Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Iron Butterfly—
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida/Iron Butterfly Theme


Released 1968 on Atco
The Seth Man, November 2004ce
Even at the best of times, Iron Butterfly did not channel forth the most complex or delicate of music and for that I’m glad. Because although on one level they were merely a trashy simplification of post-Jimi/Cream fallout simultaneously merged with The Doors’ own organ-dominated mélange of darkened psych-out into turgid and churning lumpen brain-beating, at their best they were a representation of a band dropped into the deep end head first while managing to make it all coalesce as best as their rudimentary skills would allow... And the results were remarkably effective.

Their artistic handiwork was neither clever nor understated because Iron Butterfly were never anything less than heavy handed as they threw up a rudely fashioned bulwark of noise against vocal harmonies about as straight as The Four Freshmen (and the inseams of their neatly-pressed kaftans) while their propensity to hammer out simple melodies at the speed of tramp-steamer-dragging-battleship-into-dry-dock is to me the heart of their appeal. It also begs questions like: Were they heavy, or just a little too slow in tempo? And does volume equal heaviness? Does speed? The lack of it? And: is silence the new heavy? There are many variables at play here and while one would have to admit that heavy is where you find it and cannot be measured by mere decibels alone, it would be about as simple and uncomplicated as Iron Butterfly’s music itself to deem any one element as the sole defining component of ‘heavy’ because at the end of the day I think Iron Butterfly may not be ‘heavy’ so much as a weird and singular post-66 LA garage rock hangover that puked up a one-off techincolour scream of the butterfly that could and never would repeat itself. And the monolithic delivery and extended length of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” overreached and surpassed its simple and thick-skulled intentions by being so massively overdone and overwrought.

It has been noted by their producer Jim Hilton that outside of some minor overdubs added later, their epic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was recorded as a first take run-through. And when you isolate the left channel to concentrate on the guitar, you can hear some minor flaws as though someone secretly greased the fuzztone pedal while similar missteps and miscues from the other three members are also present. But these are only some of the charms that comprise “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Along with its rough feel, compressed production and overbearing fuzz, it also seems like a demonstration record for a Mosrite Fuzzrite fuzzbox, but as recorded by some facile anti-hippie plot, like some audio Operation MK-Ultra operating in the flesh dressed in kaftans, draped in fuzztones and medallions with a look so willfully hippie that it falls between an obvious undercover ‘narc’ look and that of a collection of barely competent bozos whose star shone so directly and strongly upon them for one LP that when it disappeared, it was as though it never happened.

And speaking of bozos, the following is an exchange on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” TV programme in 1969 between Dick and Iron Butterfly leader Doug Ingle, in-between miming two tracks:


Dick Clark: You have that ‘wild’ sound...is that what you guys set out to do? Are you the guys who originated the ‘heavy’ sound?
Doug Ingle: Um, well, we just take a song and we all add our own thing to it, y’know?
Dick Clark: You know, there’s a study underway that says rock’n’roll music and amplification is hurting people’s hearing. Do you ever worry about that, about your hearing loss?
Doug Ingle: Uh...no...(Nervously changes tact and feigns deafness) What didya say?


Come to think of it, “over-miming” is more to the point as they threw shapes for the cameras that were exotic and just plain laughable whilst bedecked in newly-purchased-at-half-price, outdated Carnaby Street finery. Keyboardist Doug Ingle’s undulations behind his Vox Continental are those of a man struggling to keep vertical across a newly-waxed floor while Lee Dorman’s stiff dance steps would suggest a terminal case of ants in the pants and most perplexingly: Ron Bushy’s constant mugging and grimacing like a man at the other end of too much five-alarm chili clawing at a locked lavatory door. It is only guitarist Erik Brann who exhibits a modicum of reserve with a far more reasonable attempt to sync up with the pre-recording -- albeit striking every conceivable flash pose in the process. Perhaps they were just drunk on their recent successes but I suppose I’d be sporting every bit as foolish myself if my little band from San Diego had ambitiously hoofed it up to L.A. to play clubs all up and down the Sunset Strip and within 18 months wind up recording an album that would sell over eight million copies in the first year of its release alone. How’d they do that?

I dunno, either. But that album, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” stayed on the charts for 140 weeks with a version of the side-long title track whittled down from seventeen to three minutes and released as a single but obviously minus all the middle “Gadda-Da” stuff. Talk about two slices of bread masquerading as an air sandwich: I NEED all that overwrought organ playing giving off sinewy arabesques, Brann’s Mosrite fuzz guitar tearing through everything with random bursts and squeals -- the entire odyssey, and even the drum solo. At least they didn’t edit out Ingle’s own David Clayton-Thomas-on-cough-syrup braying vocalisin’ cos for its sheer bravado it is stoopendous. Especially all the “huh!”s he spews forth at inappropriate times and the “Two, three, four -- HAH!” near the song’s completion as it isn’t even keeping time with anything swirling around him.

