Wednesday, 10 December 2014

iron butterfly in-a-psychedelia

It's not easy to say exactly when Iron Butterfly's 1968 album 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' became the psychedelic equivalent of Spinal Tap, maybe it began back in the 70's when Cheech and Chong made a joke of the title in one of their loonatic stoner dialogues, but somehow unlike any other album of the spaced out psychedelic era 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' ended up being the name on the headstone of the hippy dream.
Quite unfairly really because any amount of the groups that became fashionable in the couple of years that psychedelia fashion existed, and that's all it was, could have just as well represented what became a standing joke aimed at the beads and long hair subculture as Iron Butterfly, if not more so.
The track that's always been at the butt of the gag is the title track with it's meandering 17 minute jam and guitar solo. It's been said outside of the 3 minutes where the repeated chant like song is taking place the rest of the noodling is largely pointless. Again, a bit unfair to have that levelled at the band because that 14 minutes sounds no more than a brief excursion compared to the lengths Grateful Dead would go to with their extemporisations, it was best to pack sandwiches for one of their festival gigs, yet somehow they have ridden high, that being the right expression, on plaudits of "we are not worthy" ever since and poor old Iron Butterfly have just ended up as the Iron ButtOfJokes.
Where do you think Led Zeppelin got the idea for their name then?

In fact in 1968 a 17 minute track was not only a revolutionary length of time for any piece of rock and roll to last but Iron Butterfly's most well known song had become like a beacon of freedom for broadcasting music. Imagine the joy a DJ had in being able to have an on air break while the track played out. Time it right and you could get to the cafe and back before the end. Well maybe not with the jocks on American Forces Radio broadcasting from Europe, probably Germany, during the Vietnam war. Where in the south of the UK if you were lucky you managed to tune into the late night phased airwaves, the sound fading in and out on the old AM bandwidth during the midnight hours, you'd hear the DJ announce 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' as if it were the very password for the underground on mass to gather, and then follow that with the enforced duty the Forces network required be broadcast to all "you GI's out there" .. "and don't forget people 'Stay Off The Grass'", cue Iron Butterfly and then 17 minutes lay ahead for that midnight sojourn. Or whatever.
And who indeed wouldn't fall into the spell of that moment of tantalising underground rock and roll. Absolutely no Iron Butterfly jokes in those days.
What's more the album, surprise surprise, had two sides to it and the other was not one track but several. And they represent a fine selection of late 1960's San Francisco psychedelic rock by some fine players.
It has to be said Iron Butterfly have been grossly neglected over the decades so it's very good news that the album has been reissued with their singles A and B sides as bonus tracks. For anyone missing a piece of the late 60's psychedelic jigsaw 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Expanded Edition (CD)' is an album well worth getting hold of.
Here's "My Mirage" from side one of the original.