Those who know me will probably not be surprised that I listen to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida fairly regularly. In fact, over the past 2 or 3 days, I’ve let it play a dozen or more times. Sometimes I rotate a number of Iron Butterfly cuts, but my all-time favorite has to be In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Now, I am aware that IAGDV has become somewhat of a rock joke due to it’s simple, repetitive bass/guitar riff and it’s utterly meaningless title. However, IAGDV shouldn’t be taken lightly.
There are, various myths about where the name came from, and I’m not sure anyone really knows the truth (perhaps not even the band members). My personal theory is that Doug Ingles, who mumbled everything anyway, was simply misunderstood as he sung what seems to have been the original lyrics, “In the garden of Venus.”
IAGDV is, of course, one of the rock classics. Released in 1968, the album on which the 17-minute song appeared (also named In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) became the very first “platinum” album (the designation was actually created by the RIAA for this album). As far as I know, it was the first studio-recorded full-side rock song. It paved the way for other treats such as Rare Earth’s Get Ready and Uriah Heep’s Salisbury (other favorites of mine). Also, it is perhaps the only rock song that is identifiable by merely a measure or two of its drum solo.
Iron Butterfly itself should not be taken lightly. Poke fun, if you will, at the simplicity of IAGDV or at the guitar-string-scraping noises of Eric Brann (an inspiration to Tom Morello, no doubt), but these musicians were no slouches. Many of their songs were lyrically fairly sappy, flower-powerish things, but just listen to the complex bass lines of Flowers and Beads or Most Anything That You Want. Lee Dorman, the bassist, went on to form the prog-rock Captain Beyond with a later IB guitarist, Larry Reinhardt.
The 60’s and early 70’s were strange times musically; you had all kinds of experimentation going on (chemical and otherwise), and even the early “heavy metal” bands were hoping to get top-40 airplay. “Rock” was everything from folk and country to blues to jazz-inspired bands like Chicago, and it was all groovy. Rumor even has it that Neil Young once auditioned for IB lead guitarist (to be beat out by Erik Brann). Iron Butterfly, with its various lineups, explored a lot of new ground (especially 1970’s Metamorphasis with the extended cut Butterfly Bleu).
So what is so special about IAGDV? I really don’t know… perhaps to me it’s the musical equivalent of comfort food. When I listen to it, I am not reverting back to a 60’s mentality or reliving my teenage years (God forbid!), but I do find it comfortable and relaxing. And, at 17 minutes, I can trust that it’s not going to pull some major time or style change on me. When I click “play” (yeah, I listen to an mp3… my turntable belt snapped) I can be assured that “dunt dunt dadada dunt” will be there for 17 minutes (more, if it’s on “repeat”).