Happy 30th, Holy Diver!

Today (March 25th) is the 30th anniversary (in the United States anyway) of the original release of the first, and arguably the best Dio album, “Holy Diver”.    Man, thirty years, eh?  I know time is the enemy that marches on, never stopping, never ceasing, but when you reach milestones like that about things from your youth, they’re reminders of where we’ve come from.   They deserve to be looked at from time to time, so in that vein…

It’s the same old song
You’ve gotta be somewhere at sometime
They never let you fly

So begins the first song off the first Dio “solo” album.  Ronnie was always quick to say the Dio band wasn’t a solo project, it was always intended to be a band concept, despite the fact that it bore his taken stage name.   I think it’s a safe bet that if you’re reading this article, you know this album, and I won’t have to tell you much about the music behind this album, so I won’t.    If, however, you’re one of the three people left on the planet that have never heard this album, stop what you’re doing and go buy it.  Don’t bother sampling it, don’t bother pirating it, go buy the bloody thing.   It only costs $5.99 to legally buy it from Amazon’s MP3 store.   But enough of the sales pitch.  I’m wagering you have it already, in which case, you need to get it out and listen to it today.

This album came out just literally before I graduated high school (I’m 47 now), and it was a powerhouse in every way.   At this point in his career, he was coming off what was (then ayway) a somewhat clouded, negative departure from Black Sabbath.  There were the stories about the mixing of the Live Evil album and all that.  True or not, that’s what was said at the time.   So Ronnie took Vinnie with him, and they got to work on the Holy Diver album.   Ronnie brought in his old friend from the Rainbow days, Jimmy Bain to play bass on the new album/project.  To play guitar, after having worked most recently with Tony Iommi – and Ritchie Blackmore before him, Ronnie tapped Irish guitar wiz Vivian Campbell to play in Dio (then late of Sweet Savage).   Although to this fan at the time Vivian was an unknown.  To this day, I’ve never heard any work Viv did pre-Dio.   Holy Diver was his big breakout for sure.

By all accounts, most of the work had been done on the album when they brought Vivian in.   That brings up an interesting concept.  Someone had to play guitar on the demos done before Vivian joined.  I wonder who did that.  Could have been Ronnie – he can play instruments,  he just didn’t in the Sabbath/Rainbow/Dio days, although it happened in the Elf days.   Ronnie did play keyboards on this album, though – but very quickly they brought in a proper keyboardist going forward (Claude Schnell).

As I think back to where I was musically when this album first came out, it was in the era of Michael Jackson & Duran Duran on MTV, and for me personally, I think Holy Diver & Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut” were the two albums I listened to the most in the year of 1983, along with Black Sabbath’s own “Born Again”.   So my tastes cut across the “popular” grain there.   Even now, thirty years later, this album is strong.  REALLY strong.  I could add more really’s and make the font giant and blink and others, but I think you get my point.  There have been ten studio albums from Dio, and while musical tastes and choices are very much a personal thing, I don’t think it’s really off base to say that Holy Diver is the “best” Dio album.   This is solid from front to back, there’s nothing on this album that I want to skip when I hear it.

One memory I do have looking back is that I was a bit irritated that the Dio band existed.  I loved – I MEAN LOVED what Dio was doing with Black Sabbath.   The Heaven & Hell album was a bloody masterpiece.  The Mob Rules album was my first introduction to Sabbath, and while it’s not as awesome as the H&H album was, you can’t say the Mob Rules album was a slouch at all.  It was great, too.  So I didn’t want that path broken.  While I liked the Born Again album, and I loved the Holy Diver album after the fact, the leadup to it was a case of “Darnit, I don’t want this to be happening!”

The album’s release had a few issues that came up in the press as controversial.   First was the fact that the cover art appeared to be a devil killing a priest, and the other being that if you turned the Dio logo upside down it spelled “devil” (or “die”).  I remember the bru-haha about this stuff well.  This was also the era of the PMRC, and warning labels on metal CD’s and all that.  However, I’m here to talk about the music, and my memories of them, and I don’t want to talk about the negative stuff there.   But I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t part of the overall tapestry of memories – just that I choose not to focus on that.

