Life at 33 1/3 : Iron Butterfly: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Atco)

Iron Butterfly: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Atco)

30 million headbangers can’t be wrong

Released in June 1968.

Side 1:

1. “Most Anything You Want” 3:44
2. “Flowers and Beads” 3:09
3. “My Mirage” 4:55
4. “Termination” (Erik Brann, Lee Dorman) 2:53
5. “Are You Happy” 4:31

Side 2:

1. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” 17:05
(All songs written and composed by Doug Ingle except where noted.)

Produced by: Don Casale

Doug Ingle: organ, lead vocals (except on “Termination”), Erik Brann: guitars, backing vocals, lead vocal on “Termination”, Lee Dorman: bass guitar, backing vocals, Ron Bushy: drums, percussion

One of the first heavy metal bands ever.  I’d say self-proclaimed heavy metal even.  This butterfly was made of metal after all, and they called their first album “Heavy”.  Right?

The music was based on brutal organ/guitar-driven riffs that rattled your bones, sung by a blood shot biker voice that tore up the speakers.  They sounded like a lobotomized Vanilla Fudge, which is not necessarily a disadvantage.

The band’s claim to fame is the 17 minutes plus “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.  An eternal mantra riding on a primitive but extremely riveting riff – interrupted for a while by that monster of the late 60’s: the drum solo.  If you smoked weird cigarettes you’d probably wish it lasted much longer.  And it did, when they played it live.

There are several versions of the explanation for the cryptic title.  Among others this: Singer Doug Ingle had written a new song, drummer Ron Bushy wondered what it was called.  Ingle tried to say, “In The Garden Of Eden”, but dope is scary stuff, it does things to your diction, so Bushy read Doug’s lips the best he could and wrote down the gibberish.  And that became the title.

Iron Butterfly has a high standing in American rock history.  Pretty impressive as they never delivered a single song above mediocrity.  That includes “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” but this beast is mediocrity taken to its artful extremes, so stupid and insistent that ultimately you are unable to resist and suddenly find yourself trapped with fearful joy within a 17 minute example of the wondrous power of the heavy rock’n’roll riff.  “Smoke On The Water” eat your heart out!

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is one of the best selling albums ever; more than 30 million people bought it.  Now that is some mystery, but it is still true.  Maybe it became a headbanging classic that was being handed down from headbanging mothers and fathers to headbanging sons and daughters and so on.  Who knows?

Iron Butterfly is still alive and riffing after having gone through so many lineup-changes that they must have set a record there too.

Beside the point, but anyway: When I was in Bangkok in 1998, I hit the Country Road bar that used to be in Soi 19 where they offered live music.  Over in the corner, standing so close that they almost were stacked on top of each other, was an extremely long haired Thai band just starting on “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.  They played it note perfect from start to finish, all 17 minutes of it – including the drum solo.  Two things struck me at once: 1) It was the last song I expected a local band to cover in a random bar in Thailand.  2) I liked it!

First published in Pattaya Mail on March 21, 2013