Pin Ups album coverWritten by: Syd Barrett
Recorded: July 1973
Producers: Ken Scott, David Bowie
Engineer: Dennis MacKay

Released: 19 October 1973

Available on:
Pin Ups

Personnel

Contents

David Bowie: vocals
Mick Ronson: guitar, vocals
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Mike Garson: piano, electric piano, harpsichord, Moog synthesizer
Aynsley Dunbar: drums
Unknown: strings

David Bowie recorded a version of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic masterpiece ‘See Emily Play’ for 1973’s Pin Ups. It was the album’s most recent song, and the only one to date from the Flower Power era.

Pink Floyd recorded the song, which was written by founder member and original frontman Syd Barrett, in May 1967. It was released the following month as their second UK single, and in July in the US.

I only met him on a couple of occasions, and then we didn’t get on all that well. But I’m a great fan of his.
David Bowie
Rock magazine, October 1973

Barrett reviewed Bowie’s ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ for Melody Maker’s Blind Date column. The interview was conducted at EMI’s Studio 3 at London’s Abbey Road on 21 May 1967, when Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ single was rising in the UK singles chart.

Yeah, it’s a joke number. Jokes are good. Everybody likes jokes. The Pink Floyd like jokes. It’s very casual. If you play it a second time, it might be even more of a joke. Jokes are good. The Pink Floyd like jokes. I think that was a very funny joke. I think people will like the bit about it being Monday, when in fact it was Tuesday. Very chirpy, but I don’t think my toes were tapping at all.
Syd Barrett
Melody Maker

Bowie, to his credit, always spoke positively about Barrett. He paid tribute to the original Pink Floyd frontman upon Barrett’s death in July 2006.

I can’t tell you how sad I feel. Syd was a major inspiration for me. The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the ’60s will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. Also, along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I’d heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed.
David Bowie
Uncut, September 2006

One of Bowie’s final live appearances was with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, at London’s Royal Festival Hall in May 2006. They performed versions of ‘Arnold Layne’, the band’s debut single, and ‘Comfortably Numb’ from The Wall.

Although much of Pin Ups focused on the rock ‘n’ roll and R&B music of the mid-Sixties, Bowie made room to pay tribute to the psychedelic era that followed. He updated ‘See Emily Play’ from LSD-inspired playfulness to something more robust and guitar-heavy, while still retaining its unorthodox spirit.

Mike Garson on harpsichord, mini Moog and his usual atonal piano. A great string arrangement from Ronno, lots of vari-speeded vocals and there you have it.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years (1969-1973) book

He also revived the varispeeded vocal effect that had previously been deployed on ‘After All’ and ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, which here sounded more deranged and menacing than whimsical.

Charles Shaar Murray, then a writer with the New Musical Express, was present for some of the Pin Ups sessions in France, and described the vocal overdubs for ‘See Emily Play’.

On ‘See Emily Play’, Bowie embellishes the Floyd’s old hit with a vocal device that would have Syd Barrett gurgling in sheer ecstasy. He and Ronson record their vocal harmonies over and over again at different speeds, with the same harrowing cumulative technique produced at the climax of ‘The Bewlay Brothers’.
NME, 4 August 1973

Mike Garson’s piano solo, swooping strings and Aynsley Dunbar’s freewheeling drumming led the song into a 90-second experimental coda, making ‘See Emily Play’ the only Pin Ups song to break the four-minute mark.

Garson often dropped in musical quotations into his performances, and on ‘See Emily Play’ he added elements from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute at the 3:26 mark. The strings, meanwhile, ended with part of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E.

It didn’t matter if David wrote the song or not, quite often, because when he interpreted something he made it his own. He had that ability. Think of ‘Wild Is The Wind’, say… We had a lot of versions of ‘My Death’ that we did in concert, and I always really liked that one. That was a cover, of course. ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, the Rolling Stones song, was hilarious to do. And on Pin Ups – the album that was actually all covers, and also great fun to do – my favourite was Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’.
Mike Garson
The Mouth magazine, 28 September 2017

Lyrics

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 and play
Free games for May
See Emily play

Soon after dark Emily cries
Gazing at trees in sorrow hardly a sound till tomorrow

There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for May
See Emily play

Put on a gown that touches the ground
Float on a river for ever and ever
Emily

There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for May
See Emily play

Previous song: ‘I Wish You Would’
Next song: ‘Everything’s Alright’