Our top 10 songs from The Incredible String Band list digs deep into the music of a British band famed for its psychedelic folk influence. Before the band’s formation, Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson entertained the residents of Edinburgh as a traditional folk duo since 1963. They would later add rhythm guitarist Mike Heron and now played as a trio under the moniker The Incredible String Band. The trio signed to Elektra Records, where they released their eponymous debut album in 1966.
Within no time, the band had become popular in the folk music scene after its debut album was dubbed the Melody Maker’s Folk Album of the Year. Legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan praised The Incredible String Band for an incredible release. However, Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson left the band to chase different adventurous pursuits away from Edinburgh. This left Mike Heron alone, having him play for a local band Rock Bottom and the Deadbeats.
Later, Robin Williamson returned to Edinburgh, having him link up with Mike Heron, with whom they played as a duo under the band’s name. During this time, the duo toured the United Kingdom as a supporting act to artists Judy Collins and Tom Paxton. Their then-producer and manager Joe Boyd would also have them attend the Newport Folk Festival, where they met other artists such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.
A sophomore studio album, The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967), followed shortly. The Incredible String Band saw the album rise to number twenty-five on the UK Albums Chart. While the album failed to chart on the Billboard 200, it exhibited the band’s musical growth. The Incredible String Band built on their sophomore album’s success by releasing The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968) and Wee Tam and the Big Huge (1968). The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968) was nominated for a Grammy, inspiring Robert Plant of the group Led Zeppelin.
The band rose to fame and now had a loyal following prompting the members to hit the road for a nationwide tour. However, with a gradual decline in the band’s commercial success and fame, The Incredible String Band left Elektra Records. Failure to release captivating songs continued to plague the band resulting to substandard albums and poor sales. This led to being dropped by Island Records. Efforts to make The Incredible String Band great again have barely yielded fruits. However, the band’s left quite a mark in the folk music scene having us still listen to some of its best songs.
#10 – Everything’s Fine Right Now
Ushering us to the top 10 songs from The Incredible String Band is the hit “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” The song was penned by the band’s rhythm guitarist Mike Heron. “Everything’s Fine Right Now” is featured on the band’s eponymous debut album. The song feels like a call of reassurance to a lover, telling her not to worry since everything is now fine. Lyrics to the song make it quite comforting, while the instrumental and backing vocals add to its catchiness.
#9 – A Very Cellular Song
“A Very Cellular Song” is one of the rip-roaring hits by The Incredible String Band. The song is featured on the album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968). “A Very Cellular Song” alludes to Mike Heron’s acid trip where all humanity levels were represented. The song has been acclaimed thanks to its reflection on love and life in general. Despite being thirteen minutes long and the longest track on the album, the song still finds its way to the hearts of psychedelic folk songs lovers.
#8 – October Song
When The Incredible String Band released its eponymous debut album, its members didn’t know that the album would receive as much attention. However, the album became one of the most acclaimed folk album of the year by many, including artists. “October Song” is one of the precious musical gems from the album that attracted the attention of many, including legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Its poetic lyrical content makes the song likable by many.
#7 – Irish Jigs
At some point, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron had to outsource skills to make the band complete. An idea that worked for the two was the introduction of their girlfriends to the band. Licorice McKechnie provided vocals in several instances. On the other hand, Rose Simpson played various instruments, including percussion, organ, and guitar. Soon, Rose became a star on the bass guitar for the band. “Irish Jigs” showcases all the four playing different instruments whose sounds combine smoothly to bring out pure folk vibes. As the song progresses, its tempo rises and even gets catchier. Licorice McKechnie entertains us with a short dance that adds glamour to the song.
#6 – Air
Number six on our top 10 songs from The Incredible String Band is “Air.” The song was penned by the band’s rhythm guitarist Mike Heron and released on the album Wee Tam & The Big Huge (1968). “Air” is one of the most melodic songs from The Incredible String Band. The song is slow and sweet having it’s instrumental add a harmonious vibe to it. You ought to love the lyrical exquisiteness showcased in this touching yet magnificent song.
#5 – The First Girl I Loved
Singing about love is a go-to place for many artists, and The Incredible String Band was not an exception. However, with “The First Girl I Loved,” the story took a nasty twist showcasing how past love can be tormenting to someone. In the song penned by Robin Williamson, we get to see how memories from a past relationship don’t die for a guy who loved a woman so big. However, she is out of reach, probably married and a stranger now. The song was featured on the album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967). Artists who have covered this hit include Judy Collins and Jackson Browne.
#4 – The Half-Remarkable Question
“The Half-Remarkable Question” is one of the best songs from The Incredible String Band’s album Wee Tam & The Big Huge (1968). Credit to Robin Williamson for his immense work on this song, from the lyrics and lead vocals to the guitar and percussion. It is right to say that artists (songwriters) and philosophers have one thing in common; asking big questions about life. “The Half-Remarkable Question” adds to the philosophical questions you might have in mind.
#3 – Empty Pocket Blues
Most of the songs by The Incredible String Band were penned by the band members. However, our number three song on the list finds the band covering a song from one of the best folk musicians of all time. “Empty Pocket Blues” is a song first released in 1955 by Pete Seeger. Lee Hays and Pete Seeger penned the song.
#2 – The Hedgehog’s Song
“The Hedgehog’s Song” is one of the best songs from The Incredible String Band’s album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967). Mike Heron, the band’s rhythm guitarist, is credited as the song’s writer to this hit. The song helped the band make a nationwide impression in an era where younger musicians revived folk music. However, the psychedelic folk vibe that the band brings in songs like “The Hedgehog’s Song” brings out the band’s true creativity and uniqueness.
#1- Painting Box
Number one of our top 10 songs from The Incredible String Band is the hit “Painting Box.” The song was penned by Mike Heron and released on the album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion (1967). “Painting Box” brings the contrasting sound of The Incredible String Band that sets the band apart from other folk acts of the time. While this song failed to chart, it helped The Incredible String Band establish itself as a reputable psychedelic folk act in British. The band would also receive some following in America too.
Feature Photo: Bert Verhoeff / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Songs From The Incredible String Band article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business or any organizations is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at end of article.