The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion

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The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
Studio album by The Incredible String Band
Released July 1967 (1967-07)
Recorded 1967
Genre Psychedelic folk
Length 50:10
Label Elektra / WEA
Producer Joe Boyd
Incredible String Band chronology
The Incredible String Band
The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]
Pitchfork Media (7.3/10)[2]
Rolling Stone (positive) [3]

The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion is the second LP by The Incredible String Band, released in July 1967.

Since recording their debut album the previous year, the original trio had been reduced to two, Mike Heron and Robin Williamson. They recorded The 5000 Spirits... in London in early 1967. The album also featured Pentangle's Danny Thompson on double bass, Williamson's girlfriend Licorice McKechnie on vocals and percussion, master sitar player Nazir Jairazbhoy (credited as "Soma"), and, on piano, counter-culture activist John "Hoppy" Hopkins, (on Mad Hatter's Song) who had just set up London's UFO Club with the album's producer, Joe Boyd.[4]

The album demonstrated considerable musical development and a more unified ISB sound. It displayed their abilities as multi-instrumentalists and singer-songwriters, and gained them wide acclaim. As well as winning favourable reviews in the music press, it was received enthusiastically by the DJ John Peel, who regularly featured tracks from the album on his influential Perfumed Garden programme on the pirate radio ship Radio London. The 5000 Spirits... went to Number One in the UK folk chart, and was named by Paul McCartney as one of his favourite records of that year. [5]

The lyrics, the band's various Indian and Arabian instruments, and the striking cover art by The Fool, led to it being placed as a psychedelic work. Much of the music itself, however, draws more widely on traditional British folk music. The album included Heron's "The Hedgehog's Song", Williamson's "First Girl I Loved", later recorded by Judy Collins, Jackson Browne and Don Partridge, and his "The Mad Hatter's Song". With its mixture of musical styles, the album paved the way for the band's more extended forays into psychedelia, while also containing whimsical references to talking clouds and a magic Christmas tree.

The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion was more successful commercially than the debut, reaching #25 on the UK album chart during a five-week run during the autumn of 1967. It never dented the Billboard Top 200, but attracted some attention in the US underground.

In 2002, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, chose "The Hedgehog's Song" for his appearance on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs.[6] He described the chorus - "Oh, you know all the words, and you sung all the notes / But you never quite learned the song, she sang / I can tell by the sadness in your eyes / That you never quite learned the song" - as "a powerful summing-up of life and relationships".[4]

In the 2008 film Summer Hours by director Olivier Assayas, "Little Cloud" is played over the end credits. The Album was seen in the 2009 Richard Curtis' film Pirate Radio as the last item Bob Silver attempts to rescue from the sinking broadcast platform that was the vessel Rock Radio. (Doctor Dave declares "Oh dear, that is not a good record." and throws it back.)

Track listing[edit]

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Chinese White"   Mike Heron 3:40
2. "No Sleep Blues"   Robin Williamson 3:53
3. "Painting Box"   Heron 4:04
4. "The Mad Hatter's Song"   Williamson 5:40
5. "Little Cloud"   Heron 4:05
6. "The Eyes of Fate"   Williamson 4:02
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Blues for the Muse"   Williamson 2:49
2. "The Hedgehog's Song"   Heron 3:30
3. "First Girl I Loved"   Williamson 4:55
4. "You Know What You Could Be"   Heron 2:46
5. "My Name Is Death"   Williamson 2:46
6. "Gently Tender"   Heron 4:49
7. "Way Back in the 1960s"   Williamson 3:11



Chart Entry
Weeks charted
UK Albums Chart[8] October 21, 1967 25 5


  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ Pitchfork Media review
  3. ^ Thompson, J. Rolling Stone, San Francisco, 25 May 1968. page 21. Worst Reviews Ever
  4. ^ a b c Adrian Whittaker (ed.), Be Glad: The Incredible String Band Compendium, 2003, ISBN 1-900924-64-1
  5. ^ Walter Everett, The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through The Anthology, 1999, p. 97, ISBN 0-19-512941-5
  6. ^ BBC Radio 4 - Factual - Desert Island Discs - 22 December 2002
  7. ^ Nazir Jairazbhoy
  8. ^ Chart Archive - Incredible String Band(Link redirected to OCC website)