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Remembering Pink Floyd's Richard Wright

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Pinkfloyd_lI was a teenager once, which means that I owned the biggest album of 1979 — Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I first got hooked as a wet-behind-the-ears high-school freshman when my best friend dubbed it for me on cassette, then bought the vinyl after seeing the film and fully embracing my addiction to their gravity-defying psychedelic rock. I soon graduated to 1975’s Wish You Were Here and 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, which went on to sell over 40 million copies and spend 14 yearsyears — on the Billboard 200 album chart. Later, in college, when trying to impress the gatekeepers at my school’s radio station, I whiled away hours decoding 1969’s sticky, experimental Ummagumma. Had I logged as many hours studying for my chemistry Regents exam as I did at New York’s Hayden Planetarium for “Laser Floyd,” or dumbly plucking away at the Pentatonic scale on my friend’s electric guitar, it’s possible I’d be an entirely different person today. A slight exaggeration, maybe, but it’s hard to overestimate the influence the titans of U.K. space rock have had on my life, and the music that so frequently guides it.

Richard Wright, who died today at 65 after a battle with cancer, was a founding member and keyboardist for Pink Floyd. While not as famous in his own right as the late guitarist-vocalist Syd Barrett and bassist-vocalist Roger Waters, he was instrumental in the development of the iconic Floyd sound — the anthemic organ swells, the layered synth riffs. He wrote a few of their big hits, including Dark Side‘s “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us And Them,” and worked on songs such as “Atom Heart Mother,” “Echoes” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Waters famously fired Wright during the recording of The Wall, and Wright was relegated to session-musician status for years, during which he released two solo albums, Wet Dream, in 1978, and Broken China, in 1996. But even from the sidelines, Wright devoted most of his musical life to Pink Floyd.

Chances are good that you or your friends experienced some sort of Pink Floyd phase when you were younger — my PopWatch colleague Gary Susman calls them the “Holden Caulfield” of bands — so it seems appropriate to open up the message boards and hear what you all have to say. All I will add is, thanks for helping open those doors, Richard. And hope to see you one day at that great gig in the sky.

For more on Pink Floyd, check our coverage of Roger Waters at Coachella this past spring, a review of Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey and of the 1995 music documentary Pulse.

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