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Iron Butterfly - In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida CD (album) cover


Iron Butterfly



3.42 | 235 ratings

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4 stars Any progger under the age of 35 is bound to be muttering to themselves about now, "Oh, great! Another old fart's about to tell me how good some antiquated, dated album is just because it heralds from his 'good ol' days.'" I hear you. I promise I won't talk down or be at all patronizing. My aim is to put this historic album in perspective, not glorify it as some masterpiece of progressive rock. It ain't a Rembrandt but it is highly significant. Especially in light of what American bands were putting out there in the 60s, trying to compete with the unending stream of invigorating rock music flowing in from the UK. Our brand of prog rock seemed to be mired in manufacturing psychedelic-laden pop songs via groups sporting weird names like Strawberry Alarm Clock and Electric Prunes. When it came to extended album cuts with something new to present, The Doors pretty much stood alone on this side of the pond. Then, right at the start of the famous "summer of love" in June of '68, Iron Butterfly released "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and we hungry teens swarmed all over it like gnats on sugar. Everything about it was cool from the colorful on-stage cover shot to the lengthy title cut that was custom-made for the exciting, anti-pop FM radio stations that were blossoming like spring wildflowers. No one else (state-side, at least) was doing what these guys were doing and it was exhilarating to hear something so radical and blatantly un-commercial emanating from the home of the brave.

Their debut had appeared in the bins earlier that same year (it stood out because of its eye-catching cover art) but the music was pedestrian and average at best. The band that recorded that disc had a different lineup but, as was the case with many groups, internal strife intervened so when it came time to go back to the studio only two of the original members were left; organist/singer Doug Ingle and drummer Ron Bushy. They recruited a reliable bass player, Lee Dorman, and a baby-faced, talented 17-year-old guitarist, Erik Braunn, and the quartet clicked right away. There's no doubt they knew they could make a decent album together but no one could've predicted what a phenomenon their sophomore effort would turn out to be. Sometimes the planets align in your favor and you find yourself in exactly the right place at precisely the right time with material that fits the social climate perfectly and that's what happened to Iron Butterfly when "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" hit the airwaves. It exploded.

Now, having said all that, if side 1 of the disc was anywhere near as good as the namesake track that took up all of side 2 today it might be hovering around in the upper reaches of the ProgArchives album chart. But side 1 is very uneven. They open with the psychedelic pop of "Most Anything You Want," a song with an inescapable Haight-Ashbury aroma. One thing that does stick out is Braunn's guitar solo for its melodic structure when a lot of his west coast contemporaries sounded like they'd never played a ride in their lives. It's the tinny Farfisa or Vox organ that's the main culprit in making the track come off as horribly passť and corny. "Flowers and Beads" is every bit as cheesy as its title implies. It's one of those trendy contemporary rock ditties formed in the same mold as the ones from the trite bands I mentioned earlier. I'm sure some clueless A&R dude at Atlantic Records deemed it to be a surefire hit single because it was "what those crazy hippies are into" but it's held up about as well as that nerd's paisley Nehru jacket. "My Mirage" is a step up. It's a trippy but subtle acid rock tune that sounded as complex as Aaron Copland if one was under the influence of an illicit substance yet it still retains a certain prog charm due to its unorthodox arrangement of creative ideas. Newcomers Dorman and Braunn co-wrote "Termination," a straightforward rocker that owns an inviting rhythm but the song is so stereotypical that it's impossible to sit through it without picturing in your head half-naked flower children cavorting in a field of pink poppies. Erik's guitar work is admirably restrained, though. The much heavier motif of Ingle's "Are You Happy" was very attractive to we frustrated rebels who cranked it up and were happily nailed to the wall by its aggressive nature. It's one of those songs that, if your garage combo could master it, proved your moxie. In some ways those of us who'd discovered the magic of Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" LP felt that Iron Butterfly's adventurous mien had the potential to be their western hemisphere equivalent and this track was one of the ones that encouraged that faint hope.

Side two is the main event. I can only speak from the experience of being there when it happened but the first time I heard "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" I was galvanized by its hip strangeness from its mysterious organ intro to the fuzzy guitar tone and the infectious beat. No matter what you may think of it, the quality of the musicianship involved is of the highest order and shouldn't be downplayed. So much has been written about this epic that I'll forgo my usual blow-by-blow description and put it into terms that most can relate to no matter their age. Timing-wise this song was ideal because it was circa '68 that marijuana was gaining wider acceptance in the heartland so many teens were trying it for the first time with this LP as the soundtrack. If the joint was lit at the start of this song one would start to get a buzz about the time that Ron's drum solo commenced. Everyone in the room would turn into an "air drummer" at the same moment and the wow factor associated with the tune would skyrocket. (Amateur drummers up to then were judged by their ability to play "Wipe Out." From now on it was Bushy's solo that separated the real stickmen from the pretenders.) After that flurry of activity passed Doug's airy decompression movement on the organ provided the requisite "mellowing out" sequence before the iconic riff was revived. Erik's guitar scratches and yelps freaked out the inexperienced toker but for most they were a cause for grins. The bass & drum tribal interlude upped the intensity for a while, then the band's seamless transition back to the indelible verse was smooth and reassuring. What I'm trying to point out is that "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was an experience, a rite of passage if you will, that ranked up there with the offerings of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Pink Floyd. It packaged all the sensory overloading changes that were going on in every corner of North American culture in a 17-minute aural excursion and that's why it's so special.

If you think I'm exaggerating the impact this album had then consider these facts: It raced up to #4 on the LP charts, it sold over 4 million copies in the first 6 months, it remained on the charts for 140 weeks and for 81 of those weeks it was perched in the top 10! As of 2012 total sales of individual units of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" are in the area of 25 million worldwide so its appeal is not only well-documented but universal in scope. Am I calling it a prog masterpiece? No way. It served its purpose with class and style and then we all moved on to bigger and better things in Progland. But, like some sacred relic of a bygone era, it deserves to be treated with respect. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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