When I was a teenager or in my early twenties, everyone knew that my favorite band was Yes. I mean, I have a very positive personality, and how much more positive can you get than ‘Yes’? Not ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’, but ‘Yes’! Their music is full of shimmering light and high fantasy. Sure, you could say the same about the Prog-Rock era Genesis, but there was something about Yes that just pushed that positivity in a way that Genesis didn’t. There was also a big emphasis on Musicianship and showmanship. Something that their keyboardist (at least for a few ‘classic’ albums) Rick Wakeman had in spades.
Rick Wakeman had a style that could go from very hardcore, if showy, flowery, rock to pretty little filigrees and flourishes. Outside of Yes, listen to some early David Bowie, like ‘Life on Mars?’. Also listen to Cat Steven’s ‘Morning has Broken’. Listen to the flash of the playing. It is pretty and complex at the same time. Virtuosity was what Rick Wakeman’s playing was (and still is) about.
Rick Wakeman could have been the greatest advertisement for the Moog Minimoog. It was his primary synthesizer. The picture of him, long blond hair and flowing silver superhero cape, as he played a Mini with each hand, is iconic. He WAS the prog-rock keyboard hero, in ways even more than his arch-rival Keith Emerson. (Keith was darker, more dangerous, though also even more of a showman).
As a ‘kid’, Rick Wakeman was my keyboard hero.
Well, sort of.
I also had a dark, moody side. I tried to hide it, but some saw it. Where it came out the most was in music.
A month or so ago I posted the five albums that most influenced me. Did you notice anything about my list? There were no Yes albums or Rick Wakeman solo albums. In fact, he didn’t play on any of the albums.
Do you know who did? That’s right, the other Rick, Rick Wright. Two of the five albums were Pink Floyd albums. (Note – usually I’ve seen his name as ‘Richard’, though in every interview of David Gilmore, he has been referred to as ‘Rick’).
Every so often Richard Wright did some ‘pretty music’ or slightly ‘virtuosic’ work, but it wasn’t him. He was not the greatest at that type of playing and it didn’t always suit him. Where he excelled was in creating great textures. Listen to any Floyd album before The Wall and there is a moodiness and a dark texture that comes almost 100% from his keyboards. I remember When Roger Waters and David Gilmore were arguing over who was most responsible for Pink Floyd’s signature sound, I was scratching my head thinking that the sound most people think of as ‘Pink Floyd’ was created by Richard Wright. Just listen to ‘The Final Cut’ compared to the other albums. Although the individual songs fit in with some of what Pink Floyd had done, overall the album is out of place when you listen to all of them. It sounds different because there was no Rick Wright.
Yes, he was a good player beyond just the textures and atmospheres he created. There is some good piano, organ and synthesizer playing in the Floyd repertoire. But he, like his music, seems to be dark and moody, not the flashy, cape wearing, superhero of the other Rick W.
It is interesting that these two keyboard playing Rick W.s, working in competing Prog-Rock bands at almost the same time, have so little musically in common. And yet, as I developed my tastes and styles musically, they both were such big influences.
Each was great in his own way.
Rick Wakeman is still with us. His tribute to David Bowie last year was spectacular. Unfortunately, Richard Wright is not. He passed away in 2008. His last musical output with the Floyd was released in 2014, The Endless River.
(Many Pink Floyd videos were posted on the 5 influential albums post)
Music & Lyrics by Richard Wright)
Music by Richard Wright