Sky Pilot (song)
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Single picture sleeve, 1968
|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)"|
|Label||MGM 1373 (UK)|
MGM K13939 (US)
|Eric Burdon & the Animals UK singles chronology|
|Eric Burdon & the Animals US 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.
"Sky pilot" refers to a military chaplain, as revealed by the opening verse:
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
The chorus section adds:
How high can you fly
You never, never, never
Reach the sky
"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 Blue Bonnets are Over the Border," captured by Burdon while they were 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. During those last verses, the "Soldiers of God" had done well defeating the enemies, for the aid of their country, however, the returning soldiers return, with tears in their eyes, having second thoughts about their mission. One of the returning soldiers feels more disturbed, with the smells of death, when he looks upon the Sky Pilot, remembering the commandment: "THOU SHALT NOT KILL!!!!". Finally a strong bass line announces the return of the chorus, now accompanied with horns and piccolos, repeated several times as it fades. with the repeated section that the Sky pilot can never reach the sky, no matter how high he flies. The instrumental section is that of a military funeral march. The musical effect is very upbeat, in stark contrast with the "downer" content of the movement's lyrics.
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.
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.
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".