I wanted to write this up on Thanksgiving during some down-time I had in the morning, but my laptop battery died so the time was put to other use. The plan was to give thanks for the voice and music of the late, great Ronnie James Dio. I’m a little behind schedule, but what the hell, let’s do this thing.
The very first time I heard Ronnie James Dio sing was on the Black Sabbath album, “Mob Rules.” At the time I did not know that this was in fact who I would come to know by his solo work as just Dio. Back in the early and mid 80s I used to frequent a music store at the Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Record Town. I would sift through the very small section they had dedicated to metal albums and pretty much decide what to get based on word of mouth or coolness of the band name and/or album art. By this time the first two Dio albums had been released and being an impressionable young lad you know the “Holy Diver” album cover drew me like a magnet. For whatever reason it took me several trips before deciding to pick up a Dio album, but I always came back because of that album cover.
When I’d finally decided to take the plunge and pick up a Dio album, I got to Record Town and saw that there was a new third choice, “Sacred Heart.” If I’m checking out a new band I tend to start with their latest album and work my way backwards. The reasoning being that if they suck now they probably sucked earlier too. That doesn’t hold water anymore, but at the time it served me pretty well. So rather than going with “Holy Diver” I picked up “Sacred Heart.”
As you can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing about it, I loved “Sacred Heart.” I’ve always had a special connection with it because it was my first Dio album and I listened to it over and over and over again. Over the years I’ve found that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to share the same high opinion of the album and I’ve never understood why; every song on this album is a good, if not great, song.
If there is one song on the album that I like the least, it is the lead off track “King of Rock and Roll.” The faux live thing is a little weird, but it’s still a pretty catchy song. The title track “Sacred Heart” is one of my favorites on the album, and this album is full of songs I love to quote. “Whenever you dream you're holding the key, it opens the door to let you be free.” With inspiring lines like that along with the fantasy theme there was no hope that I would not fall madly in worship with RJD.
“Another Lie” is a good one (I woke up the other morning with the riff for that one running through my head for some reason.) “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” the lyrics are kind of cheesy, but I was a kid at the time so I could relate with wanting to run away from it all. Plus it is a pretty catchy song. “Hungry for Heaven” while seeming to have a religious slant based on the title didn’t really seem that way to me. Rather, lines like “Oh just hold on, you can make it happen for you, reach for the stars and you will fly” continued to inspire me.
From here on out the rest of the album are all personal favorites. “Like the Beat of a Heart”, “”Just Another Day”, “Fallen Angels” and “Shoot Shoot.” Ronnie James Dio had the power to take any group of words and instill them with so much power that it just drove them deep into your soul and tattooed them there forever. In “Like the Beat of a Heart” the dramatic timing of the music combined with the lyrics “Now love can be a whisper, but pain will always shout… to …you…like the beat of a heart” is just so amazingly awesome that I cannot find words to express my adoration. I can nearly weep for its greatness. But it really doesn’t matter what he says, he just sounds great saying it. On “Fallen Angels” he sings “Sins of the children never get washed away” and he could just as easily have been saying “The stains on the children’s clothes, Tide washes it all away” and I’d be like hell yeah, man, I gotta get me some Tide. The power of his voice was magical.
Another set of lyrics from “Fallen Angel” that really caught my attention was the verse “You know something came to me in a dream, the crack of a gun and a bloody scream, then I could see the faces and why, I was holding a gun and the world began to die.” In a pre-Columbine world that last line really appealed to the teen angst revenge fantasy. For me it was less about actually shooting at people (something I would never do and would never recommend anyone else to do either) and more about having the power to make your tormentors run in fear. The bullied and picked on kids always dream about getting their come-uppance and this song helped me deal with it and become a fairly decent person in the end I think. I haven’t killed anyone yet at least.
When Ronnie passed last year I cried like a little girl. For days. Not a constant stream for days, but all I listened to for a week was Dio and whenever it was on at some point I was bound to break down and just blubber like a baby. The man was an icon and one of the greatest voices metal will ever hear. He was a big part of my musical life for over twenty years and from what I hear he was truly a gentleman as well. His like may never be seen again. I’m glad I got to see him perform a few times.
Everything he ever sang on is a gift and a treasure, but my favorite album will always be “Sacred Heart.”
R.I.P. RJD \m/