It’s easy to think that the electronic innovations in rock came mostly from people like Brian Eno, Kraftwerk or Gary Numan. While its true that they were early pioneers and sometimes pop trailblazers, there were many others sandwiched somewhere in between their accomplishments during the ’70s.
Gary Wright was one of those in-between artist who scored a few hits, most notably with “Dream Weaver” in 1976. That song used electronic keyboards and was one of my earliest memories of hearing what then seemed like far out space music, compared to the Barry Manalow and Barbra Streisand coming from my AM radio.
Fast forward a few years to the beginning of the ’80s and the second English invasion was just starting to get underway. Synthesizer based music was beginning to dominate the charts. Wright was still around releasing music in the intervening years after “Dream Weaver”, but he only had modest success. Many people simply forgot his contribution or like me, had no ideal how extensive his career had been before they heard him on the radio.
That song was likely to have been “I Really Want to Know You” from The Wright Place, his 6th album. That album continued the funky and sometimes bizarre blend of adult contemporary with bits of ’70s styled prog rock. Wright had worked with people like Ringo Starr, George Harrison and even fronted a few bands who were mostly linked to the late ’60s or early ’70s.
Much of that pre-disco sheen remained on The Wright Place. The one hit single “I Really Want to Know You” was almost funky with its electronic heavy melody and fretless bass. The dreamy vocal style, or at least Wright’s lyrics seemed rooted in outdated hippie ideals of higher consciousness awareness, whereas much of the pop landscape had moved on to more political subject matter (fear of the bomb). Although behind the curve in some ways, The Wright Place came at a time when MTV was just coming along – putting it in the vanguard of video exposure.
The video for “I Really Want to Know You” was featured heavily on the new network’s rotation simply because there were so few concept driven clips in those early years. In effect, it gave the song a half-life a good two years or so after its initial release. The modern soft funk heard on “I Really…” might have had a counterpart on the suprisingly modern and funky “Comin’ Apart”. Beyond that, the album sounded like a less rhythmic Robert Palmer coming to terms with a digital world while holding on to some hippie sensibilities.
Even when new the neo psychedelic electronica of The Wright Place seemed vaguely dated, it was different from the sci-fi conventions in new romantic and new wave pop. Like a ’70s science fiction film The Wright Place was futuristic, yet seems hopelessly dated now (even a bit when new). Its conflicting influences of prog rock, blues and new wave made it a kind of dark horse of the otherwise post-disco influenced adult contemporary scene. It still sounds odd today, but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. Where else would you find an otherwise awkward hybrid of styles that come together with soulful vocals that are usually associated people like Hall and
It still sounds odd today, but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. Where else would you find an otherwise awkward hybrid of styles that come together with soulful vocals that are usually associated people like Hall and Oats?
Gary Wright continues to record but had no hits since The Wright Place was released more than 30 years ago. A re-recorded version of “Dream Weaver”, his biggest hit was made for the film Wayne’s World (primarily for its kitsch value) in 1992. Though millions heard “Dream Weaver” probably for the first time, it did little to renew interest in albums like The Wright Place. That’s unfortunate because his contributions to electronic music will likely continue to be ignored or forgotten.