Dream Theater Drummer Discusses Favorite Albums
Band Photo: Dream Theater (?)
Progressive metal legends Dream Theater make their much-anticipated return this year with their new album Systematic Chaos. Systematic Chaos takes rock and metal to epic extremes: The Pantera-esque "The Dark Eternal Night" portrays the battle between a heroic protagonist and a demonic antagonist, while the "The Ministry of Lost Souls" and "In the Presence of Enemies" are reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and Rush's "La Villa Strangiato," respectively. To celebrate the release, we asked drummer Mike Portnoy for his ten favourite albums...
It breaks down into two halves; one is 5 classic albums, and then 5 modern albums.
Going chronologically, the first one would be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles. It was released 3 months after I was; I was born in April 67 and the album came out in July 67, so it's a nice landmark for an album that has been around for my entire lifetime. It's an album that broke every rule and created a million new ones, everything from the conceptual zeal to the album artwork, the gatefold sleeve, and the production, everything about it was completely groundbreaking. The Beatles are my number one favourite all time band, so having to pick one single album from them is always rough, it could change from day to day; I could easily of very easily picked Revolver or Abbey Road or Rubber Soul, but it seems like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the one that if you held a gun to my head.
The next one going chronologically is The Who's Tommy (1969). This came out when I was two years old and I was listening to it at two years old, I was a huge music fan from the day I was born. I remember my dad introducing me to Tommy and at first I was more interested in the quirky songs like "Tommy's Holiday Camp" or some of the sound effects on "Smash The Mirror", but as I got older I started to understand how incredibly groundbreaking it was as the first rock opera. And then as I got even older I started to really appreciate Keith Moon and he became my first drum hero. But this album is very much like the soundtrack to my childhood; I saw The Who play Tommy in its entirety in 1989 at the Radio City Music Hall and I had a real emotional response to it; once they kicked in to "Overture" it sent chills down my spine and it was like my childhood being revisited, it was just a weird emotional reaction I had. And then last year I had the chance to actually play the entire Tommy with my The Who tribute band Amazing Journey, it was fun to do the album as a drummer.
Next would be David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust (1972). Once again also a concept album – looking at my list a lot of these albums are concept albums or big epic sprawling records. But anyway, Ziggy Stardust was just one of those albums where every song was an absolute classic; you have the hits like "Ziggy Stardust" and "Suffragette City", everybody knows those songs, but the album opener "Five Years" and the album closer "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", those are totally emotional theatrical songs, and it was crossing theatrics with glam with pop rock, it was a great balance of all those. These songs have been revisited on The Life Aquatic soundtrack with a Portuguese acoustic guitar, and it's a pretty cool listen if you're a fan of this album.
Number four would be Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). Like Ziggy Stardust, it's just an incredible collection of pop songs but with a big theatrical overtone to it. Elton John was in his heyday and it was all about glam and bigger presentations, and this is one of those albums where every single track is an absolute perfect song. And like Ziggy Stardust, it's got its handful of hits like "Bennie And The Jets" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", but it also has a great amount of overlooked classic songs like "Grey Seal" or "The Ballad of Danny Bailey" – those are great overlooked songs. And like Ziggy Stardust it has an incredible opener and an incredible closer. The opener of "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" is absolutely classic, kind of prog meets pop, and Dream Theater even covered that song in the past. And then it closes with "Harmony", which is this majestic, beautiful track. So, a perfect album.
Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979). Pink Floyd, like The Beatles, are one of my favourite bands of all time, and like The Beatles, it's hard to really pick one, but if you held a gun to my head I think The Wall would be the one just because I'm a sucker for 'more is more' and over the top production and The Wall's surely that – a double album and a concept album, it was just a huge mammoth piece of music, which eventually translated to an incredible film as well. At this point Roger Waters had taken over the band and was running the show, but this album was obviously an extension of his genius; if you listen to the new My Chemcial Romance album you can hear that it's all directly ripping everything off from The Wall, so it is still felt thirty years later.
The next 5 are more modern classic albums for me, and the next being The Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique (1989), and I think this was an absolutely groundbreaking album for its time, and it took the whole idea of sampling basically as far as it can go; shortly after this album there were lawsuits, and all the laws and copyrights changed in the music industry. But Paul's Boutique is an example of taking that art form as far as it can go, and they were sampling everything from Zeppelin and The Beatles to The Ramones and Public Enemy and everything in between. The production on this album is a sonic onslaught of sounds and beats and loops and samples and a lot of prog or metal purists never really gave rap or hip-hop music its full appreciation but I think this album if you listen to it, there's no denying that it's a sonic masterpiece. Another album from this time that was a huge influence on me was Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, so those two albums were a big influence on me from a production standpoint.
Next will be the first self titled Mr Bungle album (1991). The first time I heard it, it scared the crap out of me, it was like a sonic nightmare; it was like if you took the movie Eraserhead and made an album out of that mood, this is what it would be. It was taking every form of music from metal to ska to punk to prog and put it all together and it was this big hodgepodge of riffs and styles and Mike Patton was the ultimate chameleon to voice it all. And also the production and the collaboration with John Zorn was pretty amazing because he added a whole other element of avant-garde to this album. If Frank Zappa had made a metal album, this is what it would have been.
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