Released June 16th, 1967. Highest chart placing: No 6
Between November 1966 and September 1967 John Lennon wrote three extraordinary songs that would explore the outer limits of British 20th century pop music: Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life and I Am the Walrus. Four years later, as a solo artist, he released Imagine, an album of sporadic brilliance mired in turgid self-indulgence. The Olympian deity descended to Earth to give 'power' to his 'people'.
Meanwhile, back in 1966 a young middle-class psychonaut was setting out his own journey of discovery, one from which, sadly, he would not return. Two of the most striking results of this voyage would be Pink Floyd's classic Syd-era singles - Arnold Layne and See Emily Play. Recorded in Studios 2 and 3 at Abbey Road, next to the room where the Beatles were recording their Sergeant Pepper-era material, the opening bars of See Emily Play sounded like the engines of a home-built UFO being fired up in a suburban back garden before whisking the listener off into the whirling halucinatory mind-world of its author, where the songs's central protagonist Emily 'tries, but misunderstands' and 'is often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow.'
The recording used unconventional techniques first pioneered by maverick geniuses like Joe Meek - sped-up guitar and piano, liberal use of echo and reverb and backwards tape. The single was edited down from a much longer take, but somewhere along the line the 4-track master was lost or wiped, so the early version is lost and 'Emily' has never been released in true stereo.
51 years on it is hard to believe that a song like See Emily Play could reach number 6 in the pop charts, a domain now dominated by self-absorbed young people singing mostly about themselves in terms that make one wonder why such dreary lives should be so celebrated. Syd himself descended into chaos and psychosis and was abandoned by his colleages in circumstances that make one wonder about notions of friendship and loyalty. Pink Floyd mark 2 went on to create some of the most mind-numbingly portentous music ever committed to tape. The personal cost of 2 minutes and 52 seconds of such thrilling genius was high. A sad tale. Much has been lost.
See Emily Play, Top of the Pops, 1967