The Complete Red Balloon Story By Mick "Nutgone" Taylor and adds from Toby Marriott himself!

Hi all, here's an updated story I've written about the "Red Balloon" including interviews, quotes, lyrics, and the full meaning of the song, new quotes from Toby Marriott.... Firstly many thanks to Tim Hardin's wife Susan Hardin and, Roy Elliott for clearing up the exact lyrics and meanings for this song. There had been a few discussions on what Steve Marriott was singing on the lines "Cause hidden in the red balloon, ******* for my eyes". Some transcriptions on various web sites and mailing lists had the missing word has "Pity" or "Penny". Paul Weller even sung "Waiting" but the actual word Tim Hardin wrote was "Pinning".
It's not unheard of for other band's covering a song for them to play around with the words to an original tune and sing a different meaning, maybe this happened with the Small Faces, it certainly did with Kula Shaker who changed a lot of the words and called the song Red Balloon [Vishnu's Eyes]. I must add here as well that the better of the cover versions [besides the Small Faces] was the version by Paul Weller played on a WXFM Radio session on 10/11/1992. Excellent acoustic work from Paul sung with affection.

I must be honest and say that the Small Faces version did sound to me more like a girl meets boy, girl leaves boy love song [before I did more research] when Steve is singing "She took the lovelight from my eyes" and "Will we meet one another again, Oh my, I hope so" but the original Tim Hardin song is actually about a heroin user and his dealer. Susan Hardin told me about the song's meaning: "heroin was sold in Balloons, so they could be swallowed on a moments notice, and yes it is 'pinning'. And a "smacked out individual" is not emotionally available for a women, hence the "took the lovelight from my eyes"
My take on the song is one of being a very beautiful melodic song starting with a cool acoustic flavour from Steve followed by his superb unique vocal, absolutely outstanding in estimation. The song almost sounds like a solo effort from Steve with his added backing vocals and electric guitar work but Ian McLagan adds a great piano solo as does Ronnie Lane on bass. A very interesting story about Tim Hardin's "Red Balloon" also appeared in the Mojo magazines top 100 drug related songs. A million thanks to Adrie Meijer and Michael De Lacy for this article:

Red Balloon is a confessional song about Tim's mixed feelings toward heroin and its effects upon him. Heroin is often sold in balloons, so the "bought myself a red balloon" line refers to buying and taking heroin. The "blue surprise" is the adverse effects of heroin. One such effect is the loss of libido or sexual desire - "took the lovelight from my eyes." (or possibly mistreating your loved ones) "The pinning of my eyes" is probably some adverse physical effect. In the song he is addressing heroin (according to the magazine's interpretation) when he states "you were so easy to get to know, but will we see one another again...I hope so." The Troubadour version seems to confirm this, talking about running around on the lower East Side, much like in the old Cocaine song talking about going down to Beale and Main looking for the man who sells Cocaine. So though on the surface it appears to be a childlike song about balloons and children, it's actually quite the opposite.

Jess from the [Tim Hardin related] mailing list takes up the story and more on the song's meaning...: "I always knew the song was about heroin but didn't know that term - "pinning of my eyes". The rest of the song is clearer to me. It's such a sad beautiful song really. People store heroin in balloons for safe keeping. I assume they come in handy for hiding the heroin in various situations. Blue surprise refers to the heroin in the balloon he picked up from his dealer. The pinning of his eyes replaces the love for his child, who he doesn't have time for. You know how Look at the Fool is Tim's love song to Jack Daniels? (so they say) Well this is Tim Hardin's love song to Heroin.

I have been asked over the last few days what the "Pinning of the eyes" means and this is what has ben explained to me "One of the noticeable effects of heroin is a reduction in the size of the pupils. There are various accounts of the police checking to see if someone was on smack by shining a light in their eyes: if the pupils didn't dilate, and stayed the size of pinholes, they were assumed to be on smack, and would be busted. Hence "the pinning of my eyes".

