twenty. It may well not be your twenty, and in an hour’s time, I’ll probably change my mind as well!
20. Challis – Dio (Magica).
This album lodges in my memory as a more down-tempo effort by Ronnie until I listen to it again, especially this song. It’s as aggressive and in your face as any of the other best of Ronnie’s best songs.
19. I – Black Sabbath (Dehumanizer).
Ronnie returned to the Black Sabbath fold for one album, and the evil, the heaviness, the riffs and the voice were all still there, as this song amply illustrates.
18. Hoochie Koochie Lady – Elf (Elf).
The first track from Elf’s first album. Surprisingly good and rounded music until you realise that Ronnie had already been around the block even by this stage.
17. Scream – Dio (Killing the Dragon).
A hammer blow impact of a song, all about despair, about fighting despair, in a constant battle for control of your soul. A full-throttle testament to Ronnie making his music his way, from the start right through to the end.
16. Hey Angel – Dio (Lock up the Wolves).
A haunting song about suicide, with a relentlessly addictive riff as Ronnie sings about loss, hopelessness and grief.
15. Stars – Hear ‘n’ Aid.
The Heavy Metal version of Band Aid/USA for Africa and an absolutely fantastic song. Great riff, great vocals, great solos, and some serious ensemble talent from start to finish.
14. Stargazer – Rainbow (Rising).
A sheer opus of a track, taking up almost one side of the record back in the vinyl days. This song is big in every sense of the word, showing the sheer breadth of imagination and just what the Dio/Blackmore partnership was capable of.
13. Neon Knights – Black Sabbath (Heaven And Hell).
An absolute blistering track from Heaven And Hell, and one which made its way onto more than one Dio tour set-list. No subtlety at all as the post-Ozzy Black Sabbath set out its stall.
12. Tarot Woman – Rainbow (Rising).
A thundering statement of intent by Rainbow. This, the opening track of their second album, is letting the whole world know what they’re capable of, and their ability was monstrous.
11. King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Dio (Sacred Heart).
An absolute fireball opening track from Dio’s third album that may or may not have been a live recording. It was only ever played live on the Sacred Heart tour, and the only tour where Stand Up And Shout wasn’t the opening song.
10. Heaven And Hell – Black Sabbath (Heaven and Hell).
The title track from Ronnie’s first Black Sabbath album. Power and sensitivity in one song, and real insight into Ronnie’s view of the world.
9. Voodoo – Black Sabbath (Mob Rules).
Tony Iommi turns up the treble with this amazing, super-memorable riff, and Ronnie’s defiant, threatening lyrics hose through your soul. This is Ronnie telling the whole world that he doesn’t care what they think. “Nothing you do will be new, ‘cos I’m through.” Preach it!
8. Still I’m Sad – Rainbow (Rainbow On Stage).
This live version of the studio track is a monster of intense entertainment. It’s right at the end of the album, and the final part of the song will have you on your feet every time. Immense vocals, immense talent.
7. Kill The King – Rainbow (Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll).
An absolute rollercoaster of medieval-themed, neoclassical Heavy Metal. This song is so damn good it was on the live set before it was even released on the album.
6. Sacred Heart – Dio (Sacred Heart).
This, the title track from Dio’s third album, has got epic running right through it, like a stick of Heavy Metal rock. A slow thundering riff, telling you to always follow your dreams. Oh yeah, dreamers never die.
5. Rainbow In The Dark – Dio (Holy Diver).
An iconic track, one that everyone knows, and with one of the most utterly addictive riffs in Metal. Face your demons, no matter how long the night is, and glory in this song.
4. The Last In Line – Dio (The Last In Line).
Title track from Dio’s second album. By this stage, we’d all learned that Ronnie was the master of a slow build-up to a super-heavy anthem, and this song is the archetype example. An amazing song, and live, even better.
3. Falling Off The Edge Of The World – Black Sabbath (Mob Rules).
This song starts very slowly, and you have no idea just how heavy it becomes. Ominous, threatening, doomy, it’s everything you want from Black Sabbath in one song.
2. We Rock – Dio (The Last In Line).
Absolutely phenomenal opener to Dio’s second album. On Holy Diver, the band were getting to know each other, finding their way, and then for their second album, they really let rip. This song illustrates that perfectly.
1. Don’t Talk To Strangers – Dio (Holy Diver).
A live staple and an absolute storming song, starting slow and delicate before building into one of the most colossal Heavy Metal songs ever.
Wendy Dio interview. Part One, Wendy discusses Ronnie’s severed thumb, those doo-wop recordings, her role as manager and her relationship with Sharon Osbourne and Mick Wall. You can read Part One at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-we-wanted-to-portray-ronnie-james-dio-throughout-his-life.php.
Wendy Dio interview. Part Two, they cover Rainbow and Black Sabbath. You can read Part Two at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-ronnie-loved-the-black-sabbath-camaraderie.php.
Wendy Dio interview. Part Three, they cover DIO, the band, the dragon and how Wendy is happy that people are still listening to Ronnie’s music. You can read Part Three at https://www.metaltalk.net/wendy-dio-im-so-happy-that-people-are-still-listening-to-ronnie-james-dio-music.php
You can read MetalTalk’s review of the film at https://www.metaltalk.net/dio-dreamers-never-die-a-solid-gold-testament-to-one-of-the-legends-of-heavy-metal.php.
Tickets for Dio: Dreamers Never Die are available from www.diodreamersneverdie.com.
You can read about and donate to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund at https://diocancerfund.org/donate/.