I saw the Dio band many times over the years, and I did see them on the tour for Holy Diver.  If I remember correctly Twisted Sister opened for them in 1983.   TS hadn’t yet broken huge in the states yet (“We’re Not Gonna Take it” came out in 1984), so I wouldn’t have known them – not yet anyway.   I don’t remember the gig terribly well, except to say that it was the first time I had seen Ronnie live (got into Sabbath just after they had been through Philly on the Mob Rules tour).  The next couple of Dio gigs after that were recorded and released on home video (Special from the Spectrum & Finding the Sacred Heart), but I wish this tour was.

I unfortunately didn’t think to write this article ahead of time, it was written on the ACTUAL 30th anniversary, so I didn’t have time to contact people to get quotes, and things like that, which I’ve done before.   But I did find this.   It’s a fan made re-creation of the “Rainbow in the Dark” video by Dio.   It’s actually fairly well done.  If you check out the official video, and then compare it to this fan version, they picked up on what was done fairly well.

There was also a video for the song “Holy Diver“, but to be honest, I never felt either of the music videos for this album were very good.  Songs were great yes – but as music videos go, not so much.

The album was re-released a few times over the years in other formats.

  • It was released in a 24-kt Gold remaster, which I’m told is the best version of it out on CD.  I don’t personally have this one, although I do have the 24kt version of “Last in Line”, and that’s extremely good.
  • There was a fully live version released in 2006, called “Holy Diver Live“, which contained the then version of Dio (Dio/Aldrich/Sarzo/Wright/Warren) doing the album in full, along with a second disc of other material.   Was also released on DVD.
  • The original was re-released on Mar 20, 2012 in a 2 disc Deluxe format, with a new remastering.  If I had one complaint about the original CD master is that the bass response was somewhat flat and tinny sounding compared to other albums.  That’s more a fault of the tech in use at the time for CD mastering.  Things have improved a lot since then.    If you go to my Holy Diver discography page on this site, you can get links to buy the Deluxe Edition, which has a second disc of live tracks and an additional studio track.

One interesting factoid I either had forgotten about, or just never new was that the song “Don’t Talk to Strangers” originally was made by Vivian’s pre-Dio band Sweet Savage, but under a different name, and with different lyrics.  If anyone knows what that song is, please let me know.  Tkx.

I know this article isn’t as focused as some of mine have been, but as I said above, I don’t think I need to explain the Holy Diver album to people who visit this site.   So I was just trying to throw down some of my own memories of what I recall from 30 years ago for this anniversary.    I’ve been writing this piece with the deluxe version of the album going (album – what a quaint term), and I suggest that you get it out and play it.   Thanks to Ronnie, Vivian, Jimmy, & Vinny for giving us one of the best, most timeless pieces of metal ever created.

Ronnie’s sadly not around to get to this point, which is sad, but the piece that he and the lads created 30 years ago in Van Nuys, California lives on, and is a fucking masterpiece.  Miss you, Ronnie.

Well I lost my home on the Magic Flame, but now I know your name
Shame on the night
Shame on you….. Shame on ALL of you


  1. Tim Zim North Conway, NH says

    Listen to Hunter by Mastodon, the beginning sounds so much like Don’t Talk To Strangers, your thoughts?

  2. Jeff Tweeter says

    I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut”. On the day I purchased the Holy Diver lp, I was with a friend who bought The Final Cut cassette! Holy Diver is absolutely timeless and there is not a weak note on the whole thing. (I would say the same goes for Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules – even more so) And I was kinda pissed too at the time about the whole Sabbath break up. But I remember the first time I heard Holy Diver (the beginning of “Stand Up And Shout”) – and I wasn’t pissed about it anymore!

  3. Well, let’s go back to the time when I first saw this on MTV: The young lady who’s being stalked is still hot, and she’s hotter than her stand-in in the remake. Ronnie’s boots…love ’em. For whatever reason, the most memorable part of this video (for me) is when Jimmy Bain walks by during the guitar solo.

  4. StarWanderer says

    I don’t think the song that Vivian brought with him from Sweet Savage was DTS, but Caught In The Middle. The song is the same, only the vocal melodies and lyrics were changed by RJD. Funny fact: Sweet Savage had another song called “Caugh In The Middle” :DD

    Jake E. Lee actuallly claims he wrote the main riff and verse chord progression of DTS. Which might very well be true, since he was very briefly a member of the band before Viv came to the picture.

