Atco Records, 1968
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/06/1997
C'mon, you knew it was only a matter of time before I dug this one out of the Pierce Memorial Archives (don't drink the bong water), right?
At one point in time, Iron Butterfly's career-defining album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was the top seller in the Atlantic Records catalog (before Led Zeppelin and Hootie & The Blowfish). It is both the object of public scorn and held up as a gem of the psychadelic era. Its title track has a drum solo so easy you could fart it.
It is an album that is incredibly dated... and is one of the most prized possesions I have in the archives, next to my autographed CDs from Melissa Etheridge and AC/DC.
For the time being, let's forget about the song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" - we'll get to it soon enough. (We have no choice; the record has only six songs.) Okay, purged that from your memory yet?
Now then... while Iron Butterfly was one of the most popular of the psychedelic groups, their musicianship was actually pretty good. Of special note is the bass work of Lee Dorman, who often sounds like he is sliding up the neck to reach the notes he is playing. It is an effect that works. Doug Ingle's vocals are powerful, even if his organ work often sounds like he played organ in church. (Not coincidentally, Ingle's father was a church organist.) Guitarist Erik Brann seems to be pushed to the side on this one, and when he is given the limelight, he doesn't do too much with it. And drummer Ron Bushy? Well.... let's say he provides a solid backbeat.
I think the hidden gem on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the opening track "Most Anything You Want," a song I often used to open my radio show when I was in college. (It was about that time my listeners probably turned off their radios in disgust.) Dorman's sliding bass lines are here, along with an interesting combination of rhythm guitar and organ. Sure, it's not "Stairway To Heaven," but it's a nice way to spend four minutes.
The other gem on this one is "Are You Happy," which allows the band to pull out all the stops and have some fun. Bushy's trap work is at its best here, while Ingle yanks chords from his organ that probably were never meant to be played. It works, and the song ends all to quickly.
Of the remaining songs on side one, "Flowers And Beads" would have worked without the angelic "oohing" at the end of the song, while "My Mirage" and "Termination" are so-so tracks that don't do anything for me.
Okay, now for the moment we've all been waiting for - "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," all seventeen friggin' minutes of it. (Rhino Records, in re-releasing the album for its 25th anniversary, threw on the twenty-plus minute live version on the remixed CD.) The title allegedly was the drugged-out response to a question posed to a member of the band - in retrospect, it was the perfect name for such an ambling, rambling cut. The track itself is actually pretty good - though I'll admit I'd probably go on a three-state killing spree if I had to listen to it every day.
And there are weaknesses in the song. Sure, it's nice that each member of the band was given a chance to do a solo (though Dorman's bass work throughout the track seems to serve as his solo), but Bushy's drum solo is laughable. Even I, a drummer I would describe as "piss-poor," could have done a better job - and I wasn't even alive when this album came out. Also, Ingle's solo reminds me a little too much of organ doodlings I'd occasionally hear a church musician whip out. I almost felt like I had to drop to my knees in prayer at this point - though Brann's power-saw guitar riffs work me out of that stupor.
You really have to have an open mind when you listen to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida for the first time. You have to transport yourself back to 1968, when music like this was considered cutting edge. If you can do this, you will find yourself mildly surprised that you like the album. Otherwise, you'll be putting it out on the lawn with the Tony Orlando & Dawn records at your next garage sale - which was where I bought this album in the first place. Best 25 cents I ever spent.