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8.16-SKY PILOT (Eric Burdon & the Animals)

Eric Burdon & the Animals

LISTEN

He blesses the boys
As they stand in line.
The smell of gun grease
And their bayonets they shine.

He’s here to help them
All that he can.
To make them feel wanted
He’s a good holy man.

        Sky Pilot,
        Sky Pilot,
        How high can you fly?
        You’ll never reach the sky.

He smiles at the young soldiers
Tells them it’s alright.
He knows of their fear
In the forthcoming fight.

Soon there’ll be blood
And many will die.
Mothers and fathers
Back home they will cry.

        [Chorus]

He mumbles a prayer
And it ends with a smile.
The order is given—
They move down the line.

But he’ll stay behind
And he’ll meditate.
But it won’t stop the bleeding
Or ease the hate.

As the young men move out
Into the battle zone,
He feels good--
With God you’re never alone.

He feels so tired
And he lays on his bed.
Hopes the men will find courage
In the words that he said.

        [Chorus]

[Break]

You’re soldiers of God,
You must understand.
The fate of your country
Is in your young hands.

May God give you strength.
Do your job real well.
If it all was worth it
Only time it will tell.

In the morning they return
With tears in their eyes.
The stench of death
Drifts up to the skies.

A young soldier so ill
Looks at the Sky Pilot
Remembers the words
“Thou shalt not kill.”

        [Chorus (2x)]

        You’ll never reach the sky (5x)


Sky Pilot was a lengthy album track on The Twain Shall Meet. When cut just at the beginning of the break and released as a single, the song did fairly well in the Top 20, far better than other war protest songs considered in TLA. (Given that Sky Pilot was released in the UK in January, the song may actually be contemporary with the Byrds’ protest song Draft Morning, though the Byrds' song was recorded several months earlier.) The long version had a lengthy break over a solid bass with lead guitar improvisations that eventually are overwhelmed with battle sounds as if one were listening to a war movie. Wikipedia reported that part of the break is from a covert recording of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in a rendition of bagpipes playing "All The Bluebonnets Are Over The Border". Thereafter follows the completion of the story (which was the B side of the single, but didn’t get much radio play). The song uses flanging heavily for a whooshing sound, especially during the chorus. Because of the lengthy cinemagraphic break in Sky Pilot, I recommend the short version. However, the listener only hears the first part of the story that way.

Sky Pilot is the third of Viet Nam protest songs I’ve noted in Trance Love Airwaves, and it will be my last. (House Burning Down, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, is also included as a protest song in this collection, but it protests domestic race riots.) This is not to say that protest songs against violence didn’t continue to be written, but they weren’t written in the psychedelic genre. In this case, through a sing-song ballad Burdon tells the tale (first in a cappella) of a chaplain who sends his soldiers off to battle with a blessing and a somewhat troubled conscience. But it takes a dying soldier, reflecting on the “Sky Pilot” to bring to light the problem: God’s commandment to Judeo-Christians that Thou Shalt Not Kill. The story is told in simple quatrains, all of which rhyme on the second and fourth lines, except the final verse, which rhymes the first and fourth. There are a few instances of reiterative pronoun use in the lyric [“the bayonets they shine”, etc.] that make for awkward but understandable English. It might be worth noting that the novel M.A.S.H. was published in 1968. Whether Eric Burdon was aware of the book or not, they both reflect a similar insider’s skepticism about the efficacy of the American war effort in Asia (“If it all was worth it, only time it will tell.”).

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