15 August 2008

Rock epic of the month: "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (Iron Butterfly) 1968

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

Some of you are thinking, 'It had to happen.' Some of you are thinking, 'Couldn't he have avoided this one?' Some of you are thinking, 'It took him long enough.' And some of you are thinking, 'This is just too obvious.'

To which I say, 'Der,' 'No he couldn't have,' 'I was getting around to it,' and 'Sod off you wankers. And the horses you rode in on.'

Yes. The classic Iron Butterfly song, or I. Ron Butterfly song, if you really want, was a drug-addled hoot when it was released back in the day, and it's still one incredibly silly and indulgent piece today.

Heavy metal, as we now know it didn't really come into being until the power metal bands of the late seventies and early eighties. But it's history is shrouded in all sorts of stories.

Some say it started with The Who when Pete Townshend went berzerk with a series of windmill power chords. Still others like to cite The Kinks' classic rifforama from 'You Really Got Me'.

Some say it was white boys playing the blues loudly, such as the early work of Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds. Others again like to cite the work of Jimi Hendrix, Cream (which also featured Clapton) and even The Doors.

And then there are the pure psychedelicists, who will go straight to the louder end of the psychedelic spectrum to where acts like Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly sat.

Whatever, we all know where it went from here. There was the Led Zeppelin faction, with their fairies at the bottom of the garden and bustles in your hedgerows. There was the Black Sabbath faction, with all Tony Iommi's riffing and Ozzy Osbourne's internal demons. There was Deep Purple's work, which partly paved the way for prog rock. And there was the totally out there amped up post-psych of Blue Öyster Cult and the totally pedestrian musical stylings of Grand Funk Railroad.

But Iron Butterfly will always be remembered for this, the one tune that everyone remembers them for - a tune that clocks in at 17:05, and the title track off their second album.

'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' was so long that it took up the entire length of side B. The name of the tune apparently comes from a drunken conversation that singer and keyboardist Doug Ingle had with drummer Ron Bushy where Bushy wrote down what he thought Ingle had said, and thus the tune was no longer titled 'In The Garden Of Eden' any more.

The band, completed at this stage by Eric Brann on guitars and Lee Dorman on bass, recorded this monster epic as a jam in the studio where everyone has their moment.

It starts off with the signature horror-movie organ at the start, before launching into the main riff, which, to 1968 society, must have seemed like one of the heaviest things imaginable. The tune only really strays from the main riff in a couple of spots, mainly during the choruses, but also a bit during the breakdown in the middle. Dorman manages to stay in the groove most of the way through without sounding too bored.

It eventually re-assembles itself to come back for another verse and chorus near the end, but by this stage, you're either thanking the gods of rock and roll, or falling asleep.

The breakdown itself is truly epic, and longer than the rest of the tune: There's more than one organ solo. And more than one guitar solo. And even a drum solo. This is one tune that will have you punching the air and giggling as you play it loud to annoy the hell out of your girlfriend, or cringing in a corner hoping that no one catches you listening to it.

There simply is no middle ground here. It's either monumentally offensive and stupid, or it's a glorious slab of medium-octane rock that you can air organ to.

Iron Butterfly did nothing else of note.

Boney M, incidentally, covered this tune. And like everything else that Boney M did, it too, was utter rubbish.

This tune comes in two parts, with some visuals, which are pretty boring, so you might prefer just to listen.

Part 1 ends just after the drum solo, and Part 2 picks up with the second (or is it the third?) organ solo.

Enjoy, or not.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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