55 years ago, Pink Floyd made their debut on the iconic British TV series Top of the Pops, performing their second single, “See Emily Play.” It would be the first of three times the band performed the song on the show, and for many years it was believed that the footage of all three performances were lost, but... Well, hang on, we’ll get to that bit in a moment.
First, let’s talk about the song. Penned by the band’s original lead singer and songwriter, Syd Barrett, “See Emily Play” was and remains a textbook example of psychedelic pop. Barrett claimed that the song was about a girl named Emily who he’d seen while sleeping in the woods after taking a psychedelic drugs, which – given his well-documented intake of psychedelic drugs – certainly seems plausible. According to Nicholas Schaffner’s book A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, the Emily in question was sculptress Emily Young, who regularly attended the UFO Club, where she earned the nickname “The Psychedelic Schoolgirl.”
While Barrett was reportedly unhappy with the final studio version of the song, it nonetheless proved to be a substantial hit for the band, climbing to #6 on the UK Singles chart and doing considerably better than their debut single, “Arnold Layne,” which had stalled at #20.
Now, about that Top of the Pops performance...
With Top of the Pops, it was considered typical for most up-and-coming bands to do repeat performances of their latest single while it was rising up the chart, but by the third go-round, Barrett was grouchy about the whole thing, reportedly complaining, “John Lennon doesn’t have to do Top of the Pops.” Mind you, he still did the performance, but to anyone watching, it was pretty clear that his enthusiasm was waning on a weekly basis.
As mentioned earlier, however, there was an extended period of time where it was believed that, as a result of the BBC’s misguided desire to save funds by wiping videotapes of older performances, all three performances of “See Emily Play” were forever lost. Thankfully, the British Film Institute found a recording of the first and third performances of the song, and while the quality of the tape wasn’t great, it’s such an important video artifact that it continues to make the rounds nonetheless, and rightfully so.