In any band, there are inevitably those members who have the “rockstar” personality—the ones who captivate the fans and the press, whose names and personal accolades you know as well as those of the band as a whole. And then there are the quieter members, the ones who seem to fade into the background, but whose influence on the music is completely invaluable. Legendary rock band Pink Floyd had several big personalities—from Syd Barrett to Roger Waters to, later, David Gilmour—but some of the band’s best and most complex compositions were products of soft-spoken founding keyboardist and vocalist Richard “Rick” Wright. In honor of the late Rick Wright’s birthday, we’re taking a look back at some of his most influential and enduring Pink Floyd compositions.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond“
This nine-part epic was composed by Wright for the band’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here. The song—written as a tribute to Barrett—showcases both Wright’s compositional mastery and his virtuosic keyboard playing, as he takes turns on the mini-Moog synthesizer, ARP String Ensemble Synth, piano, and clavinet. “Shine On” has become a centerpiece of the Pink Floyd catalog, embodying the space-rock sound that defined the band.
This 10-minute track from The Piper At the Gates Of Dawn (1967) marked one of Floyd’s first dives into psychedelic improvisation. One of its highlights is Wright’s organ part, which moves across the mix from speaker to speaker, creating a pulsing sonic texture. Check out this great live version from Pink Floyd London ’66-’67.
Another of Pink Floyd’s highly lauded psychedelic epics (off of 1971’s Meddle), “Echoes” owes a lot to Wright’s delicate and purposeful synth and organ work. Wright once noted that his playing on this track was inspired by some of Brian Wilson’s work on Good Vibrations. The song also showcases the harmonious beauty that comes to pass when Wright and Gilmour share vocal duties.
“The Great Gig In The Sky“, “Us And Them”, and “Time”
Finally, while he may not have been a focal point from the listener’s perspective, Rick Wright’s compositional and performance fingerprints are all over Pink Floyd’s most famous release, Dark Side of the Moon. While people are generally drawn to Clare Torry’s passionate vocal runs in “The Great Gig In The Sky”, the song is built around Wright’s delicate piano part. “Us And Them”, though sung by Gilmour, was written by Wright for an earlier project and repurposed for Dark Side. Finally, Wright takes vocal duties on the chorus of “Time”, one of the band’s most popular and frequently-played songs. And although it’s Gilmour’s solos that shine through, we’re still singing along to Wright’s vocals to this day.
A quiet, unassuming man, Rick Wright is often overshadowed when people talk about Pink Floyd. But without his considerable musical and compositional influence, Pink Floyd would likely not have become the legendary band they are now. Happy Birthday, Rick, we miss you!
[Originally published 7/28/16]