On July 7th, 1992, Dream Theater released their sophomore album, Images and Words. Their debut for Atco Records and first album with James LaBrie on vocals, there were modest expectations for the album, even though the progressive metal band was proud of the album. However, buoyed by the success of the album’s first single “Pull Me Under,” the album eventually went gold and established the band as a standard-bearer for complex yet melodic prog-metal. We caught up with guitarist John Petrucci to discuss what went into making the album, the success of it’s first single, and his memories of their most successful album to date.
Did you have any idea what Images and Words would become?
Not at all. The whole situation was very uncertain. We had put out our first album, When Day and Dream Unite, and we didn’t do any touring or anything for that. We did some press. People seemed to like it but it just ended. We decided to switch lead singers, and we went on this very long singer hunt for like a year and a half. We weren’t really crazy about the label, so we were singerless, labelless, and holding jobs down teaching guitar and doing other things. We started to wonder if we would have an opportunity to do this again as a band. When Derek Oliver from Atco expressed interest, the very first thing they did was more of a development deal. We recorded a few songs from Images and Words as a demo. By the time we went to actually do the album and got James as a singer, we were just ecstatic to be able to do it again. We didn’t even think it was going to amount to anything, we were just incredibly grateful to be back in the studio.
Did the transition to James effect the writing? Or was the writing already taken care of before he joined?
It was really already written. All that time we were searching for a singer and label we were writing, we rehearsed in different basements of stores in strip malls. We were writing and demoing everything ourselves so we had all the music really done. We would practice with other singers who are auditioning before we found James. We were busy, but we weren’t fully professional yet.
At what point with James did you realize he was the guy? Was it during the recording or after?
It was immediate. We got the press kit and heard a live recording of him and we were blown away. We had to get this guy. As soon as he came down and we did a few songs with him, we asked him right away. It was immediate. We loved him.
Do you remember what songs you did with him?
A couple of Journey songs. I think he might have done one of the ones that was on Images.
How did you approach Images as opposed to When Day and Dream Unite?
With When Day and Dream Unite, we were really young and we had just got signed, we had a very short period of time to record it. We went as a band to live together in Pennsylvania and then we would go in and record. We really didn’t have any experience. Images was a bit later and we had more experience, some more gear, and some more ideas about what we wanted to do. The studio we were in was beautiful. It felt like we had more time to do it. Things like that. It was still a situation where we had a producer (David Prater) who was directing the whole ship, but yeah. The experience was very wide-eyed and exciting, and it was like a whirlwind. Images was more of a conscious experience when we had more time and were a little bit more grounded at that point.
So it was when you started to realize where you were and what you were doing?
Yeah, we had been together as a band longer and we had taken a bunch of time to work on material and we had been through a process and it slipped through our hands a bit. This time, we were more thankful and aware of what was going on and very excited about it but with a little more mature. We were so young.
You’ve performed the entirety of the album onstage many times. What are your favorite songs to play on Images?
“Metropolis” is always fun to play. That seems to be one that gets everyone going. It’s heavy, it’s progressive and one of the more fan-favorite songs.
You had your biggest hit to date with “Pull Me Under.” Did you ever think playing that song would be such a behemoth? Were you thinking it would get played on the radio or that it’d have MTV success?
No, we didn’t think that way at all. We were into writing progressive metal. We were all big fans of Yes and Rush, but we also liked Metallica and other bands. We came out with this stuff that didn’t have the normal pop structure, the songs were long. “Pull Me Under” was at least eight minutes. Originally, “A Change of Seasons” was supposed to be on Images, but the label voted against that. The whole nature of the album wasn’t really geared towards commercial standards. After we went on tour, that song started to gain legs from requests. We had no idea what was happening. We had to quickly film a video on tour at a club because we didn’t have a video and it just grew from there. It was unintentional.
Did you have any concerns with the edited version of the song?
It’s never fun to hear your songs edited. It’s always a heartbreak, You write it a certain way for a reason, so it’s never as good.
Speaking of being edited, do you have any regrets that Images and Words wasn’t a double album?
No I’m glad in retrospect. That was the right move, for sure.
How did the success of Images and Words effect the recording and how you approached Awake?
We had the beginnings of a career, we had a worldwide fan base, we’d toured, and there were expectations, so that worked its way into the mix a little bit. But mostly it was just an exciting opportunity to do it again. We had that same hunger and we shifted a little bit in direction. It the first time I had a 7-string guitar, so the sound is a little heavier than on Images. I think that made for offering something that was from the same band, but had a slightly different direction. We keep doing that too. We keep reinventing ourselves but try to stay as creative as we can and not keep making the same records. It’s always fun.
If you were to pick one song off the album to play in a bar on a jukebox, which song would it be and why?
“Pull Me Under.” for some reason, it came out really good and it has a magic to it. It kind of exemplifies the style of the band. You can listen to it and you can hear the progressive metal in it, it has a big chorus in it, and I’m really proud of it. It would probably be one that more people would recognize. Like you said, that would be our greatest hit probably, as the album title says. When that song was done and the album was out I would play it for friends, and I remember feeling very proud of it. I was proud of the vibe and the sound, and I wanted to share it. We definitely didn’t know what it was going to turn into. I remember feeling like there was something special there.