Seven Songs: Dream Theater

The progressive metal titans' singer James LaBrie guides us through his playlist — from Led Zeppelin to Nat King Cole.

For almost four decades, New York’s Dream Theater have wowed audiences with their frenzied, sweeping and melodic prog-rock odysseys. Over the last couple of years their legacy has been the subject of the Lost But Not Forgotten Archives, a series of uncovered live performances, demo sessions and rarities that have marked their influential career.

Still going strong from the ‘Top Of The World’, Dream Theater return to their beloved UK this week. “We’ve been coming there for 30 years,” says lead singer James LaBrie of the band’s transatlantic relationship, “when we come there I think they see the sincerity that we’re there to have a good time and put on an amazing show, musically and visually.”

Ahead of their first UK stop in Manchester, LaBrie shares seven of the tracks that help form his musical journey.

Dream Theater - Top Of The World Tour Trailer

The song that makes me happy

You know ‘Blinded By The Light?’ B-b-bliiiinded! Or blinded by the light, I remember that song for whatever reason, because it had that middle section where it’s all these vocals put together with a beautiful melody that was very memorable. I can’t help but think of songs that were getting me into music as a child.

The song that makes me cry

Songs that made me sad are just poorly written songs! If a sad song comes on the radio, I’m like, I don’t know how it got there and why is it there? Unfortunately that’s the sad truth about a certain part of our industry; it’s not necessarily based on the integrity or the substance of the song, it’s more based on the visual aspects and pop culture, so to speak.

But for its sincerity, I remember the first time I heard Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’, and I remember the way that Freddie sang it. The movements and the key that he was in, and how evocative he was when he was singing it. For whatever reason I was overwhelmed by it, like holy sh*t, you know? This guy is bleeding his heart out. You can feel it from the very core, every fabric of his being is expressing right now what he’s trying to say. 

The song that reminds me of my childhood

It was ubiquitous at one time on the radio, but if you could take away the thousands of times you heard it and then play it for the first time again, you would realise what a genius of a song it is. I would have been, jeez, 13 when I first heard it. My older brother had the album and was playing it and I remember knocking on his door like, what the hell, this is incredible! I think a culmination of this song, Deep Purple, Machinehead and Aerosmith got me into singing; all this stuff hit me over the head and really galvanised me to think, you know what? This is something I want to do. If you wanna go way, way back to the beginning, my dad was a big jazz fan, so he was listening to the likes of Miles David, and he would say, “Hear the trumpet, the trumpet is his voice, that’s the melody, that’s his expression.” I remember thinking that was a cool way to put it. 

The song that reminds me of being in love

If I wanted to be an asshole I’d say ‘War (What Is It Good For?)’ But no, the Nat King Cole song ‘Unforgettable’. He has one of the most gorgeous voices ever, it’s just like velvet when you listen to it. It’s a song that everyone can relate to. That’s a frickin’ love song right there. 

The song I wish I’d written

Anything from this album. It was just phenomenal.

The last song I listened to

This song is from The Cult’s latest album, Under The Midnight Sun. I really like the vibe of this. I’ve listened to The Cult on and off over the years and I appreciate them, I like the rawness that those guys give out. I like that, I appreciate that side of music as well. 

The one song I could listen to forever

Even though we’ve all been knocked over the head with Queen’s supremacy over the last 10-15 years, I can still listen to this song and appreciate its pure genius. If I’m on an island and that’s the only song I can listen to over and over, it would probably help keep some of my sanity. It still has that overplayed cringe I think, because enough is enough, right? It doesn’t matter how brilliant something is, if you’ve heard it a thousand times, isn’t that enough? But like I said, if you can be objective you can still appreciate it’s pure genius. 

Find tickets for Dream Theater’s UK tour here.