Forty thousand headmen couldn't make me change my mind
If I had to take the choice between the deaf man and the blind.
I know just where my feet should go and that's enough for me.
I turned around and knocked them down and walked across the sea.
Hadn't traveled very far when suddenly I saw
Three small ships a-sailing out towards a distant shore.
So lighting up a cigarette I followed in pursuit
And found a secret cave where they obviously stashed their loot.
Filling up my pockets, even stuffed it up my nose.
I must have weighed a hundred tons between my head and toes.
I ventured forth before the dawn had time to change its mind
And soaring high above the clouds I found a golden shrine.
Laying down my treasure before the iron gate
Quickly rang the bell hoping I hadn't come too late.
But someone came along and told me not to waste my time
And when I asked him who he was he said, 'Just look behind.'
So I turned around and forty thousand headmen hit the dirt
Firing twenty shotguns each and man, it really hurt.
But luckily for me they had to stop and then reload
And by the time they'd done that I was heading down the road.
Heading down the road, forty thousand headmen.
[Coda: Roaming and rambling with forty thousand headmen on my trail.]
According to Jim Capaldi, in the CD booklet to Mr. Fantasy (2011), the song Forty Thousand Headmen got its lyrics from “a hash fuelled dream”. The psychedelic narrative, far from being conceptual, is a shaggy dog story, and never admits within its verses that it is a dream. Checking to see how often dreams have been the subject of the songs under consideration in the Trance Love Airwaves collection, I’m surprised by their rarity given the close relationship between hallucinations, visions, and dreams. The earliest is a rather conventional (but lovely) Dreaming by Cream, followed by Crystal Ship by the Doors, In Another Land by the Rolling Stones, and lastly, Hung Up on a Dream by the Zombies. All of these are more explicit about a dream state. Capaldi allows all the morphing in his story to explain that the poet is relating a dream. It appears at the beginning that the poet is saying he would rather be blind than deaf, but then he continues “seeing” a great deal in a dream state. Necessarily (like most any psychedelic vision) the narrative defies rational explication.
In Forty Thousand Headmen Chris Wood’s unusual atmospheric flute playing is featured. Steve Winwood adds a sad minor key organ to color the penultimate verse, a sound that effectively ends the verse preceding with golden shrine and continues through to Just look behind. The B sections have the same structure as the A, but change key, and seem to have a quicker pace due to increase of volume. In the end, Wood’s flute and Winwood’s organ roam and ramble off slowly through a long coda into a fadeout.