  5. Victor Apodaca says

    The only Sweet Savage song I heard that sounds like Dio is a song called “Queen’s Vengeance”,which mostly definitely sounds like a speed up version of Invisible.

  6. Supernaut72 says

    This album,much like Maiden’s Number of the Beast album from the previous year, are still in my top ten played albums of all time and are one of those rare albums that flat out rock from the first note to the last. I remember getting the vinyl of this when it came out, who remembers the photo montage on the paper sleeve of Dio from the Sabbath and Rainbow days, that struck me as odd he used older photos at the time.

    As for Joe’s question about who played on the Demos for HD, I remember back in ’83 reading that Jake E Lee was in the band and recorded Demos, The first song they worte was Don’t Talk to Strangers, so the claim of it being a Sweet Savage song I dont know, the album credits Dio alone as the author, I was only able to dig up this quote from a Jake E Lee web site……

    “Lee soon left Ratt to join Rough Cutt, who were at that time produced by Ronnie James Dio and managed by his wife, Wendy. After hearing Lee in Rough Cutt in 1982, Dio invited Lee to join his new solo band Dio, which he was forming after departing Black Sabbath. Lee accepted, though his time in Dio’s band was short-lived. According to drummer Vinny Appice, there were rehearsals with Lee and Dio and recordings of those rehearsals still exist. Lee claims to have written the main riff to “Don’t Talk to Strangers” (which would later appear on the Holy Diver album) and that Dio wanted him to play “simple block chords that wouldn’t trample on his vocals”…… of course Jake went onto Ozzy soon there after.

  7. Steven Passarello says

    Joe, we are the same age so my memories of the album and the tour are quite similar. It is true Twisted Sister opened for Dio when i saw this tour i want to say it was either in Providence Rhode Island or Worcester Massachusetts i cannot recall. What I do recall is the loyal Dio fans (the entire crowd) basically booed TS off the stage and Dee Snider snapped using many expletives as he left the stage. I recall they actually put on a great show and i told my buddy they were going to hit big little did I know actually how big. The videos for the singles off this album were awful but the music was fantastic and Vivian shined at the show i was at unfortunately he and Ronnie had a huge falling out and the rest is history. Thanks for this site and all of the updates. One last question has Bill Ward ever responded to Ozzys recent comments that the reason he wasnt in the reunion was because he couldnt remember the songs. Thanks Steve

  8. there was a really good article on Holy Diver Anniversary in Classic Rock 07/2013 magazine explaining how it was created (by Campbell and Bain) and how the band was already starting to collapse at that point

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLuYJR1zwyE Look, Straight Through the Heart

  10. Profusion says

    I actually thought Last In Line was the superior album. It was a more “finished” product, even if it maybe lacks just a little of the inspiration that Holy Diver has. They’re both classics, though.

  11. Thomas Bridges says

    Very nice write-up Joe – hard to believe 30 years has passed since this masterpiece came out – I too have great memories from the Holy Diver tour – Dio played at the old Bronco Bowl here in Dallas & I got to meet him (and the rest of the band) after the show & I loved it when they played Stargazer in the set – like you I wish Ronnie had continued in Sabbath – always wondered what songs from Holy Diver would have made it on the next Sabbath Lp & how different they would sound had he stayed

  12. jammin1663 says

    I was a huge fan of the Dio era Black Sabbath and when he left I followed RJD career. I saw the first ever Dio show at a barn in Antioch, CA. It was the warm up show for the Holy Diver tour. Awesome. I had seen Black Sabbath with Dio and then to see this show was outstanding. I did see the proper Holy Diver tour show at the Cow Palace in SF a few months later and although great did not stand up to this one-off show. They seemed to enjoy playing together and they seemed loose. Great memories- thanks Joe.

