“For me, playing music is like meditating – I just play and don’t really think about what I’m doing, I just let it happen.” – Rick Wright.
Rick Wright, Pink Floyd’s late, great keyboardist, etched his name into rock and roll history when he joined forces with Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright to co-create one of the most experimental and pioneering bands of all time. While his groundbreaking influence is felt throughout the vast back catalogue of Pink Floyd, here we’re exploring the artists who helped shape his own creative vision.
Pink Floyd has often been labelled as somewhat of a nerdy rock band. Perhaps adding weight to that notion is their conception with the band’s prog-rock style being founded on supreme musicianship and a determination to create and evolve, and much of that intellectual drive came out of the creatively bursting Regent Street Polytechnic. It was at this moment that drummer Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright all met joined forces to put some sounds together.
Once the band were joined by Syd Barrett in 1967, Wright and Pink Floyd soon became the talk of the swinging London scene and led the way when it came to acid rock. 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.
It was in this role that he became an integral member of Pink Floyd, and, in turn, the band became indispensable to the bustling counterculture of the time. Wright subsequently left the band in 1981 after the release of The Wall but soon rejoined in 1987 as a session musician, and, later, he became a full-time member once again in 1994, where the group recorded The Division Bell.
Aside from his exploits within the band, Wright was an extremely accomplished musician in other areas, producing two solo albums and briefly forming the duo Zee. Wright was also a part of Pink Floyd’s reunion in 2005 for Live 8, and, after that, he became a part of Gilmour’s regular touring band before his death in 2008. It was an impressive and immersive career that persistently pushed new boundaries.
To be in a band alongside 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 pawed over Wright’s contribution to the seminal group, and his overarching influence cannot be underestimated. His vocals on ‘Time’ and ‘Remember a Day’, for example, are impeccable. However, it was the jazz inspiration and compositional composure that set him apart from the others. Wright was an avid devourer of music, and his list of records shows a man who knows his stuff.
It’s 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 group, once sat down with Wright to look back over his mammoth record collection and pick out ten of his favourite albums of all time. Naturally, they’re all flecked with the classical and jazz influences that Wright exhibited throughout his own work.
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. When discussing the latter, Wright commented: “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, Gabriel and Eno, also feature in Wright’s top ten list. He picks Peter Gabriel’s 1989 album Passion, stating: “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 when he said: “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 also picked the album he and David Byrne created alongside one another in My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, which Wright says was so powerful that it “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 the composer, who picks the Talking Heads classic album Remain In Light. While Wright shows affection for the title track on the record by explaining: “If you want to hear some incredible rhythmic things that are really working then the title track’s the place to be,” his real love is for Talking Heads’s ultimate pop anthem ‘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,” he added. “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 praising David Byrne’s unconventional delivery and off-beat showmanship, Wright paid tribute to his jazz roots, selecting 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 significant 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. Further down, you will find a playlist of all the music that inspired Pink Floyd.
Rick Wright’s 10 favourite albums:
- Music From Big Pink – The Band
- Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop – Jeff Beck
- Appalachian Spring: Bernstein Conducts Copland – Aaron Copland
- Porgy and Bess – Miles Davis
- My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno & David Byrne
- Passion – Peter Gabriel
- The Royal Scam – Steely Dan
- Remain in Light – Talking Heads
- Symphony Number 3 – Henryk Górecki
- The Colour of Spring – Talk Talk