Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Black Sabbath - "Die Young" from the album Heaven and Hell and
M.O.D. - "The Ballad of Dio" from the album U.S.A. for M.O.D.

I continue to work on my Why I Don't Like Rap post, but the answer, it appears, is convoluted, and might take me a little longer.

In the interim, I thought this blog might make mention of Ronnie James Dio, who, I'm sure you heard, died early Sunday.

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Dio was 67 years old. Weird. Not only was he older than Ozzy, he was older than Jimmy Page. He was older than Clapton, older than Ritchie Blackmore.

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow album coverDio came to his renown late. The first album on which he ever appeared--not that it sold all that well--was released in 1972, when Dio was 29 years old. Ozzy, five years his junior, had already been a household name for three years. And Dio wouldn't really become well-known until 1975, when Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow came out. At the time, the question was whether this newcomer Dio could even hold a candle to the other vocalists Blackmore had worked with, Ian Gillan and David Coverdale.

Well, yeah, he could at that.

Never mind that Blackmore (Blackmore!) thought so much of Dio's musical instincts that he gave the singer an arrangement credit for the debut. And never mind the super-cool lyrics about temples and snakes and kings and men on a silver mountain. Just focus on the range of the powerful voice and the power of his presence as a frontman. At 32, and after 17 years of trying, Ronnie James Dio was finally a rock star.

Some people, like Billy Milano here, made fun of Dio's themes, and his go-to phrases. Some people commenting at the article about Dio on the Spin website the other day took offense in the way writer David Marchese even mentioned how some of those other people found Dio's themes and his go-to phrases funny.

But what the fuck, you know? It's rock and roll, you know? I'm sure no-one had a better sense of humor about Ronnie James Dio than Ronnie James Dio himself.

Rock and roll doesn't mind artiness; rock and roll doesn't mind pretensions or grand themes or wizards or elves or bustles in your hedgerows or any of that shit. What rock and roll DOES mind is not having a sense of humor about yourself. Shit, it's how ELP and Rush got away with all the highfaluting stuff they did. And why Radiohead didn't.

So maybe it's just because of how I've heard Dio was such a great guy and all, but I bet he didn't mind the M.O.D. song at all, and I bet he wouldn't have minded the Marchese appreciation, either, even if the comparison to Gollum might have been a little out of line.

Look out!

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Truth be told, I never bought a Rainbow album with Dio on it. Never bought a Rainbow album at all. The only thing from them I ever purchased was the "Can't Happen Here" 12"--and that was with Joe Lynn Turner I believe.



In the ninth or tenth grade, Jose Gonzalez lent me some C-90 cassettes he'd made, compilations of Frank Marino and Black Sabbath, Van Halen and Deep Purple, Blue Öyster Cult and Ted Nugent and a bunch of hard rock others. Influential tapes, these were: I held onto them for a long time before Jose asked for them back, and I listened to them over and over again, scary at first, and enticing, familiarizing myself with the names and the music. As much as any of the albums I ever bought for myself early on, these tapes Jose lent me were the primers that I had in rock and roll.

And one of the C-90's had nearly a full side devoted to Dio-era Rainbow, "Kill the King," and "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves," and "Man on the Silver Mountain" and more, songs from the three studio albums, and from the On Stage live album.

To this day, I've still not heard some of this material again. But make no mistake: this was seminal stuff for me, and it affected me deeply. When I was a 14-year old nerd desperately trying to learn how to rock, as it were, Dio-era Rainbow was one of the select few showing the way.

I never owned the Heaven and Hell album, either. I was probably the only one in the neighborhood who didn't. Jose Gonzalez had it. Mark Gadol had it. Randy Schmidt had it. Of course, I borrowed it from one of them and recorded it to one of my Scotch brand cassette tapes so that I could play it at home when I wanted. But really, no need: it was *always* playing at Randy's house when we were hanging out after school, hanging on the patio in the wicker chairs, smoking cigarettes, playing chess or mankala, talking shit.

What needs to be remembered, and what I don't hear these past few days, is how Dio revitalized Black Sabbath. By the late seventies, Ozzy was a fucking wreck. I mean, how fucked up do you have to be to get kicked out of Sabbath for your excessive drug use?

Now I've never read any Sabbath biographies, but it's easy for me to think that a nonfunctioning Ozzy meant and implied a dysfunctional Sabbath. Sabotage and Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die are NOT great albums, let's just say that.

After four years of misses, (a most-likely sober*) Dio helped Sabbath hit that target again. Dio, and the album he helped them produce, Heaven and Hell, absolutely changed the band's career path. With the release of just that one album, they went from being nearly-has-beens to being metal band emeritus.

Dio-era Sabbath--touring off Heaven and Hell, natch--was the third concert I ever went to, and the only one I ever saw at the Miami Jai-Alai fronton. I remember seeing some kid on crutches outside before the gates opened. Later on, during the show, I saw that he had gotten up front, and somehow lashed his crutches together, creating a crude five-foot-high cross that he hoisted into the air at regular intervals.

Pretty sure the thing on the Holy Diver cover is a ShrikeFrom this comes the image that I will always have of Ronnie James Dio. To Dio's side is the aluminum cross that kid had made, high in the air, like a fucking battle flag. Smiling at the contraption, Dio leans over the stage into the crowd, one hand holding the mike, the other making the devil sign as he thrusts his arm out into the audience. He stares directly into a red spotlight and his face is the color of blood as he howls away at the lyrics, as 100 decibels of gloriously sludgy heavy metal pound the fronton walls.

Talk about a man purely in his element. I could see it plain as the horns on the devil's head: this was the shit Ronnie James Dio was born to do.

It's more than too bad that he won't be doing it no more.

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell - Die Young.mp3

File under: Devil Music

M.O.D.-17-The Ballad Of Dio.mp3

File under: Crossover

These files were removed July 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

* I get the feeling Dio was a guy who liked his red wine at dinner, but kept it under control otherwise. (Return)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review! Heaven and Hell was the first real "metal" song I ever heard, and it changed the course of my musical tastes! He has/had one of the best voices. He will be missed. Ellen H. Judge