From friends and fans to industry colleagues and fellow bandmates, he seemingly was loved by everyone with whom he was connected. In fact, few prominent rock music artists have been as respected and admired universally as the late, great Ronnie James Dio.
His first major label rock outfit, Elf, dropped three less than impressive-selling LPs. However, during the band’s early ‘70s run, personal relationships were built between Dio and members of the British mega rock giant, Deep Purple. As a result, when co-founding lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore flew the Purple coop to strike out with his new band, Rainbow, Dio was tapped to front the combo. His performance on “Man on the Silver Mountain,” the opening track of the group’s debut album remains as chilling today as when it was released back in ‘75.
Two more moderately successful Rainbow studio sets later, stepped into a game-changing gig, replacing Ozzy Osbourne in the ailing metal act, Black Sabbath. Dio’s gift for creating magical melodies and his talent for crafting captivating lyrics, along with his acknowledged Marshall stack-sized vocals allowed him to wrap Sabbath across the nose like the whimpering Cockapoo they’d become, and he re-trained them to be a ferocious pitbull once again. It can be argued soundly that Dio’s first release with the band, 1980’s global chart-buster, Heaven and Hell, is one of the three mightiest records in the entire Black Sabbath catalog.
If this isn’t “retro” we don’t know what is! Check out the music video for “The Last In Line.”
Following his successful two-record Sabbath stint, Dio led the charge in launching his own band. Also comprised of recent fellow Sabbath alumni, drummer Vinny Appice, former Rainbow colleague, bassist Jimmy Bain (d. 2016) and 20-year-old Irish newcomer, guitarist Vivian Campbell, the band DIO delivered their debut album, Holy Diver in May 1983. Featuring the explosive title track and the now classic rock radio staple, “Rainbow in the Dark,” Holy Diver became a platinum-selling smash in short order.
Just a smidge more than a year later (an astounding 35 years ago this week, to be exact), came the band’s next studio effort, the sizzling sophomore set, The Last in Line. With the exception perhaps of studio locale and the addition of newly-recruited former Rough Cutt keyboardist Claude Schnell, the proven Holy Diver formula was re-concocted on The Last in Line, same band lineup, same intra-band musical songwriting collaboration, same lyricist, Ronnie James Dio and same producer… Ronnie James Dio.
Fueled by Appice’s rib-cracking snare cadence, combined with Campbell’s slashing guitar riffs, “We Rock” kicks the record off with blood-pumping urgency. Then comes Dio’s iconic, powerhouse vocal shredding through the speakers, proclaiming a now signature-style rally cry, We’ll sail on, sing a song, carry on, ‘cause we rock, we rock, we rock, we rock!
A press shot of the band around the time of the album’s release:
Boasting a magical, majestic guitar/vocal-driven intro, the title track is gonna dupe ya, first time around. But you better “look out,” ‘cuz in 3,2,1… “The Last in Line” crashes in with full force. Equally brutal, “Breathless” makes for an additional .44 magnum treasure.
Possessing a “teenage wasteland” inspired riff, the more radio-friendly, keyboard-soaked video single, “Mystery,” is another gorgeous highlight, while the record-closing, seven-minute epic, “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” succeeds in recreating Heaven and Hell flavored allure. However, bursting with bona fide, heart-stopping fire and fury, “I Speed at Night” is more than worthy of taking home MVP honors.
In sum, the band and the brand had been developed meticulously. The songs, performances, and production, all uncompromisingly solid. And given the less than compelling content seeping into the hard rock scene at the time, DIO’s The Last in Line was the right record at the right time. Guaranteed to blister your backside like no other slab from that era, it still deserves and demands respect, 35 years later. “Metal Horns” forever, Ronnie!
It’s time to get in that ‘80s metal mode and rock! Check out a stream of the album’s opening track, “We Rock.”
The Last in Line Track Listing:
01. We Rock (4:36)
02. The Last in Line (5:40)
03. Breathless (4:04)
04. I Speed at Night (3:22)
05. One Night in the City (5:15)
06. Evil Eyes (3:38)
07. Mystery (3:46)
08. Eat Your Heart Out (3:49)
09. Egypt (The Chains Are On) (6:57)
Run Time: 41:07
Release Date: July 2, 1984
Record Label: Warner Bros.