Pink Floyd’s early material would put down a mantle as to what the future of music would look like and, armed with a pioneering vision, they arrived like a gift from the heavens. Although psychedelic music had already taken over London by the time Floyd released ‘See Emily Play’ in 1967, as a band, they took things to a whole new level.
Syd Barrett remains one of British music’s biggest tragedies. Anyone who dares doubt his ability only needs to listen to ‘See Emily Play’ to understand why he is revered alongside the best of them, despite suffering such a short career.
The late frontman’s reliance upon psychedelic drugs would eventually become his eventual downfall, however, in 1967, his habit had yet to spiral out of control and, instead, it opened his horizons, even from a sonic perspective. His innovative approach shines through immensely on ‘See Emily Play’, with Barrett ingeniously using a Zippo lighter as a guitar slide on the track, which bizarrely had the desired effect.
Barrett’s inspiration behind the track is allegedly a girl who he’d met called Emily while the frontman was tripping on LSD and sleeping in the woods. It later surfaced in Nicholas Schaffner’s book, A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, that Emily was no ordinary citizen. Instead, she was the Honourable Emily Young, daughter of Wayland Young, second Baron Kennet.
Both Barrett and Young were regulars at London’s UFO Club during the midst of the swinging sixties. However, few people knew Young by her real name. Instead, she was commonly nicknamed “the psychedelic schoolgirl” by regulars at the counter-culture epi-centre.
Young later addressed the story with Mojo and talked about how she possibly inspired a Pink Floyd classic. “On Friday night at the Saints Hall, the regular band was the Pink Floyd Sound,” she recalled. “I was more into R&B so their dreamy hippie thing wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was interesting. And the light show was wonderful, and I liked to get stoned and dance.
“After playing, we’d sit around on grey sofas and pass around joints. I was quite pretty and word got out that I was a lord’s daughter, and apparently the guys in the band called me the ‘psychedelic schoolgirl.'”
However, Young disputes that the song was about her and was gobsmacked when she was first told that ‘See Emily Play’ was linked to her party days. “I thought, gosh, that’s nice, a song with my name, but I didn’t think it was about me,” Young said. “And I don’t think it was now because Syd and me didn’t have a love affair and he didn’t really know me. It could have been some other girl who played a part in his dream. It could have been Jenny, but Emily scanned better.”
Unfortunately, Barrett is no longer here to answer whether he wrote it with Young in mind, but it all seems to check out. The track is arguably the most extraordinary piece of music that Barrett recorded during his career, and ‘See Emily Play’ catapulted Pink Floyd into the hearts of rebellious adolescents in Britain and beyond. Whether Young is the person we’ve got to thank for it, we’ll never know, but the mystery attached to it makes it even more alluring.