Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Iron Butterfly - In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)

No doubt about it, "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," the 1968 album and song by Iron Butterfly, is a relic from a different age. Every classic rock fan has an opinion about this 17:05 track that took up an entire side on the vinyl disc from which it came. It's a song that listeners either love or hate. There appears to be no middle ground. While it's really quite a simple composition based around a very famous riff it represents all of the excesses of the psychedelic era: extended guitar jams featuring both fuzz and wah-wah pedals, lots of electric organ, and long drum solos. The title is based on the phrase "In The Garden of Eden."

The San Diego quartet featured organist, singer, and songwriter Doug Ingle and seventeen year old electric guitarist, Erik Brann. The rhythm section of Lee Dorman on bass and Ron Bushy on drums rounded out the lineup.

The band wasn't a one hit wonder (their followup LP, Ball, also went into the top ten) but "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" was so astonishingly successful compared to everything else the band released during its career that it is the only song anyone ever associates with them. The album sold four million copies and spent a year in the top ten.

Aside from the riff, the highlight is the drum solo located smack dab in the middle of the track. I'm not the only wannabee drummer who attempted to play along with Bushy on any table, countertop, or hard surface we could find. His simple, but fast paced playing on the floor tom-toms made his work as accessible as any drum solo ever put on tape.

At almost three minutes Bushy's famous pounding doesn't overstay its welcome. Dorman's heavy bass foundation supported the riff throughout the song while Brann showed some surprisingly accomplished fret work for a young man his age. Ingle's singing was nothing out of the ordinary even though the church organ sounds he produced coming out of the drum solo were quite a pleasing respite from the loud and heavy rock on the rest of the record.

Flipping the LP over revealed more pop-oriented songs than one would expect, especially after listening to the often overblown affair on the other side. These five tunes sound especially bland and dated today primarily due to Ingle's frequently annoying organ work that too often took the lead over Brann's guitar. Among the songs are "Termination," "Flowers and Beads," and "Are You Happy?"

Iron Butterfly had their fleeting, fifteen minutes of fame based on one truly spaced out, hippie anthem. Fond memories of my youth will make me love the song forever regardless of its quality.

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