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“For me, what makes a great drum album is the combination of skill and musicality," says Mike Mangini, Dream Theater's master sticksman. "It’s about balance – how a drum part brings a song to a new level. When I hear a song with those elements and that balance, that’s when I want to hear it again, and even learn it.”
Mangini started listening to records early – he was already playing drums by two and a half – and he credits his brother Paul, 10 years his senior, with furthering his musical education. "For the first 10 years of my life, Paul would buy records for me," says Mangini. "Every time he gave me one, he’d say two words: 'Learn it.' It's interesting, though: He always gave me high-powered things, never anything mellow. He knew I couldn't tolerate that."
According to Mangini, compiling a list of those albums that influenced him the most as a player is a different task from assembling a rundown of his top 10 drummers. “If you asked me to name my top drummers, Dennis Chambers and Horacio Hernandez might be one and two – or tied for first," he says. "They’re incredible, but the have reason why I didn’t pick out any of their records is because I don’t have just one – it’s a collection. Not that the collection of Rush or Led Zeppelin records aren’t amazing, but this is really about me answering questions about my life and how these people and albums came into it."
As befits a drummer, timing is everything. “The important thing about the albums on this list is that each drummer gave me a piece of something," says Mangini. "But what’s equally important is the period in my life when they gave me that something. For example, a Max Roach record that might have influenced thousands of drummers isn’t one of mine simply because it didn’t come onto my radar, and if it did, it would have to have done so at a time I wasn't interested in it."
On the following pages, Mangini cites what he calls "my top 10 most-influential drum albums," stressing that his choices are in a specific chronological order. "Not for the year they came out, but for when and how they entered my life," he says. "These albums, and the drummers who play on them, are, in many ways, my musical evolution, my journey."