September 8, 2013
Todd plays, with his piano on organ setting, the opening riff of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"
IRON BUTTERFLY - IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA
A one-hit wonder retrospective
- Video for "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"
Todd: Did you know this thing had an organ setting on it? I didn't. Anyway, welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. And this week, we're gonna get [flashes peace sign] groovy and far out, and I recommend you get high as balls because this is about to get trippy.
- Doug Ingle: In a gadda da vida, honey
- Don't you know that I love you?
Todd (VO): Yes, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", that classic psychedelic anthem of the hippie era, a song that only could've been given birth to in 1968. Now, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" only reached #30 on the charts, which...normally I wouldn't even count as a hit. But [single cover] the band that recorded it, Iron Butterfly, are a one-hit wonder in the more general sense.
Todd: A band whom your average person would only recognize one song from.
Todd (VO): But really, the version that charted isn't even the one that mattered 'cause that was the short version. To get the real "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" experience, you need to listen to the full version, complete with drum solo, organ solo, Middle-Eastern-sounding digressions, adding up to a monstrous seventeen minutes and five seconds.
Todd: Yes, you heard me correctly. I guarantee you, this is the only episode I will ever do that's actually shorter than the song it's reviewing.
Todd (VO): But in a time largely considered to be the best and most fertile grounds for rock music that has ever, ever existed, Iron Butterfly's legacy is pretty much restricted to their one admittedly epic hit song. Why did Iron Butterfly plummet like a butterfly made of iron?
Todd: Well, I'd like to know. So [singing] won't you come with me, and take a look at the career of Iron Butterfly. Find out what happened to them after their seventeen minutes of fame ran out.
- Doug: Please take my hand
Before the hit
- Pictures of band and Doug Ingle
Todd (VO): Iron Butterfly was created in San Diego by lead singer and organ player Doug Ingle. The other original members are...
Todd: ...not worth mentioning because Iron Butterfly basically never had a consistent lineup, especially after being on the touring circuit for 45 years.
- Wikipedia listing of Iron Butterfly members
Todd (VO): I mean, look at this. I think that's enough people to repopulate the planet.
Todd: Now, for the sake of sanity, we're just gonna restrict them to the members during their peak years.
- Pictures of band
Todd (VO): Drummer Ron Bushy, guitarist Erik Braunn, and bassist Lee Dorman, none of whom are original members. Anyway, Iron Butterfly moved to LA and got good enough that they managed to land gigs opening for some [album cover of Jefferson Airplane Takes Off] really big names like Jefferson Airplane and [concert flyer for...] the Doors. "LA's hottest new band," huh?
Todd: Uh...I think...[self-titled album covers of...] Janis Joplin's band or Crosby, Stills & Nash might have you guys beaten out there. But you know, whatever.
- Video for "Unconscious Power"
Todd (VO): Now me personally, if I were to pick a lesser-known Iron Butterfly song to listen to, it would be this one—"Unconscious Power".
- Doug: Triggering the unconscious power
Todd (VO): This is a good index for their sound, I think—heavier than the Doors, but more hippie than Black Sabbath. [Album cover for...] This album was called Heavy, and some members of the band claim to have invented the whole idea of heavy music. They also claim that they were the first band [picture of Ron Bushy with platinum album] ever to have a platinum-certified album.
Todd: I could not confirm either of those facts.
- Performance of "Iron Butterfly Theme" on Playboy After Dark
Todd (VO): But their most popular song outside their big hit was an instrumental called "Iron Butterfly Theme," which you can hear in this live performance on the show Playboy After Dark.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the '60s. This video right here is the entire '60s—hippie chicks at the Playboy Mansion go-go dancing to loud, angry music that you cannot actually dance to. God bless them, they're trying.
Now most of the people you see there ear-syncing were not the actual people who played on the song because more than half the band quit right before their first album was released, and they would not be the first or last to do so.
Todd: I think they were, like, replacing people mid-song at one point.
Todd (VO): But as they began the search for new members, the sole other remaining member Ron Bushy walked into Ingle's apartment and found him...
Todd: ...apparently awake for the previous 24 hours and drunk off his ass off of [picture of bottles of...] cheap bottom-shelf red wine, and he told Bushy to write down the lyrics to this new song he wrote. It was called "In the Garden of Eden".
- Clip from The Simpsons - "Bart Sells His Soul"
- Rev. Lovejoy: "In the Garden of Eden" by I. Ron Butterfly.
Todd (VO): Yeah, I got that obligatory reference out of the way. I bet half of you wouldn't even know this song without that bit. But anyway, yes...