Before you think I’m breaking a butterfly on a wheel, I do love “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the only thing by Iron Butterfly I like half as much (and maybe more) is “Iron Butterfly Theme” off their “Heavy” album.1 Great title and 100% fitting of their workaday aesthetic. It was probably their closing number when they were working clubs on the Sunset Strip, and they could even do band introductions over it. It leads in cautiously with bass and tambourine like Love’s “My Little Red Book” and a snarling swell of fuzz guitar that rears up while laying to waste everything in its path. The drums and keyboard follow and there are no lyrics save a wordless wail that sways and dips over Danny Weis’ bucking bronco fuzz guitar that neatly rears just behind the feedback zone as though perched directly upon it with the most sensitive of control – as if a step in any direction would drop it all down into a pit of ear-piercing, cacophonous noise. But such was Weis’ poise that he keeps from stepping over the line and just surfs on it for the duration of “Iron Butterfly Theme” in a variety of ways over primitive mortar and pestle grind of stone against bone tempo and tinkling Vox Continental organ. There’s constant wave upon wave of guitar runs and shimmering string bending freak outs like breaking glass over Ingle’s quietly repeating keyboard phrasings and if that don’t beat all, a Morse code bleeps out ‘we love you’ in the coda. I tell ya, an instrumental like this would have appear on compilations several times over if Iron Butterfly had reached a level of success only matched by The Cherry Slush or Captain Groovy & His Bubblegum Army. And only then would be universally recognised as the tumultuous garage punk fuzzed-out fuck off that it is in every degree.

Their time of emergence makes them one of the earliest American heavy bands pre-dating Led Zeppelin along with Steppenwolf and Atco labelmates, Vanilla Fudge. For this triumvirate of trudge, the music they unleashed was grounded for much of the time by a slothful sludge ladled out over a super slowed beat more indicative of the overworked labouriousness of the band members thinking every note they pinched out from between their cheeks was heavier than the last, rather than being the result of some chemically-induced torpor. Either way, I don’t think too many people were able to make that particular distinction at the time and consequently thought Iron Butterfly were heavy dopers and bought “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in droves for the title and sleeve alone (Except the single of the title track did rack up massive sales on the charts, so I gets that shoots THAT particular theory to hell, but whatever...)

It was upon the shoulders of these earliest pioneers to promulgate into the ears of the next generation of drop-outs -- the kids too young or living at too far a distance from Monterey, Haight-Ashbury and soon enough, Woodstock -- as a primer of heavy acid Rock at its basest and (in the nomenclature of its day) most “plastic” form. But this in-between generation had to start somewhere (like you, me and everybody else) in order to one day graduate to something better, or at least with a least a tad more artistic merit like Stark Naked & The Car Thieves. And fans would quickly have to, as directly after “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” Iron Butterfly fell into a steep decline from which they would never recover. Their two successive albums (the atrociously rushed and underdeveloped “Ball” and a superfluous live album) saw the group lose direction and after a personnel change plus two further albums they never regained direction nor claimed a new one they could call their own. But what they accomplished early on dwarfs these latter-day missteps grandly. Hail!




FOOTNOTES:
  1. Iron Butterfly formed in 1966 and signed to Atco the following year. But the release of their debut album “Heavy” would not see release until March of 1968: nearly a year after it was recorded. The placement of “Iron Butterfly Theme” as the last track on “Heavy” and on “The Savage Seven” soundtrack (the film, oddly, a Dick Clark Production) closing side one would indicate that someone deemed it strong enough to include, though not enough to feature prominently and it happened again when it was placed on the B-side of the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” 45. It may be the best song they ever released, and perhaps the only one that truly lived up to the ‘heavy’ qualities their liner notes constantly boasted about. It was recorded by an earlier Iron Butterfly lineup comprised of vocalist/keyboardist Doug Ingle, drummer Ron Bushy, Jerry Penrod (bass), Danny Weis (guitar) and Darryl DeLoach (vocals, tambourine, guitar.) Once these last three had departed, Bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist Erik Brann were quickly brought in as replacements to fill out Ingle’s prominent hymnal organ lines and Bushy’s poky measures with Brann drawing upon Weis’s previous approach as an influence for his own newly-learnt fuzz and distortion techniques.