Somebody's Webpage on Twitter Somebody's Webpage on Facebook Somebody's Webpage on Patreon

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (1969)

When I was growing up in the 1980s, I developed a fascination for 1960s-era psychedelic music that I still maintain to this day. Back then, I wanted to collect all of the great classic albums from the peace-and-love epoch, so it was a foregone conclusion that I would just have to pick up a copy of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I had heard the title track at a groovy gathering one evening, and pretty much thought it was just about the trippingest, most mind-blowing tune to ever be pressed to vinyl.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly go that far, but I must say that this shamelessly indulgent, hippie-styled magnum opus, which takes up the entire second side of the album, has all of the essential ingredients of the respective musical era in it -- buzzing, meandering guitar solos; extended, highly complex, churchy-sounding organ work; a multitude of song segments with varying levels of volume and intensity; virtuoso-level bass playing featuring highly intricate melodic lines; and a very, very long, somewhat slow-paced drum solo in the middle. And as far as the lyrics go, it also fits right in with the zeitgeist of the time as well -- a supercharged declaration of passionate love for some girl, crying out “oh won’t you come with me,” and “please take my hand,” etc. That was right up my alley when I was a teenager, so off I went to the record store to get it.

One night I had a party at my house, and decided to put on the album. Everyone enjoyed the title track, of course, but when I started playing side A, I was asked to flip it back over and to stick to the Iron Butterfly song that everyone knew and loved best. When I asked why, a friend of mine put it to me rather bluntly: “Hey man, side A of that album stinks. Everyone knows that the only good music Iron Butterfly ever put out was that one song, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.’ Hey man, mind if I have another beer?”

Well, I didn’t pay all that much attention to that comment, except to stop playing side A at any parties from that moment on. But when I was by myself, I spent quite a bit of time listening to side A, and came to the rather surprising conclusion that I liked it quite a lot, and completely regardless of the prevailing view of my friends.

It turns out that the album is now certified four-times platinum, and maybe that’s entirely owed to the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and totally in spite of side A, which to my knowledge contains no songs that ever charted in the top 100. If that is indeed the case, then we might say that it’s the biggest-selling album-sized “single” of all time.

I figure that more than enough has already been written about the album’s title track, so I’ll instead focus on the rather neglected side A, which in my view has a couple of good tunes on it, some of which -- but not all -- qualify as more than just interesting artifacts from the 1960s.

“Most Anything You Want”
Let’s judge fairly, people. This tune has a great bass line. The organ work is excellent. The guitar work is really catchy. The drums are solid. And the vocals, directed at a girl who the singer just wants to make happy and with whom he wants to spend his lifetime, are unabashedly dripping in melted cheese. You’ve got to have a heart made of stone to listen to this and not end up with a nostalgic smile on your face, whether for the long-gone era the song represents, or for a long-ago relationship that used to be so important to you. 

“Flowers and Beads”
Okay, alright, I’ll admit, this one is pretty much just a curious relic of the 1960s. The title of the song should be enough to give that away. Yet with all of that being said, it’s still a pretty nice little track, even though you can practically smell the dated mustiness coming off of it. Let’s just say that if you put it on the soundtrack of a late-1960s Scooby Doo cartoon, it wouldn’t seem at all out of place.

“My Mirage”
This is one of my favorite songs on the album. The singer explains that in his mind he sees a mirage, so he will draw it on his wall in order that all of the beautiful people who come to his home can see it. I’m going to resist the easy temptation to label this as typical psychedelic-era imagery, and ascribe it more to Dadaist influence instead, which experienced a sort of resurgence in the 1960s. It’s a rather solemn and introspective tune. I regret that they didn’t flesh it out a bit more, and I’m kind of disappointed that the verse and chorus just repeat once without any variation. I think that with a bit more effort, this song could have been greatly improved. I wonder if they were rushed to put it out before it was really ready.

I enjoy the quirkiness of this track, which features an odd, Chinese-sounding bridge part, and the perversely upbeat chorus: “This is termination, the outcome of your life!” The best part is the spooky, meditative, and dreamy chime-filled coda and fadeout. You can almost smell the jasmine incense as you drift off to eternal sleep while laid out on your bean bag with your half-opened eyes gazing upon the soft glow of a blood-red lava lamp.

“Are You Happy”
The singer “met a pretty girl on the street last night, let me tell you now, she was groovy. Well, I met a pretty girl and I held her tight, let me tell you now, she was groovy.” Heh, heh, heh. Not exactly going to win any first-place trophies for those lyrics, I suppose. But he got “night” to rhyme with “tight,” and put “groovy” in there with a “pretty girl,” I’ll give him that. Those were pretty good words to put in pop songs back in those days, weren’t they? Okay, the lyrics aside, the song rocks out pretty hard. Also, in my opinion, the live concert version is considerably better than the recorded one. Wow, wish I could have been there to hear that one in person. Well, I imagine that I might have literally done that, but I don’t know how much I would have appreciated it as a two-year-old.

There’s a good chance that if you are reading this, you already own the album. But if you don’t, what are you waiting for? Everyone should have the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in their music collection, enough said. My other recommendation is to be sure to give the other tracks on the album a good listen. If you are like me, you just might find that they do not really stink, although if the truth be told, they do have a bit of a mothballed vibe to them. Not exactly timeless classics, but they are classics nonetheless.

Reviewed by Somebody Else 6/1/12

See more Favorite Albums of the Moment

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...