Pink Floyd, Rick Wright second from left
Listen – Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine – MP3
With this unscheduled departure from our midweekly dose of radio silence I take a moment to note the passing of Rick Wright.
Wright, who this week succumbed to cancer at the age of 65, was one of the founding members of perhaps the most important psychedelic band of the 60s, Pink Floyd.
Like many a child of the 70s, both ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ (in particular the latter) were cornerstones of my formative musical life, as well as a recurring soundtrack to my own chemical flights of fancy (as it were).
I had every longhairs classic rock awe for the Floyd, but it wasn’t until 1984, when I first heard ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, and had my mind seriously blown (and subsequently rewired) that Pink Floyd really became important to me.
Suddenly it was as if all that had come before was nothing but space rock window dressing, a sprig of parsley set beside the main course. That my introduction to ‘Piper…’, – which, along with the band’s early 45s and parts of ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ immediately became known as ‘Syd’s Floyd’ – coincided with my first steps into the psychedelic realm*, bears examination.
With the exception of three jazz albums (‘Thelonious Monk, Genius of Modern Music’, ‘Kind of Blue’ by the Miles Davis Quintet and ‘A Love Supreme’ by the John Coltrane Quartet) and Otis Redding’s set at Monterey Pop, no record before or since was as much of a game changer, in respect to how I heard music, than ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’.
Much the same was as the Beatles influenced virtually all rock music that came in their wake, the same can be said about the influence of Pink Floyd on British psychedelia. Though there are scores of brilliant UK psyche 45s, and a few other major LPs, no record before or since can be seen as important a blueprint for a sound than ‘Piper…’.
All styles of music have their tragic examples of unfulfilled promise, but in my opinion none is as tragic as that of Syd Barrett. He wrote (or cowrote) all but one song on ‘Piper…’ and pretty much went into decline almost immediately. ‘Piper…’ stands today as a rare example of a flawlessly brilliant rock album, and though Barrett’s songwriting and sensibility are it’s heart, it would be nothing without the band that brought those things to life, and Rick Wright was a major part of that band.
Wright’s work on organ and piano, as well as his vocals on ‘Astronomy Domine’ are crucial to the sound of the album, and were – like every note on the record – widely imitated.
It’s important to note, that although their early period music (or more accurately much of the music they inspired in others) was marked by a sense of the whimsical, both lyrically and musically, much of ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ is remarkably challenging, eschewing the “toy shoppe” vibe and moving into areas closer to free jazz than flower pop. Check out ‘Pow R Toc H’, ‘Take Up they Stethoscope and Walk’ and especially ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ ( a number that they would use as a launching point for wild improvisation in a live setting) and then contrast it with much of the sound collected on ‘Rubble’ and similar compilations, and realize how different Pink Floyd really were.
Yesterday, when I heard about Wright’s passing I immediately reached for the iPod and was STUNNED to realize that although I own at least three different copies of ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, I had never ripped it to MP3**. I’m sure some of this has to do with the fact that it isn’t a record that lends itself easily to what one might call “casual” listening, i.e. it’s not a record I’d play at work (Oh, I’d LOVE to but it wouldn’t be tolerated for long), and since I have two small children, I don’t have much of an opportunity to play stuff like ‘Piper…’ (or Ornette Coleman, or Flying Saucer Attack or any number of other non-mellow sounds) I hadn’t listened to it – and this is a record I used to listen to DAILY – in quite a while.
That will be remedied this evening.
I decided to post ‘Astronomy Domine’ because it features Wright on both vocals (an unusual occurrence) and keyboards. It’s also an amazing song.
I hope you dig it, and take a moment to remember Rick Wright***.
I’ll be back on Friday with something groovy.
*I recall a particular evening, more than 20 years ago, when under the influence of something – how do they say – trippy, while my brother sat in the kitchen and tuned the strings on his 12-string guitar (until they broke, boiinnnnggggg), I replayed the opening of ‘Astronomy Domine’ over, and over, and OVER again, attempting to decipher what was being said at the beginning (it’s the group’s then-manager Peter Jenner reading the names of stars through a megaphone, and no, I never figured it out that night). I’m pretty sure I ruined the record, but replaced it forthwith. Ahhhh, the olden days!
**I had it on my old 30GB iPod but when I passed that on to my wife (and lost much of my old iTunes library) I never re-ripped it to the 80GB
***And Syd of course, who’s been gone for just over two years now.