Song Lyric Sunday/Song of the Day: Traffic, “40,000 Headmen”


Today’s assignment is to share a song with a number in it.

I first heard “40,000 Headmen” on the third album by Blood, Sweat & Tears, called, not surprisingly, Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 (1970). (The same guy that named Chicago’s albums obviously did that.) I knew from reading the liner notes (remember those?) that Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi from Traffic had written it and assumed that Traffic had also recorded it, but I didn’t hear their original until a few years later. It was on Traffic’s eponymous second album (1968), and Winwood has recorded it solo as well. The Blogger’s Best Friend™ has this to say:

The protagonist of the song, a profane demi-god, follows the eponymous headmen across the sea, on foot, to a hidden cave where they have stored up a large treasure. Taking as much as he can carry, he travels to a shrine only to find that the headmen have followed him; they open fire, wounding the protagonist but not killing him, and he decides to flee. The dream-like story seems to start and end with his confrontation with the headmen, as if he’s experiencing his life in a closed loop. The lyrics were inspired by what Capaldi refers to as “a hash-fueled dream.” He also described them as “a loon”. They have been described as being “an evocation of a dream state”.

The lyrics, from AZLyrics:

Forty thousand headmen couldn’t make me change my mind
If I had to take the choice between the deafman 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 bit 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

And that’s Song Lyric Sunday and Song of the Day for May 17, 2020.


17 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday/Song of the Day: Traffic, “40,000 Headmen”

  1. I first heard this song on the Mr Fantasy album in around 1970 or so. My best friend had the 8 track of the album and we listened to it often as we drove for hours around the Great Smoky Mountains in his red 1969 Firebird. It was such a great album. Those were great times for me.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


      1. Being on 8 track I’m sure his sound quality was not audiophile worthy but it sure sounded good to us. We were usually in an altered state of mind where everything sounded pretty good anyway. .


    1. They were good. If my music budget hadn’t been so tight when I was in high school, i’d’ve bought a couple of their later LP’s. I had their first, Mr. Fantasy, and the recording quality was terrible…

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  2. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that the lyrics were hash-inspired. I think most of Traffic’s songs grew out of such a state.


    1. They do kind of cover everything: rock, jazz, folk, pop, maybe even some R&B. The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys came out when I was in high school, and they’d play the title track on FM radio a lot. I’d think, “wow, I gotta get that album,” but by the time I had the money I forgot completely about it…


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