1968. The psychedelic sixties are in full swing. Musicians are experimenting with new sounds, different instruments, and whole new philosophies and approaches to music. And along comes a slightly bizarre 17-minute concoction from a band few people have heard of – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” the title track of the second album from Iron Butterfly.
A much-repeated story is that the original title of the song was “In The Garden of Eden,” but singer Doug Ingle was too stoned to pronounce it. This may or may not be true, but given the times and the personalities, it’s not hard to believe. Luckily for Ingle, although the music may be heavy, the lyrics were not:
Don’t you know that I love you?
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true?
Oh, won’t you come with me
And take my hand?
Oh, won’t you come with me
And walk this land?
Please take my hand!
What the song lacked in lyrics, it made up for with one of the most memorable riffs in history. Bassist Lee Dorman was probably the most musically talented of the group and his bass line is still instantly recognizable. It’s also still being sampled, has found a home as background music in countless movies or TV shows, and is probably one of the first riffs any budding guitar god learns, right after “Smoke on the Water.”
Legend also has it that Ingle never intended the song to be so long, but that the band was too stoned to figure out how to end it, and so they simply rambled on for 17 minutes and several solos before stumbling into an end. Again, the story may or may not be true, but it certainly sounds credible enough. Depending on the listener’s sensibilities, that 17 minutes may seem like an absolute eternity, and luckily for most listeners, a heavily-edited 3 minute version was released. But for many, the full version (it takes up an entire side of the album) perfectly symbolizes the most wonderful excesses of the psychedelic era.
That 17 minutes may have had a lot to do with the song’s popularity. Back in those dark ages of technology, radio DJ’s actually had to sit at a console, manually queue up and then start each song. Long songs meant a little breathing space to get something to drink or stretch your legs. (Readers of a certain age will remember that you didn’t bother trying to call the station during “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” “Kashmir” or “Dark Side of the Moon” – the DJ wouldn’t be in the booth to answer the phone.) 17 minutes practically long enough to go across town for a burger, and DJ’s were quick to give the song airplay.
Iron Butterfly is, on occasion, referred to as a pioneer of heavy metal. That may be overstating their influence. It’s true that music fans had never heard anything like them before – their deep, throbbing bass line was a far cry from the typical Eastern-tinged psychedelia of, say, the Grateful Dead. But their organ-heavy pounding never caught on like the massive guitar riffs of bands like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, and there are probably few musicians today that would say that Iron Butterfly was a big influence on their style.