April 1980: Black Sabbath Unite with Ronnie James Dio to Rock HEAVEN AND HELL
The year was 1980. As the dust settled on the 1970s, hard rock icons Black Sabbath was left fractured, with singer Ozzy Osbourne spinning out to launch a solo career. Bassist Geezer Butler was embroiled in a rough divorce, and while Tony Iommi was trying to piece together what was left of Black Sabbath, took something of a leave of absence. While he was away, Tony Iommi and new singer Ronnie James Dio had crafted a pair of new tunes.
Rejoining the band in Los Angeles, Butler got a load of what the group was up to while he was gone: "I heard 'Heaven and Hell' and 'Die Young,' and I thought they were absolutely incredible," the bassist told Rolling Stone in 2021. "So just hearing them for the first time as an outsider would hear them, I was just blown away with them. I thought they were great."
"We had him come over to our house in Beverly Hills and I played him a riff and he just started singing to it and we went, 'Bloody hell, this is fantastic!'" Iommi recalled in a 2006 interview about the initial spark with Dio. "We didn't audition him, as such, we just started writing. It was a different way of working for me, which was very refreshing. Always, before with Ozzy, it was about riffs, and Ozzy would sometimes sing the riff. But with Ronnie, there were more chords than actual single note riffs."
Helping drive the band's creative muse: "We were writing out of sheer stubbornness, I think," Iommi added. "Everybody was wondering what was gonna happen, and what it was going to be like and was it going to work. We just believed in what we were doing and carried on with it."
Released on April 25, 1980, the revitalized Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell hit the rock 'n' roll world with a decided blast. Fans rushed to record shops around the world to hear the band's new sound featuring Ronnie James Dio in the spot Ozzy Osbourne had filled for a decade. As singles "Neon Knights" and "Die Young" rocked FM radio across America, the word was out: Sabbath was back, and for many listeners, better than ever. Heaven and Hell was a resounding success.
In the UK, Heaven and Hell peaked at #9 on the album charts. Here in the States, the LP was something of a comeback for the band, becoming the Sabbath's highest-charting album since 1975's Sabotage with a peak position of #28 for the week of July 19, 1980. The #1 album in America that week: Billy Joel's Glass Houses.
"I really was proud of those first two albums, certainly when we'd done Heaven and Hell," Iommi revealed. "It was a new thing for us — and a daring thing, in some ways — to change your singer. It's easy to fall by the wayside, and we didn’t because we believed in what we were doing. So those albums mean a lot to me."