Getting back to our heroes the Small Faces.......
The Red Balloon was originally intended to be included on the new Small Faces album "1862" which was the follow up to "Ogdens Nut Gone Flake" and just to add as well, although it's been stated that Steve Marriott thought he couldn't follow up Ogdens I'm sure that quote going down in history is wrong, or maybe Steve wasn't in the right mind at the time if he made that quote because listening to the tracks that were to appear in 1862 I think quite a few of them arguably are superior than some of the tracks on Ogdens, for example the "Autumn Stone" and "Call It Something Nice", not to mention our subject "Red Balloon". Toby Marriott adds to this story: Aahh 1862!! It's funny you mentioned that, since I was just talking about that with someone the other day about what the possible track listing would have been for it.
It's something alot of Small Faces fans talk about since deep down I think everyone wish's there was more material by them. My curiosity started after I was given a songbook dad owned circa 1968 that had possible idea's for the ogden's follow up..it read this

1. The Autumn Stone 2.Red Balloon 3.Colibosher 4.Buttermilk Boy 5.Pig Trotters/Wrist Job 6. Picaninny 7. Wide Eyed Girl On The Wall 8. Donkey Rides, A Penny, A Glass 9. there was a reference to a song simply noted as "blues jam" I think this later turned out as War Of The Worlds ?

Unfortunately the songbook got stolen some years ago so I'm trying to remember offhand. If you put in consideration the songs Plonk wrote for 'First Step' then to me you'v got a blinder of a follow up! shame it never happened..all the best.............Toby
Now, as I've said before depending on what you want to call 'alternate' I've heard 4 blatant alternate versions of the Small Faces "Red Balloon" which I think are worth getting:
1/ The Original Version:
First released on the "Autumn Stone" album in 1969. This version starts and finishes at 4 minutes and 12 seconds and fades out at the end.
2/ The Alternate Mix.
The alternate mix you can find on the Small Faces "Immediate Years" 4-cd box set released in 1995 by Charley Records label. Although I like the original mix, I prefer Marriott's vocals on this alternate mix because Steve is right up there in the mix and the vocals louder plus a different take. This version comes in at 4.16 mins.
3/ The Studio Outtake/acetate version [extended version]:
This version is what I would personally call a "rough mix" basically because it's been taken from the studio before it's been mixed proper by the band. You'll find this version on the cd "All Or Nothing" also known as the J60 album. The track sounds slightly slower that the final version released on the Autumn Stone album but is extended to 4.28 mins.
4/ The Rare Version:
The version going around as the 'Rare' version isn't what I'd really call rare. It's a good version but it's blatantly obvious the extra guitar work has been added after the Small faces split. It's not Marriott's style at all. Someone or some record company has re-mixed it but added extra guitar solos in it.
like i say, it is a good version though and worth getting if you're a die hard Small Faces fan.
There are other versions I've heard but they're just slightly 're-mastered' by other record companies.

John Hellier and Paolo Hewitt say in their book "All Too Beautiful":
"On the 'Autumn Stone' album apart from the interest in hearing the demos and live material, the album serves to highlight two distinct musical styles open to Marriott at the time, two roads the band could have taken to had they stayed together. The clues are in the title track and the band's excellent version of the Tim Hardin song 'Red Balloon'. Both songs feature prominent acoustic guitars, full of dark mood and rhythm that are coloured up by tasteful touches from the electric piano. The version of Red Balloon has a similar feel to Autumn Stone, beautiful enlivened by some delicate guitar playing. It's superb acoustic soul but a direction that Marriott opts not to follow.

So, here for your delight is the original version/lyrics to Tim's song plus
the Small Faces version.....

RED BALLOON: Tim Hardin's version

Bought myself a red balloon,
And got a blue surprise,
Hidden in the red balloon,
Pinning of my eyes,
It took a lovelight from my eyes,
Blue, blue surprise.

We met as friends and you were,
So easy to get to know,
But will we see one another again,
Oh my, I hope so.

I played with toys for children,
As a child I got,
I haven't any time for children,
Although I've got a lot,
It took a lovelight from my eyes,
Blue, blue surprise.

I bought myself a red balloon,
And got a blue surprise,
Hidden in the red balloon,
A pinning of my eyes,
It took a lovelight from my eyes,
Blue, blue surprise.


Bought myself a red balloon,
Had a blue surprise,
Cause hidden in the red balloon
Pinning for my eyes

She took her lovelight from my eyes
Blue, blue surprise

Played with toys for children
As a child I got
I haven't any time for children
Although I got a lot,

She took her lovelight from my eyes,
Blue, blue surprise,

We met as friends and you were
So easy to get to know,
Will we meet one another again,
Oh my, I hope so.

Bought myself a red balloon,
Got a blue surprise,
Hidden in the red balloon,
Pinning for my eyes,

She took her lovelight from my eyes,
Blue, blue surprise.


[Tim Hardin]


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MICK said...

Many thanks .. Mick Taylor