Top 10 Ronnie James Dio Lyrics
Arguably, no heavy metal singer wielded greater influence over the length and breadth of heavy metal’s long history than the sorely missed Ronnie James Dio. Now, now, don’t get worked up! Simple math tells us this is so, by reason of Dio’s relatively brief but nevertheless momentous associations with heavy metal cornerstones such as Rainbow and Black Sabbath, on top of a long and successful tenure fronting his very popular solo band, and even sporadic sparks with the pre-stardom Elf.
Altogether, these bands gave hard rock and metal some 20 albums and nearly 40 years of highlights before Dio’s untimely passing in 2010. And, while Ronnie’s incomparable voice tends to attract all the (absolutely merited) accolades, his lyrics populate the hard rock vernacular with countless lines that fans across the globe can recite by heart; and it is some of these that we wish to celebrate in our list of the Top 10 Ronnie James Dio lyrics.
“I cry out for magic!”
We’ll kick off this countdown of the Top 10 Ronnie James Dio Lyrics with this brief but unforgettable snippet that ultimately encapsulates the great man’s overall career philosophy. Yes, ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ features several lyrical nuggets, inextricably linked with Mr. Dio — not least of them his lifelong obsession with rainbows! But as anyone lucky enough to get an autograph from the man over the years can tell you, his favorite word of wisdom for fans was usually just, “Magic!”
“Come lie on a bed of nails and slumber / Rise up but the hands all pull you down / My sunshine is wind and rain and thunder / I sing but I can’t make a song”
Ronnie’s late-career reunion with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinnie Appice as Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath 2.0, by most any definition) yielded one of the storied franchise’s heaviest doom LPs, and Ronnie’s lyrics were fueled by matching dread and despair to mark the occasion. All of which reminded us that Dio bowed to no other singer (including the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of F—ing Darkness’) when it came to conjuring evil, terrifying lyrics in the service of heavy metal.
“Holy father, holy ghost / Who’s the one who pays the most? / Rock the cradle don’t you cry / Buy another lullaby / Jack is nimble, Jack is quick / Pick your pocket, turn a trick / Slow and steady, he’s got time / To commit another TV crime”
When Dio first reunited with the future Heaven & Hell – still under the Black Sabbath name – for 1992’s ‘Dehumanizer,’ real-life social commentary surprisingly took precedence over the gothic tales and occult dealings the band is often best known for. And no song displayed Dio’s agile wordplay and insightful feelings on such earthly maters as the album’s hard-charging lead single, ‘TV Crimes.’ See for yourselves…
‘Gates of Babylon’
“Sleep with the devil and then you must pay / Sleep with the devil and the devil will take you away / Oh, gates of Babylon”
There are many other, instantly recognizable verses we could highlight from this, the dramatic climax of Rainbow’s third LP, ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ (e.g. “A magic carpet ride, a genie, maybe more…city of heavenly sin”), but did any of these raise more fists and voices to the skies than the one cited above? We didn’t think so. It’s no wonder ‘Gates of Babylon’ maintains such mystique as a highlight of both Dio and Ritchie Blackmore’s careers.
‘Children of the Sea’
“We sailed across the air before we learned to fly / We thought that it could never end / We’d glide above the ground before we learned to run, run / Now it seems our world has come undone”
Dio’s lyrics were arguably never more inspired than on his first album with Black Sabbath, and, in ‘Children of the Sea,’ he painted especially vivid images of an alternate reality populated by mysterious, magical beings seemingly doomed by their own ambition. Of course these were all just poetic metaphors for humanity’s own failings during the cold war era Dio and Sabbath chronicled as well as any rock band.
‘The Last in Line’
“We search for the truth / We could die upon the tooth / But the thrill of just the chase Is worth the pain”
Ronnie James must have been feeling his advancing age as the image-conscious, MTV-dominated 1980s progressed, because many Dio singles from the period appeared to be trying real hard to connect with disenfranchised metal teens. Just look at the words for ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ and ‘Rock and Roll Children,’ for starters. But the most eloquent of the bunch, if you ask us, is 1984’s career-standout ‘The Last in Line,’ which clearly succeeded in making that connection.
‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’
“Don’t write in starlight / ‘Cause the words may come out real / Don’t hide in doorways / You may find the key that opens up your soul … Don’t smell the flowers / They’re an evil drug to make you lose your mind / Don’t dream of women / ‘Cause they’ll only bring you down”
This oft-overlooked highpoint from ‘Holy Diver’ finds Dio atypically playing the inveterate cynic – one clearly bent on ruthlessly cajoling and even outright threatening young listeners with his paranoid instructions to, in essence trust no one. But you know Uncle Ronnie is only looking out for you, right? Why else we include ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ among the Top 10 Ronnie James Dio Lyrics.
“High noon, oh I’d sell my soul for water / Nine years worth of breakin’ my back / There’s no sun in the shadow of the wizard / See how he glides, why he’s lighter than air? / Oh I see his face!”
Calling out humanity’s dangerous tendency towards hubris as a means of praising humility is a frequent message found across the Dio oeuvre (and could probably fill a book analyzing its connection to certain egotistical band mates). But it was never stated more poetically than on Rainbow’s show-stopping ‘Stargazer,’ which sees Ronnie’s protagonist slaving under a guitarist – we mean, wizard – driven by ambitions well beyond his mortal station.
‘The Sign of the Southern Cross’
“Don’t live for pleasure / Make life your treasure / Fade away!”
Frequently overshadowed by its more famous royal cousin, ‘Heaven and Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules” ‘The Southern Cross’ compiles a staggering amount of evocative imagery and clear-eyed wisdom amidst its foreboding minor keys and elephantine power chords. And none is more enlightening or uplifting than this brilliant couplet, which would qualify as a fitting epitaph for our fallen hero. “Fade away…”
‘Heaven and Hell’
“The world is full of kings and queens / Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams / It’s heaven and hell…oh well”
We don’t mean to wrap up our list of the Top 10 Ronnie James Dio Lyrics on a downer, but, to our knowledge, there’s simply no other lyric more widely known and inextricably connected with Ronnie than this cautionary couplet from ‘Heaven and Hell.’ Moreover, though it would be natural to get hung up on its pessimistic qualities, closer inspection reveals not only Dio’s bemused resignation at the whole conundrum (“oh well“), but points back to the song’s bigger message about relying on oneself instead of what others tell you.