7.32-WATER SONG (Incredible String Band)

Incredible String Band


Water, water, see the water flow.
Glancing, dancing, see the water flow.
O wizard of changes, water water water!

Dark or silvery mother of life!
Water, water, holy mystery, heaven’s daughter,
Wizard of changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.


God made a song when the world was new.
Water’s laughter sings it is through.
O, wizard of changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.

[Break: sound effects]

[Repeat first two lines of 3rd verse]
Wizard of changes, water, water, water!


The Water Song picks up where the previous lyric ( Waltz of the New Moon) left off. The lyrics take us from the “fire king’s daughter” to “heaven’s daughter”, the word “daughter” being rather rare in other popular music of the time. With its church sounding organ accompanied with flute runs, the music sounds immediately liturgical. Were there a sect that worshipped the four elements, this song would surely be sung during sacred rites. As if he were naming the holy aspects of the Blessed Virgin, Williamson praises water’s attributes as a “wizard of changes”, as the “mother of life”. The conceit that “God made a song when the world was new” is a lovely one, especially when water sings it through with laughter. The prayer beseeches water to teach the poet how to flow.

Nearly half the song is taken up with the sound of rain falling as reproduced by plucked strings, a pennywhistle, and other instruments that mimic the sound of water. I believe that ISB must have also amplified the sound of water moving. In the second break, the melody and its accompaniment stops entirely and random sounds of the water pleasantly fill up the passing time. Wikipedia informs me that the Incredible String Band used a water harp on the Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter album. I’m not sure what a water harp is. It strikes me that these water sounds aren’t far removed from those used by the Mothers of Invention in some transitional segments of We’re Only in It for the Money, a satire that came out about the same time, except Zappa turns “flowing water” into something like the flush of a toilet. It was precisely these sort of hippie experiments that Zappa sought to mock. But I find The Water Song to be lovely, and timeless. It sounds as if it could have been written before Western musical scales were established.

According to several reports I’ve read, Brian Wilson had planned to write the SMiLE album based on the four elements. That plan was scrapped, and in the process the Incredible String Band beat the Beach Boys to it, at least in part. (Swift as the Wind, also on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, serves well for addressing the Air.) This would have been a great theme for the psychedelic era (similar to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons being a perfect theme for baroque music), but no one completed the task, so far as I know.