Todd: ...the original name of the song was "In the Garden of Eden", but because Ingle was so [picture of drunk guy] blasted, all the poor drummer could make out was a slurred muddle of nonsense. In the morning, when Ingle was sober, they decided they actually liked that title better. And the result?
The big hit
- Clip from Playboy After Dark
- Malcolm Boyd: You know, something's wrong. And that the worship is of God, not of religion.
- Hugh Hefner: Right.
- Malcolm: [hearing the song begin] What's that music? Sounds churchy.
- Hugh: Almost, it does.
- Malcolm: Well, now it doesn't sound churchy.
- Hugh: Iron Butterfly. Let me show you something you need...
- Video for "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"
Todd: Feel that riff. You can keep your "Sunshine of Your Love," your "Voodoo Child," this is the best riff of '60s hard rock.
- Clip of performance on Playboy After Dark
- Doug: In-a-gadda-da-vida, honey
- Don't you know that I love you
- In-a-gadda-da-vida, baby
- Don't you know that I'll always be true
Todd (VO): And despite that, I wouldn't really call "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" one of my favorite songs or anything. Why?
Todd: It's seventeen minutes long!
Todd (VO): What do you think is too long for a song? "American Pie"? "Freebird"? "November Rain"? Ha! You ain't seen nothin'. And this is not a live jam either, like from a Grateful Dead concert or anything. No, this is the real studio version. The live versions were usually even longer. The studio version was actually just meant to be a scratch recording for a sound check, but the producer decided the practice tape was good enough on its own.
Todd: Funny story: originally it was just supposed to be like this short, kinda country-ish ballad, but...
Todd (VO): ...over time, it evolved into the monster you're listening to now.
What is "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" about?
Todd: Technically, I guess it's a love song.
- Doug: Don't you know that I love you
Todd (VO): But you wouldn't know it to listen to it. It's heavy and dark and full of blasting, noisy fuzz, and that's what it's really about. I've heard this song soundtrack several horror movies, and with good reason. It's just mean and scary.
Todd: Like, this is not the [flashes peace sign] "peace and love" '60s.
- Clip of The Youngbloods - "Get Together"
- Jesse Colin Young: Love is but the song we sing,
- And fear's the way we die
Todd: No, none of that.
Todd (VO): Yeah, this is the "drugs and death" '60s. That's mostly what "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida's" about. But more importantly, what "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was about is...
Todd: ...endless solos!
- Drum solo
Todd (VO): Yeah, yeah, the solos actually start at just about the 2:00 mark, and they go on for a good thirteen minutes, including a two and a half-minute drum solo. It is the defining drum solo of all time, the drum solo to end all drum solos.
Todd: Quite honestly, maybe we'd be lucky if it had ended all drum solos.
Todd (VO): Most people are surprised to find out it's less than three minutes because it sure feels a lot longer. That's...it's kind of a long time to expect someone to listen to a drum solo in the middle of a song.
- Organ solo
Look, this is the kind of music probably best listened to while under the influence of various mind-expanding drugs popular in the '60s. Me personally, I've always been a "don't bore us, get to the chorus" kind of listener, so this doesn't really do it for...oh, another drum solo.
Todd: [patiently waiting, pulls out phone] Oh, let's see what's going on on Twitter.
Todd (VO): Yeah, it's always kind of a relief for me when it gets back to the main riff. For me, the ideal length of this song would be five or six minutes; but, at the same time, it also feels like shortening it is kind of missing the point. I mean, this is how it was designed to be perceived. It's a big part of why it made such a big impression in '68. Yeah, when the hippie movement went out of style, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" started seeming a bit...
Todd: ...self-indulgent. [whisper] Just...just a bit.
Todd (VO): It...it hasn't really aged as well as, you know, "Smoke on the Water" or "Stairway to Heaven", which aren't short songs either. It's just thirteen minutes of solos. Most people don't have the patience. But people who were there absolutely loved it, and it took the album into the Top 10 and became the first platinum album of all time. ()
Todd: So why couldn't they follow it up?
The failed followup
- Clip of "Soul Experience"
Todd (VO): Considering that Iron Butterfly were more of an album band than a singles band, the fact that they had no more hit songs doesn't really count against them. And if you just look at how high their next album charted, [cover of Ball] which was in the Top 10, more than decent, you wouldn't really count it as a failed followup.
Todd: On the other hand, if you look at whether anyone liked that album or remembered it, then yes, it is a failed followup.
