columbia 45: DB8214
more paisley pattern than you can shake a staff at
A perfect 45. Peerless, and nearly 45 years since its original release, still wholly inimitable.
Involving all the studio trickery that producer, Norman Smith could muster in the early summer of 1967, the real magic of "See Emily Play" is in the song and its performance; the otherwordliness that an allegedly resistant Syd Barrett brought to bear on the recording session.
Childhood friend, David Gilmour - invited by Barrett to those very sessions - later went on record as saying this marked the point of the tipping of the scales and the first outward manifestation of Syd's withdrawl into secrecy and detachment. Ill at ease with what he considered a betrayal on Norman's part, Barrett was appalled by the sheer weight of the production values and retreated into the corner to lay down some traditional slide guitar. Whipping out a Zippo lighter in protest. Just to demonstrate how it ought to be done.
He appeared not to acknowledge Gilmour's intrusion. Or recognize him at all.
Much of what transpired during those sessions is anecdotal and uncorroborated. No paperwork exists in EMI's archive, and the 4 Track master reel was either wiped for subsequent reuse or lost entirely. Hence, the fact "See Emily Play" remains unissued as a genuine stereo remix.
Engineer, Jeff Jarrett's recollection is of an extended, meandering piece cruelly edited down by Smith for radio play; its bridges recorded at Syd's intended pace and doctored to pander to the prevailing zeitgeist. However intriguing, Smith's creative overruling - his determination, maybe, not to be outdone by George Martin - was inspired. A little short of three minutes, he achieves more here for the Pink Floyd than The Beatles ever did over both sides of their supremely overrated "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
Pink Floyd performed the song on three separate occasions in July, 1967 for the BBC, broadcast live on 'Top of the Pops". While it sealed international recognition for the band, Syd seethed at his being cast as a model pop idol in the same mould as so much industry fodder.
As I touched on in 2008, when contrasting both incarnations of the Pink Floyd:
"There is only ten years between them, like warring siblings, but a lot of water under the bridge. Pink Floyd's "Animals" was their contribution to 1977's summer of contempt, and the ostracized Syd was by that time as bloated and confused as Roger Waters' mutinous vision.
Pink Floyd may not have been flavour of the month on the Kings Road in 1977, but you would have been hard pushed to find anybody with a safety pin through their nose who had a bad word to say about Syd Barrett.
Originally released on June 16, the flip side to this single would later be found too on August's "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", hitting the shops as the solstice celebrations faded towards autumn with the approaching equinox. Wizard. If you hadn't bought "Emily" a month or two earlier you might possibly have been in for a rude awakening since it didn't make the album. While Syd was on the throne, the Pink Floyd were still very much a singles band. Fast forward ten years and the deal couldn't have been more different."
One might speculate endlessly on Syd's mental condition till the cows come home or are ravaged by dogs. On "Atom Heart Mother" or "Animals".
Over the "Dark Side of the Moon".
Having pevaricated with the best of them, revisiting the scene of countless accidents and incidents along the way, in the end I am more inclined to believe his paranoia was less as a result of undiagnosed Schizophrenia than the impact of too many drugs on a guileless underlying personality. Much like Brian Jones, it was not the betrayal of any regal blues legacy which did for him in the end, but the brutal machinations and sibling rivalries within the family unit he once presided over. With so much personal identity invested in it, steal it away and there is scarcely anything left of substance.
Syd Barrett was a mover; no architect he. A casualty in a feudal game of chess, his emotional ruin was orchestrated with a clinical disregard for cause and effect. Far from being some unfortunate plagued by demons or rendered unfit by mental illness, he simply floundered in the attempt to assert authority outwith the Pink Floyd. Both his solo albums, "The Macap Laughs" and "Barrett", continue in the same lyrical vein he was previously applauded for, but the tone is at odds with the painstakingly crafted stadium filler the 'new' Pink Floyd would become adept at. Neither are the product of a "broken mind", or some idiot savant, no matter how difficult it may have been to tease a performance from him or polish this newer material into broadly marketable 'units'.
In an interview with Giovanni Dadomo from 1971 - unpublished until 1974 when it appeared in issue #9 of the Barrett fanzine, 'Terrapin' - our crazy diamond is strikingly coherent if noticeably weary, to the point of spent:
GD: Are you into other people's music?
SB: I don't really buy many records, there's so much around that you don't know what to listen to. All I've got at home is Bo Diddley, some Stones and Beatles stuff and old jazz records. I like Family, they do some nice things...
GD: What about the future? Are you looking forward to singing and playing again?
SB: Yes, that would be nice. I used to enjoy it, it was a gas. But so's doing nothing. It's art school laziness, really. I've got this Wembley gig and then another thing in summer.
Syd Barrett was always a raw and mercurial talent.
If the litmus test for creative flair is the calculated cynicism which would deliver "The Final Cut" just fourteen years later, I do not believe Roger Keith Barrett would have cared to participate. Let alone turn up for the exam.
Allow me to add this. There is on hell of lot of dreary motherf@ckers out there passing for 'normal'. Not one of them would I invite home or break bread with.
Syd Barrett: guitar, lead vocals;
Roger Waters: bass, vocals;
Richard Wright: keyboards, organ, vocals;
Nick Mason: drums.
Produced by Norman Smith.
Engineered by Jeff Jarrett.
▼ PINK FLOYD: SEE EMILY PLAY from "See Emily Play b/w The Scarecrow" 45 (Columbia/EMI) 1967 (UK)
▼ PINK FLOYD: SCARECROW from "See Emily Play b/w The Scarecrow" 45 (Columbia/EMI) 1967 (UK)