From Talking Heads to The Band: Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright once picked his 10 favourite albums ever
Pink Floyd have often been labelled as a bit of a nerdy rock band. Their prog-rock style was founded on supreme musicianship and a determination to create and evolve, much of that intellectual drive came out of the Regent Street Polytechnic. It was there that drummer Nick Mason, Roger Waters and the late, great Richard Wright all met and founded Pink Floyd.
Once the band were joined by Syd Barrett in 1967, Wright and Pink Floyd soon became the talk of the swinging London set. Wright began his time with the band as a straightforward singer-songwriter but soon moved on to a different role within the group—the composer.
Wright left the band in 1981 after The Wall but soon rejoined in 1987 as a session musician and became a full-time member once again in 1994 where the group recorded The Division Bell. Aside from the band, Wright was an extremely accomplished musician producing two solo albums and briefly forming the duo Zee. Wright was a part of Pink Floyd’s reunion in 2005 for Live 8 and then became a part of Gilmour’s regular touring band before his death in 2008.
To be in a band with musicians like Barrett, Gilmour, Waters and Mason means you’re likely to be overlooked or overshadowed quite a lot in your career. Since his death, however, musos have been pawing over Wright’s contribution to the band and his overarching influence cannot be underestimated. His vocals on ‘Time’ and ‘Remember a Day’ are impeccable but it was the jazz inspiration and compositional composure that set him apart.
It’s also these two prongs of Wright’s musical arsenal that can be seen in some of his favourite albums of all time. Pink-Floyd, a fan site dedicated to the band, once caught up with Wright back in 1996 to look over his mammoth record collection and pick out ten of his favourite albums of all time, naturally, they’re flecked with the classical and jazz influences that Wright held so dear.
In those ten favourite albums, Wright nodded to composers Aaron Copland and Henryk Górecki picking their albums Appalachian Spring: Bernstein Conducts Copland and Symphony Number 3 respectively. About the latter, Wright said: “Then someone suggested that we needed something that sounded like Górecki. I’d never heard of him, so I went out and bought this album and now I really love it. Although Górecki’s a classical composer I think of this music as being in the same space as Gabriel or Eno, peaceful and ethereal.”
Those two artists also feature in Wright’s top 10 list. He picks Peter Gabriel’s 1989 album Passion saying: “I feel very close to this music. I think in many ways Peter hears music the way that I hear it, so I’d have to say he’s a kindred spirit.” Wright also paid homage to the wild talents of Brian Eno. “I’ve often eulogised Eno’s musical abilities, but alongside his talent, he’s also a very nice guy. Sickening, isn’t it?”
The keyboardist not only picked the album he and David Byrne created alongside one another in My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, which Wright says, “knocked me sideways when I first heard it — full of drum loops, samples and soundscapes, stuff that we really take for granted now, but which was unheard of in all but the most progressive musical circles at the time.” He also spoke fondly of Byrne’s contribution to the record saying, “And as if that wasn’t enough there was also David Byrne’s voice, which in itself is almost worth buying any album for.”
The Eno Byrne tag-team rears its head once more on another selection for Wright who picks the Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Although Wright shows affection for the title track on the record: “If you want to hear some incredible rhythmic things that are really working then the title track’s the place to be,” but his real love is for Talking Heads classic ‘Once In A Lifetime’.
“I couldn’t stop playing ‘Once In A Lifetime’ when I first got the album, because it was the perfect example of that fantastic Talking Heads trick where they combine quirkiness with a real melodic ear. That’s not easy to do, especially if you’re trying to retain some integrity. You could always tell with this band that they weren’t writing to be commercial – they were just doing the music that they really felt. There was something incredibly spontaneous about them.”
As well as David Byrne’s unconventional delivery and off-beat showmanship, Wright paid tribute to his jazz roots and selected Miles Davis’ classic Porgy and Bess. Wright suggests he could “happily give you ten Miles Davis records as my ten favourite records of all time.” The jazz musician was clearly a big influence on the fledgeling musician.
“The first music I ever heard was classical,” remembers Wright “because I was growing up in the days before rock’n’roll, but then I was exposed to jazz on radio stations and started listening to the more traditional players like Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Ball. Then I discovered Miles.”
That’s not to say that Wright avoids the rock and roll that straddled his own band’s meteoric rise. Picking The Band and their iconic album Music From Big Pink Wright notes that he was never interested in rock and roll before then. “When I was first in The Floyd I wasn’t into pop music at all — I was listening to jazz and when The Beatles released ‘Please, Please Me’ I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I thought it was utterly puerile. There wasn’t much around at the time that excited me, but then I saw The Band and they were totally different, totally exciting.”
Wright also selects Jeff Beck’s expertly named Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop stating, “As far as rock guitarists go he’s got to be my all-time hero. He started as a blues guitarist just like Clapton, but he’s investigated the possibilities of the instrument much more. You probably won’t know this, but when Syd left Pink Floyd we actually asked Jeff Beck to join, he was our first choice.”
As well as selecting Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam there’s also a spot on the list for Talk Talk’s classic The Colour Of Spring, about which Wright said: “The simplicity of the songs and Mark Hollis’s voice make this album just incredible. The first tune, ‘Happiness Is Easy’, says it all – nothing but a bass, a snare and a weird chord. That’s Talk Talk all over, great songs and simplicity with a twist.”
Below we’ve compiled the list of Richard Wright’s favourite albums of all time and you can read the entirety of why he picked them here. But for now, sit back and get lost in the music that inspired Pink Floyd.
Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright’s 10 favourite albums