Sky Pilot (song)
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1968 45rpm cover
|Single by Eric Burdon & The Animals|
|from the album The Twain Shall Meet|
|A-side||"Sky Pilot (Part One)"|
|B-side||"Sky Pilot (Part Two)"|
|Released||January 1968 (UK)
July 1968 (USA)
|Genre||Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, noise rock|
2:55 (single Part 1)
4:30 (single Part 2)
|Label||MGM 1373 (UK)
MGM K13939 (U.S.)
|Writer(s)||Burdon, Briggs, Weider, Jenkins, McCulloch|
|Producer(s)||Tom Wilson, arranged and orchestrated by Vic Briggs|
|Eric Burdon & The Animals singles chronology|
"Sky Pilot" is a 1968 song by Eric Burdon & The Animals, released on the album The Twain Shall Meet. When released as a single the song was split across both sides, due to its length (7:27). As "Sky Pilot (Parts 1 & 2)" it reached number 14 on the U.S. pop charts and number 15 on the Canadian RPM chart.
- He blesses the boys
- As they stand in line
- The smell of gun grease
- And the bayonets they shine
- He's there to help them
- All that he can
- To make them feel wanted
- He's a good holy man
"Sky Pilot" is organized into three movements: an introduction, a programmatic interlude, and a conclusion.
The introduction begins with the verse quoted above, sung a cappella and solo by Eric Burdon. Thereafter the band joins in with instruments for the chorus. Several verse-chorus iterations follow, leaving the story with the "boys" gone to battle and the Sky Pilot retired to his bed. The verses are musically lean, dominated by the vocal and a pulsing bass guitar, with a strummed acoustic guitar and drum mixed in quietly.
The interlude starts as a guitar solo, but the guitar is quickly submerged under a montage of battle sounds. First come the sounds of an airstrike; then the airstrike and rock band fade into the sounds of shouting, gunfire, and bagpipes. Near the end of the interlude the battle sounds fade, briefly leaving the bagpipes playing alone before the third movement begins. The bagpipe music is a covert recording of the pipers of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards playing "All The Bluebonnets Are Over The Border", captured by Burdon while performing at a school. He received an angry letter from the UK government (or possibly the Crown) over his use of the recording in the song.
The conclusion begins with the return of the bass and strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by strings. After a few measures the verses resume, but with a quieter, melancholy atmosphere: one verse is sung along with bass, guitar, and strings, and then without a choral break a final verse is sung to bass, guitar, and woodwinds. Finally a strong bass line announces the return of the chorus, now accompanied with horns and piccolos, repeated several times as it fades. The musical effect is very upbeat, in stark contrast with the "downer" content of the movement's lyrics.
Differences between the mono and stereo mixes
The US single, released in 1968, was the first to be pressed in stereo on MGM Records. By 1969, many other record labels soon followed this format.
The UK mono single version is unique as it features several effects not included in the stereo version, including more echo in the a cappella introduction, heavy reverb effect at the end of the line "How high can you fly?" (Part 1 only), and an extra bagpipe passage at the end of the fadeout on Part 2. Also, the airstrike and battle sounds are both moved forward in the instrumental break. This version can be heard on the expanded CD edition of "The Twain Shall Meet".
Besides the use of "found sound" in the interlude section, and heavy use of reverb and echos, the song is notable for its use of flanging, the swept "whooshing" sound effect laid over the entire track, most prominently during the chorus sections.
Use in popular culture
- Sky Pilot is played in Season 1 finale of the HBO series Eastbound & Down when Kenny asks Stevie to do one last job for him.
- It is also featured in the motion picture Zodiac as well as on its soundtrack CD.
- In The Venture Bros., Sky Pilot is another codename of OSI double-agent, Mile High.
The song has been covered by several artists and is still played in live shows by Eric Burdon. It is included on several of Burdon's live albums and is featured in his 1999 concert film "Live at the Coachhouse". Burdon performed a somewhat-Power Metal version on his album "The Official Live Bootleg 2000".
The song was covered by the Peruvian rock group Traffic Sound, in English in 1969. It was featured in full in their debut album, Vamos a Bailar Go Go, and the opening hymn also appeared as the introduction to one of the songs in their album Virgin.
The song was covered by MacTalla Mor on their 2007 album Jacob's Ladder, in the song "Stairway to Grace".