I have a confession to make in that I used to dismiss Ronnie James Dio as being unworthy of my listening time. Yes, I say this knowing that a rather LARGE majority of my formative years were spent in total obsession with any and everything having to do with Motley Crue, so my record collection up through high school was (perhaps) not the most musically sophisticated one. I’ll admit to that.
I’d like to think I’ve changed.
In regard to Dio, what initially changed my mind was a birthday gift of a digital copy of Black Sabbath’s The Rules of Hell box set. While a huge fan of the Ozzy Osbourne era of Black Sabbath, I’ll admit that I completely dismissed the work Dio did with the band, and so this box was definitely something I would not have ever purchased for myself. Initially, in fact, I just left the card sitting there and never entered the code to claim the music. Until one day I was bored, and did…
From the opening notes of the song “Neon Knights,” I knew I’d made a lifelong mistake as this was not a false flag Black Sabbath with a new singer. Instead, it was a powerful and soaring “other” Sabbath that just blew the doors off my misconceptions as my imagination soared to incredible heights on the wings of Dio’s lyrics and amazing vocals.
From that point, I’ve set out to rectify the error of my ways and have become a fan of the man and his work, including his years in Rainbow as well as his marvelous solo career – and it’s that solo career that brings me to the keyboard today.
For weeks I’ve been listening to the new A Decade of Dio: 1983-1993 box set from Rhino Entertainment and regretting time lost. As opposed to the usual “greatest hits” collection approach to a box set with interspersed unreleased alternate takes, Decade is simply the first six albums from Dio’s solo career, remastered and repackaged with some amazing new artwork from longtime Dio cover artist, Marc Sasso.
Included in this release are:
Holy Diver (1983) – Dio’s first and perhaps best solo work, which included Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath) on drums, Jimmy Bain (Rainbow) on bass, and Vivian Campbell (Sweet Savage) on guitar. The title track alone shows how ignorant I was for all those years.
The Last in Line (1984) – No sophomore slump here as evidenced by the singles “We Rock,” “The Last in Line,” and “Mystery.”
Sacred Heart (1985) – Perhaps one of Dio’s better known albums for such singles as “Sacred Heart,” “Rock N’ Roll Children” and “Hungry for Heaven,” it’s also the last album to feature the core band that launched Dio’s solo work.
Dream Evil (1987) – Perhaps not as well known or appreciated, Dream Evil added a bit of a punch to the band itself by seeing former Rough Cutt member Graid Goldy and Claude Schnell join the fold. “All the Fools Sailed Away” and “I Could Have Been a Dreamer” are my two favorite tracks on this album.
Lock Up the Wolves (1990) – On this album, Dio basically cemented the idea that Dio, as a band, was mostly Ronnie and whatever amazing musicians he felt like performing with at that particular time. Joining him here was Rowan Robertson, a teenage prodigy on guitar, Simon Wright (AC/DC) on drums, and Teddy Cook on bass. Perhaps my least favorite of the albums in this set, only “Hey Angel” found its way into the playlist I made of my favorites from these six albums after the first few complete listen throughs.
Strange Highways (1993) – Hot on the heels of Dio’s reunion tour with his “other” band Black Sabbath, this album sees Appice taking back the drummer spot in the studio as Tracy Grijalva and Jeff Pilson take up the guitar and bass spots, respectively. Of all the releases, this one seems to me to be a little off of Dio’s normal game as far as songwriting goes. While dark and mysterious, I’ve come to see a sense of optimism and adventure in his writing, but this album depressed the heck out of me with its pessimistic spirit. Musically, however, it’s still solid enough to warrant a listen, especially with this new remastered edition.
Ultimately I’ve got to confess that while I’ve come to appreciate Dio immensely as a vocalist, his solo stuff leaves me a bit flat after his first three albums. Where Dio’s vocals shine is when he has a consistent set of amazing musicians giving him a place to settle into the groove and truly soar. This is such a modestly priced set, though, that I am truly grateful for Rhino working so hard to freshen up the sound and let me hear music I might otherwise have missed.
There’s still enough work here that’s only decent by Ronnie James Dio standards that simply blow the hell out of other less talented singers, even on their best days. That includes, my inner child has to admit, Vince Neil.
What was I thinking? Go buy this, okay? Thanks.