Almost Hits: Iron Butterfly, “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” (1968)

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Or “Why Thou Shall Not Tamper with the Vegetation In the Garden of Eden” — A Combination Counterculture Sermon and Horticulture Guide by JC Mosquito …

Good morning to you all, my Brothers and Sisters in Rock and Roll,

Please open your Billboard Charts Reference Bible and find where it says Iron Butterfly – “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” (single edit: 2 minutes, 53 seconds, Sept 28, 1968). Notice also the information that says it spent 7 short weeks on the charts and peaked at only No. 30.

That’s right – pitiful, isn’t it? Makes your faith waver just a bit, especially when you realize the one take, unedited, 17 minutes-and-5-seconds-long album cut helped shoot the LP all the way up to No. 4 on the album charts, and make the album (itself titled In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) one of the biggest-selling platters in the history of ATCO Records.

Can I hear an “amen” from y’all?

But the single only went to No. 30? Oh, how the mighty have fallen! How their grasp exceeds their reach! All men and women of good will, united in the faith that rock criticism is a good thing (at least since St. Lester still walked the Earth), let us consider today just how the mighty did fall in the first place.

They gave in to the sins of Pride and Greed, which at the time masqueraded as the standard music business practice of issuing singles off the album to function as AM radio advertisements, keeping the artist in the public eye. In this case, however, the single edit just shows that without the additional 14-odd minutes of bulk, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” just isn’t that great a song. There’s the organ intro, some of the riff, some singing, a bridge and then, without the anticipation of the various instrumental solos, the song becomes remarkably indistinguishable from other ’60s radio cannon fodder. And the B-side wasn’t even off the album; it was a track from the first album, an instrumental called “Iron Butterfly Theme,” missing yet another promo opportunity to showcase the rest of the LP.

Go ahead: It’s sold 30 million copies worldwide and was the first album ever to be certified as platinum. Can any of you gathered together this fine day name the five songs that grace side one of this artifact? Very few people are able to rise to this challenge; though the flesh is willing, the brain just doesn’t have room to squeeze any more information in past the 17-minute spiritual white elephant that crushes all in its path, including the rest of the album. Let it be said briefly here that three out of the five songs would’ve served just fine as hit singles, and the other two were good as well, but maybe just a little long for AM radio success as they clocked in around five minutes apiece.

As is usual in these cases, no one will admit that they thought pruning, fertilizing, editing, and tampering with this giant sequoia of a song would make the album grow even more, thusly adding the sin of not admitting one was wrong in the promo department. Oh, ye of little faith — they already had a million seller — why was throwing together a three-minute version for radio a good idea? The album didn’t need any help. In fact, the band might have been better off adopting the stance that Led Zeppelin would a few years later with some of their most popular longer songs, like “Stairway to Heaven”: Sorry, no single edit here. Buy the album, kiddies.

No one goes to Yosemite National Park to look at a branch or leaf fallen from a tree. They want to see the giant sequoia, standing there in all its gigantic glory. And no one cares about the version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida that peaked at No. 30 on the singles chart somewhere back in the day for the same reason.

Ite missa est, pax vobiscum and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to you all. And don’t forget there’s a bingo fundraiser next Friday night, a bedding plant sale Saturday morning, and a youth dance on Saturday night at the parish hall. And if that’s too confusing, just remember this mnemonic device: money, flowers and rock ‘n’ roll — the 60s in a nutshell. Until then, be excellent to each other.

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JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at
JC Mosquito
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