  13. this album still in my top ten played albums of all time and are one of those rare albums that flat out rock

  14. Hi Joe, great write up for a great album! In regards to your question about demos being recorded before Vivian came in, I once saw in interview with Ronnie about the Holy Diver album where this issue came up and Ronnie claimed that there were no demos recorded for Holy Diver. I saw it on YouTube but I can’t who it was with or what it was called. All I remember is that it was a more recent one (I think around 2005 or 2006). Love the sight, keep it up! \,,/

  15. scott brooks says

    Awesome article! Neat to see someone the same age as I am sharing very similar memories. One thing, though, in the lyrics to “Shame On The Night”, it’s not “home”, but “hold”, like this:
    Well I lost my hold on the Magic Flame, but now I know your name
    Shame on the night
    Shame on you….. Shame on ALL of you.

  16. Krell Manson says

    Vivian Campbell is British not Irish, he is from Northern Ireland (born in Belfast). Sweet Savage are a very influencial New Wave of British Heavy Metal band that is still going to this day. Campbell formed the band in the late 70s and even supported Ozzy Osborne back in the day along with a number of big bands. He obviously left the band to join Dio but since the band has released a number of decent albums and has continued to appear at major festivals. Metallica are also fans of the band.

  17. I remember the night I first bought this on casette in 1983, the video for Rainbow in the dark came on MTV (back when they played videos instead of whatever they do now) I watched the video and went directly to the mall music store and bought it.I loved the Last in line just as much as Holy diver, my interest trailed off a bit when Sacred heart came out because I felt that the musical direction changed.

  18. Holy Diver and Animal Magnetism were the first two cassettes I owned. I remember like it was yesterday cranking this up on a boom box in the summertime or listening on my Walkman. This album is ageless and the production is awesome. It was recorded at Sound City studios which has been recently featured in Dave Grohl’s documentary. The Dio band is included in the movie which is very cool.

    I consider this one of the finest heavy metal albums of all time. Those early 80’s years were very important for metal and highly influential on my musical tastes. Think about it. We had Holy Diver, Piece of Mind, Number of the Beast, Ace of Spades, Blackout, Mob Rules, Fair Warning, Screaming for Vengeance, For Those About to Rock, Diary of a Madman, etc…

  19. Great write-up and great album. Only area I’d disagree is regarding the videos for both “Holy Diver” and “The Last In Line”. I’m a few years younger than you (born in 1974) and being the oldest sibling in my family, I was the one the discover music, passing it down to my younger brother.

    Because of that, MTV was super-pivotal in what I stumbled upon and I found DIO around 1983-1984 by way of the video for “The Last In Line”. As a fourth-grader, it was mesmerizing, though as an adult now, it’s corny.

    Other videos from that era to suck me in, prompting me to hop on my bike and ride to the record shop for some vinyl; “Looks That Kill” / “Too Young To Fall In Love” (Motley Crue), “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister), “Panama” (Van Halen), “Cum On Feel The Noize” (Quiet Riot), “Round & Round” / “Wanted Man” / “Back For More” / “Lay It Down” (Ratt), “Foolin” / “Rock Of Ages” / “Photograph” (Def Leppard), “Run To The Hills” (Iron Maiden), “Freewheel Burning” (Judas Priest), “Dancin With Myself” / “Rebel Yell” / “Eyes Without A Face” (Billy Idol).

    Friday Night Video Fights. Dial MTV years later. It was as revolutionary to me as FM to kids of the 1970’s.

    Without the quirkiness of “The Last In Line”, not sure how or when I’d have discovered DIO. Wasn’t much of a fan of “Dream Evil” or anything else up until “Lock Up The Wolves”. Loved how Vivian Campbell played on “Holy Diver” and “The Last In Line” and was pleasantly surprised by how Rowan Robertson rejuvenated things after that mid-to-late-80’s lull.

    Back to the original point, “Holy Diver” is a must-have record for anyone who appreciated this genre and DIO was an absolute legend—with that run in 1983 and 1984 being his peak, where hitting on all cylinders.

  20. Matt Dennett says

    An absolute classic, strong as steel songs, no filler at all. Pounding hard rock. Solid. Last in Line is just as good too, timeless. Amazing albums. RIP RJD, never forgotten.

  21. Supposedly the songs Holy Diver and Don’t talk to strangers were written during the Mob Rules recording and were supposed be on the following Black Sabbath album had Ronnie stayed after Mob Rules,Iommi would have sounded great on these two gems ; Black Sabbath 4ever

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