Dio’s Sacred Heart Turns 30: Rock With 30 Album Facts

Inside stories from three-decades of the Dio classic. Horn’s up!

Dio released Sacred Heart on August 15, 1985, thereby extending a run of classic LPs after Holy Diver (1983) and The Last in Line (1984) by the band’s legendary core lineup of Vivian Campbell on guitar, Jimmy Bain on bass, and Vinny Appice on drums.

Vocals, of course, came courtesy of louder-than-life frontman Ronnie James Dio.

Sacred Heart proved to be yet another highlight in a remarkable year for hard rock that also included hair metal hits on the radio, thrash erupting up from the underground, and even metal feeding the world via the mammoth charity concert, Live Aid.

In honor of Sacred Heart’s 30th anniversary, here are 30 facts about the album. Raise your horns and bang your head accordingly.

1. Sacred Heart peaked at #29 on the U.S. Billboard album chart. It topped out at #35 in Canada, #12 in Germany, and #4 in both the UK and Sweden.

2. Sales-wise, Sacred Heart matched Dio’s previous disc, The Last in Line, achieving gold status. Holy Diver hit platinum, but only after six years in release.

3. Also in keeping with The Last in Line, Claude Schnell plays keyboards on Sacred Heart. Later in 1985, Schnell performed on the Y&T album, Down for the Count.

4. Ronnie James Dio produced Sacred Heart, as he had the band’s first two long-players.

5. Sacred Heart is the final Dio album to feature ace guitarist Vivian Campbell.

6. Ronnie fired Campbell from the band midway through the Sacred Heart tour. The guitarist had outspokenly taken issue with Ronnie’s need for total control of the band. Finances, it’s been said, also played a part in the bad blood that preceded the rupture.

7. After initially storming hard rock by way of New Wave of British Heavy Metal heroes Sweet Savage, Campbell followed his unhappy split from Dio by working with Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy and other powerhouses. In 2002, Viv became a full-time member of Def Leppard.

8. The anger between Campbell and Ronnie James Dio remained unresolved even at the end of the singer’s life in 2010. Not long before he crossed over, Dio addressed the grievance directly. “[Vivian] was — and remains — an excellent guitarist,” Dio said. “I never lost sight of how good he was as a musician, but as a person… Well, he was no longer on the same page as the rest of us. That annoyed me hugely. When you’ve got four people really stretching and straining to do their very best, and one person who’s clearly holding back, it makes for an unhappy camp. A lot of negative things have been said since by both Vivian and me. Now, I regret some of those things. I’m sure he does, too.”

9. In hindsight, bass player Jimmy Bain said: “Firing Viv was the biggest mistake of Ronnie’s career.”

10. In 2012, Vivian Campbell launched Last in Line, a band consisting of Dio’s original lineup with Andrew Freeman, vocalist for Lynch Mob and Hurricane, handling frontman duties. Respectfully, Campbell noted that he would not have seen the project through to fruition if Ronnie were still alive.

11. At present in 2015, Viv Campbell has repeatedly kicked the ass of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is out on the road with Def Leppard.

12. Sacred Heart’s cover imagery depicts the reflection of a dragon gazing into a crystal ball it holds in its claws. Renowned artist and musician Robert Florczak painted the piece.

13. Among Florczak’s other notable works include various well-known children’s literature covers, the poster for the crackpot Canuck kids’ flick The Peanut Butter Solution; and the soundtrack to the insane, recently re-released animals amok movie, Roar (1981).

14. The dragon, originally referred to as Dean, eventually came to be known as Denzil.

15. Denzil the dragon featured prominently in Dio’s massively theatrical stage show on the Sacred Heart tour. Throughout the performance, the band played on a medieval castle set, and Ronnie ultimately battled the gigantic, mechanized, laser-shooting beast with a broadsword.

16. The Sacred Heart roadshow reportedly cost $250,000 to mount—and that’s in 1985 dollars.

17. Sacred Heart: The Video, filmed at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, amazingly captures the elaborate live spectacle. It became a VHS hit in 1986.

18. In 2004, the concert video was reissued as Sacred Heart: The DVD.

19. Although now overwhelmingly revered as a fan favorite, Sacred Heart initially divided the Dio audience. Detractors kicked up a bit of a fuss decrying the record’s hook-heavy songwriting and polished production as being too blatantly commercial.

20. Among those artistically disappointed by Sacred Heart was bassist Jimmy Bain. “Dio should have gotten better with each album, but what happened was the opposite,” Jimmy said. “The production was watered down with all the keyboards, [and] the songs were not as good because it became harder to satisfy Ronnie’s need to complicate arrangement and structure.”
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21. The fairy-tale-like “Rock and Roll Children” was Sacred Heart’s lead-off single. Ronnie plays a wizard in the music video encountered by a couple of adventurous, punky-looking kids in an antique shop called Curios.

22. Sacred Heart’s second single, “Hungry for Heaven,” became a rock radio staple. It also hit #30 on the Billboard Album Tracks chart.

23. The main riff of “Hungry for Heaven” sounds remarkably like “Baba O’Riley” by the Who.

24. Oddly, Vertigo Records issued multiple versions of the “Hungry for Heaven” single.

25. The B-side of the most common, internationally released “Hungry for Heaven” single featured live cuts of the instant Dio classics “Holy Diver” and “The Last in Line.” In England, the B-side contained the Sacred Heart song “King of Rock and Roll” and a live version of “Like the Beat of a Heart.” Still another variation reached Australia, with “The Last in Line” as its B-side.

26. “Hungry for Heaven” also turns up in the terrific 1985 teen sports movie, Vision Quest. The film’s tie-in LP provides an amazing snapshot of commercial rock and pop in the mid-’80s.

27. With Dio bringing the metal, the Vision Quest soundtrack also features electrifyingly of-their moment songs such as “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider, “Only the Young” by Journey, “Change” by John Waite, “I’ll Fall in Love Again” by Sammy Hagar, and two numbers “Crazy for You” and “Gambler,” by Madonna, who appears as bar singer in the movie.

28. “King of Rock and Roll” came out as a single exclusively in Spain.

29. Sacred Heart was the last Dio album to achieve sales above 500,000 until the 2009 compilation, The Very Beast of Dio.

30. The Latin words surrounding Sacred Heart’s cover imagery read, “Finis per somnium reperio tibi sacra cor veneficus aurum.” In English, that means, “Come the end by sleep; I will prepare for you the Sacred Heart which is the magic that opens upon the altar.” That’s cool.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).