- Doug: Don't be afraid to live a little
Todd (VO): The sad fact is Iron Butterfly just weren't very good. For album acts, they wrote a lot of filler. I've listened to their entire discography now, and I...I don't know what exactly to say about it. It's not bad, it's just not very good. They are considered one of the first metal bands, but they don't actually sound much like any of the metal bands that followed. Most of them followed some other [Led Zeppelin poster] late '60s band named after a flying thing made of metal. Unlike their peers, they never really went political.
Todd: Except for maybe Ingle, none of them were particularly brilliant musicians.
Todd (VO): They weren't particularly amazing lyricists either, as you can probably tell from the fact that their most famous lyric is a barrage of nonsense syllables. And while most of the beloved bands of the time were counter-cultural rebels...
Todd: ...Iron Butterfly couldn't really call themselves that, especially not after singing commercial jingles for deodorant.
- Commercial for Ban
- Doug: Ban won't wear off as the day wears on
- Announcer: Turn on Ban spray deodorant
Todd: In-a-gadda-da-Speed-Stick, baby (Did hippies even wear deodorant?)
- Clip of "Easy Rider (Let The Wind Pay The Way)"
Todd (VO): And it'd be one thing if they were the only people making psychedelic rock in the '60s, but there was not a shortage. And considering their competition is what is now widely called [poster of '60s rock featuring the Supremes, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix] the greatest rock music of all time, well, you know, it's a...it's a high standard to try and meet.
- Doug: Easy rider, easy rider
Todd (VO): "Easy rider," huh? Yeah, I think it's a little obvious where they were getting their inspiration from at this point in their careers.
- Clip from Easy Rider, followed by clip of Steppenwolf - "Born to Be Wild"
- Steppenwolf: Get your motor running
- Head out on the highway
Todd (VO): Look, if this kind of music interests you at all, maybe...check out Steppenwolf.
Todd: If you dig deeper into their music, you'll find it a lot more rewarding.
Did they ever do anything else?
- Album cover of Metamorphosis
Todd (VO): Their fourth album was titled Metamorphosis, because you know, butterfly, metamorphosis. [Footage of butterfly emerging from cocoon] Just like a caterpillar metamorphosizes into a beautiful butterfly, Iron Butterfly metamorphosized into a...
Todd: ...dead butterfly. They broke up.
- Video for "Butterfly Bleu"
Todd (VO): And it was not their lack of further success that killed them; it was their insane schedule. The record company figured out early on that Iron Butterfly probably didn't have a lot of staying power, so they decided to wring every last drop out of them in as short amount of time as possible. In addition to four albums in three years, Iron Butterfly had an utterly psychotic touring schedule with virtually zero downtime.
Todd: Imagine a [pictures follow] butterfly being squashed by an iron. *squish!* And that's pretty much how Iron Butterfly got treated. Eventually, Ingle had enough and quit out of sheer burnout.
Todd (VO): He spent the next few years painting houses and managing an RV park, but at least he had his royalties, right? Uh, no. Turned out the record industry had screwed him in other ways. He was in debt to the IRS until 1986. Not the happiest story, no.
Todd: Fortunately nowadays, record companies treat their artists with nothing but fairness and respect.
Todd (VO): That wasn't quite the end though. Erik Braunn reformed the band in 1975 with some of the other various members and recorded a couple more albums that year. Doug Ingle was not part of it, meaning that Iron Butterfly has not had a single consistent member throughout their history. And considering they were forming without their most talented member, you shouldn't be surprised that it didn't really turn out well.
- Album cover of Scorching Beauty, with "Searching Circles" playing
- Erik: Yeah
- Cause I'm so alone searching circles
Todd (VO): That was a single. [Clip of more recent performance of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"] Anyway, Ingle did eventually rejoin the band, and they've toured fairly constantly for the past thirty years, and Ingle is much happier now, but...
Todd: ...no, they've never bothered to record another album.
Did they deserve better?
Todd: I feel safe in saying that "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is pretty much all the Iron Butterfly anyone needs.
Todd (VO): I'm not even sure it's fair to call Iron Butterfly a one-hit wonder, considering "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" should probably count as a good four and a half songs at least. Iron Butterfly were ultimately either too different or not different enough, I'm not sure. Iron Butterfly found themselves caught in between two different trends, and they couldn't keep up. But this is not to take anything away from "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"; there's pretty much nothing like it before or since. So if you gotta have just one hit, this is the kind of hit you want to have.
Todd: I'm Todd In The Shadows, and I'm out. [One more flash] Peace.
Gets up and leaves
Closing tag song: Slayer - "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"
"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is owned by Atco Records
This video is owned by me