As a teenage metal head, I may have spent more time listening to Ronnie James Dio, who died today after a battle with cancer, than any other singer. This is partly because he was in so many darn bands—including Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Dio—but mostly due to the fact that he was just a terrific frontman with an operatic control of his vocal instrument that few have ever matched. There are many people who only know the man from his fondness for flashing “the Devil’s horns” or for his cameo in the 2006 Tenacious D movie The Pick of Destiny. However, to a certain section of the metal-loving fraternity, Ronnie James Dio really is a legend.

The singer first came to the attention of rock fans in the mid-’70s as the frontman of Rainbow, the band legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore formed after departing from Deep Purple. Blackmore would gain a reputation as a tough, dictatorial boss who tended to re-shuffle the Rainbow lineup with each record. But he clearly recognized the value of Dio’s singing and songwriting skills, as the vocalist would ultimately grace four Rainbow albums—1975’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, 1976’s Rising, 1977’s On Stage, and 1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll—before he finally departed. Notable Dio highlights from his days with Rainbow include “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Kill the King,” a hammering showcase for his full-throated howl.

Dio next joined Black Sabbath for two albums: 1980’s Heaven and Hell and the following year’s Mob Rules. Over time it has become accepted rock wisdom that the only Sabbbath worth listening to is one that features a certain John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne on vocals. That’s just plain wrong. The two Dio-fronted collections are terrific slabs of rock mayhem that in no way disgrace the Sabs’ history.

In 1982, he left the band and formed Dio with Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice. The group’s debut album, Holy Diver, once again showed Dio in top form and spawned the swaggering single of the same name. Dio the band continued to release albums over the next decade. Meanwhile, Dio the singer periodically returned to the Sabbath fold. In recent years, the Mob Rules-era lineup—Dio, Appice, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler—toured extensively under the name “Heaven & Hell,” and last year released an album called The Devil You Know. If the latter collection was not the finest work of anyone involved, it did very much show that the singer still possessed one of rock’s great voices.

I’ve posted some tracks after the jump that hopefully do show Ronnie James Dio at his very best. Please check them out.

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