We’re off to the witch.
Originally misheard as “We’re up to the witch,” ca. 1985, on my Emerson K3661A one-speaker boombox.* I had no inkling of the Satanic panic swirling around Dio’s 2nd solo masterpiece, “The Last in Line;” I was blissfully unaware of the pearl-clutching and hand-wringing over the demonic figure on his album covers, or the fact that you could spot the word “DEVIL” if you flipped the “DIO” logo over and squinted, I was just obsessed with the music.
I was young enough that I had no idea of Ronnie James Dio’s already-immortal legacy. To me, Rainbow were the guys who sang “Street of Dreams” and Black Sabbath did that “Paranoid” song. I was amazed to recognize his voice on Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” song, when I first heard it. No, it was through his respectable-rotation MTV videos for his solo albums that I discovered Ronnie James Dio.** Yikes, the “Last in Line” video is obvious B-movie Sci-Fi cheese now, but to a kid glued to cable TV in the 80s, it was everything. The innocent beginning sequence and the kid’s elevator drop to hell fit perfectly with the song.
I can’t remember if I got my “Last in Line” cassette through Columbia House, or from the local record shop, but goddamn did I wear it out. The entire album has come to be recognized as a solid work; one of Metal’s all time classics, but in the early stages I was laser focused on the title track. Every day for months: sit down at the radio – – “The Last in Line” cassette was already in the deck – – rewind to the beginning and let those quiet guitars and vocals lull me in. . . “We are coming. . .” before the jarring break:
“. . . HOOOOOOOME!”
It’s truly one of the great moments in Heavy Metal’s recorded history.
In 35+ years with this song, I’ve never felt compelled to do a Masters Thesis examination of the lyrics; I’ve always just been mesmerized by the contradictions and the mysticism. Ordinarily, I’m all about diving into stuff to find the deeper meaning, but with RJD’s songs, I’ve always been happy to just bask in the imagery and the sounds, the poetry of the words, the timeless riffs, the peerless vocals, the stellar songwriting. . . You’re goddamn right I’m the hand that writes and quickly moves away. Whatever that means.
Vivian Campbell was the first guitarist who’d truly dazzled me, the first whose solos I truly admired. The muted alternate picking was (and still is) mind-blowing; I could sing his lead break in “The Last in Line” note for note. His tenure with RJD was cut short due to internal conflict, but there’s no denying his great contributions to those first three Dio albums. In addition to playing in Def Leppard, he’s also currently part of the band called Last in Line, consisting of former Dio bandmates/contemporaries Vinny Appice and Phil Soussan, with Andrew Freeman on vox.*** They’ve begun writing their own originals, but their original mission statement was to pay live tribute to “Holy Diver” and “The Last in Line.” As of 2022, they’re feuding with Dio Disciples, the other tribute band of Dio alumni, but I hope these two acts can patch things up and someday do a joint celebratory tour.
After “The Last in Line” album, Ronnie would go on to mastermind the Hear n’ Aid Heavy Metal charity project; he’d release many more Dio albums, and he’d do guest appearances and a few more stints with Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, but this song and album will always be sacred to my heart. Pun intended. Nothing can diminish the impact it had on me and the world of music.
We lost RJD to stomach cancer in 2010. Wendy Dio, Ronnie’s widow, has done an admirable job of preserving the man’s legacy. Thanks to her work, the work of his many friends and colleagues, the reverence of the Metal Community, journalists, Eddie Munson’s jacket on Stranger Things, the 2022 documentary, “Dio: Dreamers Never Die,” and to modern musical explorers, he will live forever, whether he’s evil or divine. And so will this song.
Ronnie James James was posthumously inducted in the first Metal Hall of Fame class in 2017.
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel (set to release in early 2023) as a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.
*I thought that one-speaker radio was the pinnacle of high fidelity.
**The videos for “Rainbow in the Dark” and “The Last in Line” were in surprisingly frequent rotation for a short while at MTV. Maybe Manowar’s letter got through to them.
*** Jimmy Bain (R.I.P.) and Claude Schnell are two other Dio alumni who’ve been in the Last in Line band.