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14 songs that defined the career of Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio
(Image credit: Mark Weiss/Getty Images)

With the death of Ronnie James Dio on May 16, 2010, rock music lost an iconic figure. The man whose mighty voice lit up the music of Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio and Heaven And Hell was truly a unique talent: a vocalist of immense power, expression and innate melodic flair, an elegant lyricist, and a storyteller of rich imagination. 

There is magic in the words and voice of Ronnie James Dio. And here are 14 songs that defined his career. 

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Ronnie Dio & The Prophets - Gonna Make It Alone

This was a 1963 single released on the Lawn label – home of long-lost combos like Little Guy & The Giants – and while there isn't much to differentiate Gonna Make It Alone from much of the generic R&B you'd find in any American city, there are hints of the of the man’s undoubted charisma, ambition and depth. 


Elf - Gambler, Gambler

From the debut Elf album, featuring the line-up that would effectively become the first incarnation of Rainbow. Dio had just discovered the full power of Deep Purple; you can hear him finally slotting into the niche that would define his career.


Rainbow - The Temple Of The King

Just to prove that not everything Dio did in Rainbow was hugely overblown, this was a much more sedate, almost balladic song, with Dio proving his ability to croon in a medieval manner. This totally suited the song’s timbre.


Rainbow - Stargazer

The definition of epic metal, it really is Dio-era Rainbow in their pomp. A soaring song of mystery and magic, some quite astonishing musical prowess and, above all else, a titanic vocal performance. This track is operatic in its grandeur.


Rainbow - Lady Of The Lake

While many believe that Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio fell out because the former wanted Rainbow to take a more commercial direction, this song showcases Ronnie’s capacity for dealing with something bordering on pop, albeit with rock sensibilities intact.


Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell

As with so many albums involving Ronnie James Dio, there are so many choices from Heaven And Hell. But the title track is the one that underlines what Dio brought to Sabbath. It has a majesty, with the vocals augmenting some inspired musicianship.


Black Sabbath - Voodoo

If the Heaven And Hell album allowed Sabbath to break into a symphonic area, then Mob Rules was a heavier album. And nothing is better than this driving song, enhanced by Dio’s ability to let rip while having total control.


Dio - Holy Diver

The haunting, atmospheric build-up sets the mood, before the song opens up and allows Dio to take flight, showing that there still is nobody better in writing almost mythic lyrics with a pointed message, and bringing these to life.


Dio - We Rock

The title says it all. With horns flashing and raised fists, Dio the band bond with the audience on this racing anthem. Ronnie puts the colour and vitality into what is at heart a very simple song.


Dio - Rock'N'Roll Children

Only Dio can possibly imbue these lyrics with the sort of sincerity and artistry that makes them a work of literature. You can hear him feeling, living, breathing every word, inviting you into the song. This is a performance of pure vocal theatre.


Hear 'N Aid - Stars

It was Ronnie who got together a stellar cast of peers for this charity single, aimed at raising funds for the fight against famine in Ethiopia. In essence, this could have been a Dio song, and it’s the man himself who outclasses everyone who took part.


Dio - All The Fools Sailed Away

It says much for Ronnie that whenever a song is mentioned on which he appears, the first thing you think of are the vocals. So often, it was he who raised the track to the heights. This is a fine example. Try to imagine it without his voice at its heart. Impossible, isn’t it?


Heaven And Hell - Bible Black

When Heaven And Hell came tearing out of the traps, many wondered if they would be able to cut it in the studio on a new album. We needn’t have worried; they produced a slab of cutting-edge metal. And Dio’s vocals (particularly on this track) were peerless.


Dio - Electra

The last studio recording to feature Ronnie James Dio, this was recorded just before he was diagnosed with cancer. But everything that made Dio untouchable is still very much in place. It proves that he was still the best metal singer around.

Dio's live albums Evil Or Divine: Live In New York City and Holy Diver Live are out now.