Emily tries but misunderstands.
She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow.
There is no other day.
Let's try it another way.
You'll lose your mind at play.
Free games for May
See Emily play.
Soon after dark Emily cries,
Gazing through trees in sorrow hardly a sound till tomorrow.
Put on a gown that touches the ground.
Float down a river forever and ever, Emily.
Emily was released in the United States during the Summer of Love and two times afterward until late 1968 without ever charting. I remember it played on the radio in the Summer of 1967, but not often. I didn’t like it at the time. Pink Floyd’s ability to include in a song pieces of music without melodic or rhythmic structure was new to me. The verses in See Emily Play were solid pop but in the intro and coda, in the lugubrious break of space age sounds mixed in with flat line trance, in the unsprung piano inserted after the first chorus seemingly running in fast reverse, I was hearing something new and different from the psychedelic aesthetic. Here were sung melodies that seemed larded through with abstract sound tumbles beyond measure that still landed on point for the verse.
Looking back, I can hear and appreciate Pink Floyd and their early composer and leader Syd Barrett; but at this distance I look through Pink Floyd’s immense success in the progressive era of rock music, and I can see hints of what is to come. It is somewhat similar to judging the Bee Gees’ psychedelia (if I hadn’t liked them in 1967) through their disco success. The big difference however, is that the motivating force of See Emily Play and the other songs on Pink Floyd’s first album Pipers of the Dawn, was Syd Barrett. Barrett hardly participated in Pink Floyd’s second album, and was absent from then on, a victim of madness perhaps brought on by hallucinogens. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was going through similar vigorous creative throes in 1967 before silence fell.
It is a frequently related story that the Pipers of the Dawn album was recorded in Abbey Studios at the same time the Beatles were working on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The two albums, Pepper and Piper then, bear comparison. Pink Floyd had access to the same sound library that the Beatles did, and were just as eager to use sound effects. However, in See Emily Play, Pink Floyd pulled sounds that suggested “outer space” in a manner the Beatles never attempted to convey. There was a futuristic popularity growing in 1967; it was the year that the long standing popularity of TV’s Star Trek began. The only other rock group to have preceded Pink Floyd in this interest had been the Byrds, in such songs as Lear Jet. But the Beatles stayed away from sounding like voices from the space age.
The structure of See Emily Play’s lyric is such that each verse has a short followed by a long line, and the chorus. The first two verses are held together by tomorrow and internal rhymes with it. The last verse, having tumbled through a grim internal rhyme of ground and down, ends on the once upon a time world of forever and ever. The chorus is an irregular five lines and tilts the repeated gist of the melody in three different directions, all bound together with the end rhymes for play. There’s a child’s playfulness in Syd Barrett’s song that participated in innocence as a psychedelic ideal.