Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Iron Butterfly—
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida


Released 1968 on Atco
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
Right of the cusp of garage punk turning psychedelic via the 1967 overdoses of Hendrix/Cream/Who triumvirate heaviness right as it was sliding into acid rock minus all folk trappings and diving into sheer voltage as ersatz LSD, The Iron Butterfly were Atco’s left coast Vanilla Fudge: albeit more lugubrious, less murky, but just as HEAVY and s-l-o-w and topped off with gear that completely screamed FAKE L.A. Summer of Love hangover cash-in. Just look at that cover: caught ‘live’ in front of a light show (probably offering most prospective buyers their first glimpse of one) and the name and title set in a pink and green display typeface called Bellbottom. It was the cheapest legal and available high passport for budding under-seventeen year old suburban hippies to link to the underground.

Even the title of this screams blurry and bad plastic trip but it’s one easily reveled/reviled in for “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is so flatly loud and garish with no consideration whatsoever for refined sensibilities it works well as a stoned goof of ridiculous proportions even now. It’s crude, baby: and so wonderfully under-evolved. Every song is outfitted in matching mid-tempo plod pacing that approximates the rhythm of chain gang ditch diggers throwing up huge shovelfuls in unison as their scrotums swing and drag non-delicately over the rough quarry floor. And if that sounds gross and excessive, you haven’t heard Iron Butterfly in all their horrendously and hilarious overwrought glory.

Doug Ingle, ‘The Butterfly’s leader and spokesman’ (!) as he’s credited in the liners, also sang, played organ and composed all but one track on the LP. The line notes go on to cite Mr. Ingle senior, a church organist, as a great influence on Doug’s musical ideas and this explanation always struck me as about redundant as the album itself. Drummer Ron Bushy plays entirely devoid of everything except purely functional rhythmic signposts that operate as land markers for yet another organ passage, another super fuzzed out guitar line or more plonking bass from Lee Dorman. But their equipment of Mosrite guitar and bass, a simple drum kit, Vox Continental organ are played through too many Vox Super Beatle amplifiers, and must have caused all members to leave their hairdryers home while on tour.

The same drums from the album’s side two epic are also employed on the weirdly happy and celebratory doom track, “Termination” with chicken squawk fuzz leads from very pretty guitarist, Erik Brann as Ingle intones over his J.C. Penney-istic Manzarek riffs:

“Spinning in circles / miracles happen...”

And also:

“This is termination/ the outcome of your life...”

... followed by a downright jolly guitar line -- which only qualifies as psychedelia as it’s mildly disorienting in light of the lyrics. The brief wind chimes at the end always are evocative of two soundtracks from about the same period; both featuring a contemporary band working a similar field: “Psych Out” and “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.” Both flicks feature (pre-recorded) performances from The Strawberry Alarm Clock, and in similar cheesy cod-psychedelic overloads. But back to side one (the ‘other’ side) where “My Mirage” shows them attempting a ‘trip’ all dirge-like with ape-simple drumming. But in going for the bigger picture, they called off all bets at ever being invited to hang out with The Diggers or SDS, obviously.

Now Doug Ingle’s voice is a fairly billboard-sized baritone braying, lacking in everything except a megaphone to channel all lyrics into imperative vocal pronouncements. Such as in “Are You Happy,” where he calls out the title like a referee on steroids over the pounding drum introduction. He then proceeds to swamp the whole thing in finest High Mass style, penetrated by such a fuzzed out guitar solo it overthrows all the other instruments, which are all going full steam ahead at Mach 2 speed as the volume clocking in at about Mach 8.

Side two is totally taken up by the well-known 18 minute epic, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” opening with the same tinkling organ intro as Love’s similarly side two placed all-sider from their “Da Capo” album, “Revelation.” But this slowly-rotating epic was exactly what was required for suburban heads taking their first trip, in a practically unspoken and required rite that was plugged directly in the loud, distorted confusions that were the blues of 1968 young America, the album a surefire promised epiphany at acid trip’s end. As a direct result, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was on the charts for years, rumoured to be the first ever platinum album Judging by all the copies floating around in and out of used record shops and other people’s collections all these years, it’s an unconfirmed report I’m quite willing to accept on faith alone, along with the legend about the “real” meaning of the title arising out of a misappropriation of label head Ahmet Ertegun’s Turkish-accented suggestion to call the then unnamed track “In the Garden Of Eden.”

Fate was not kind to Iron Butterfly. They were prevented from appearing at Woodstock due to being trapped in traffic for what probably seemed like weeks, and to make matters worse had the unfortunate experience of having Led Zeppelin as a hungry, headhunting support act on an early US tour. Iron Butterfly was flutter-fried as Zeppelin swiftly blew them offstage and out of the water. They dropped out of sight after a 1971 farewell tour, later reforming for the atrocious 1975 album, “Scorching Beauty” with a new keyboardist. But this does nothing at all to detract from the dumb beauty that is “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”