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Iron Butterfly (In the Garden of Eden!)

This is a post from the archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
butterflyRevolution through peace love and music. That in a way was Iron Butterfly. Their name alone summed up what they sounded like and with a string of true psychedelic hits and one major blockbuster in their track “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” in 1968 they were assured infamy but not fortune. This one track alone has dominated much of the intervening years with its heavy weight bass riff and hippy trippy melody and lyrics. It has influenced many of the heavy rock and metal bands over the years in its use of heavily distorted bass and lead guitar it is also the very first track to have a drum solo recorded into it. Not only this but it was ground-breaking in that the track ran continuously for a single side of an LP (long player 12 inch record for those too young to remember LP’s, as of course we all are!)
Who were this strange outfit of misfits? Well they came from the unfashionable city of San Diego in California, then as now not renowned for its rock outfits. The four original members were Doug Ingle – Keyboards and vocals, Ron Bushy – Drums with Lee Dorman – Bass and their teenage heartthrob guitarist Erik Brann. This is the lineup that recorded this seminal album and track. The album sold over three million copies by the end of 1970, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in December 1968.  It ultimately sold over 20 million copies, went platinum, and stayed on the Billboard magazine charts for over a year.
This one track alone changed much of the hard rock music of the following decade in its hard driving riff based theme, classical church sounding swirling organ, and hippy lyrics. Bands such as Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple owed much of their drive and skill to this groups experimentations in riff driven rock instead of chordal movements as had been the norm in virtually all rock music up to this point.
The riff itself is a simple modal idea with a semi-chromatic ending tail that makes up a strange double sided uneven theme:
This riff permeates the whole 17 minutes of the track, even in the drum solo. The piece is in a simple ternary form with an intro on solo organ and various connecting subsections thus:
Riff/Head with song over the top     
Drum solo    
Bridge organ solo    
Riff/Head with song
The organ work of Doug Ingle is along with the riff one of the outstanding elements in this track. He had learnt church organ as a child and as the link from the drum solo to the riff song section it stands as one of the most psychedelic pieces of soloing in rock history, comparable to the late Ray Manzarek’s work with the Doors, if not better. The song is most definitely of its time with the fake made up words of the title sounding very much like they are intentionally singing in a pseudo Indian  language about reaching the garden of Eden. The melody is strongly linked to the riff and is pure psychedelia of the first rank. The drum solo is the least successful section of this work and in comparison to many of the drummers of his time Bushy was never one of the best. He shows his Jazz and world music roots and is too unadventurous for the track, but as this was the first drum solo to ever be recorded in music history it certainly was something very new for the time it was recorded and probably had to be slightly tame for the sound equipment to capture everything. It is one of the most famous of rock drum solos, because of its surreal tribal sound. Bushy went as far as removing the bottom heads of his tom-toms to give them less of a resonant tone, and during the recording process, the drum tracks were subjected to flanging, producing a slow, swirling sound.
The song is considered significant in rock history because, together with the music of Jimi Hendrix and Steppenwolf, it marks the period when psychedelic music began to form heavy rock. In 2009, it was named the 24th greatest hard rock song of all time.
A commonly related story says that the song’s title was originally “In the Garden of Eden“, but at one point in the course of rehearsing and recording, singer Doug Ingle got drunk and slurred the words, creating the vaguely Indian sounding title that stuck. However, the liner notes on ‘the best of’ CD compilation state that drummer Ron Bushy was listening to the track through headphones, and could not clearly distinguish what Ingle said when he asked him for the song’s title. An alternative explanation given in the liner notes of the 1995 re-release of the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, is that Ingle was drunk, high, or both, when he first told Bushy the title, and Bushy wrote it down. Bushy then showed Ingle what he had written, and the slurred title stuck.
The first six minutes of the song are dominated by a memorable, “endless, droning modal riff“, a guitar and bass ostinato. It is used as the basis for extended organ and guitar solos, then silenced to make way for a drum solo. It is followed by an ethereal polyphonic organ solo to the accompaniment of drums (beginning around 9:20 into the piece). There are then instrumental breaks in cut time and a reprise of the original theme and vocals to round off the track.
As a ground breaking rock album this is certainly towards the top in the fact it was the first album to have a whole side dedicated to just one track, the first ever drum solo recorded commercially and the first album track to use a bass driven riff to push the music through in a monotonous style hypnotic effect. Unique in every way this album is well worth searching out.
You can see the group performing this track at the following Youtube address:  this is not of the best quality so be warned.
The album contained five other tracks, some of which were of their time while others picked up on the heavier side of the groups’ style that they were to develop in their own unique style over the years and through their various line-ups. The group still tours today with a couple of the original members in the line-up and of course “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is always at the fore of their shows with its hard throbbing bass and psychedelic organ.
If you listen to this and feel that you have heard it somewhere before why not try the Simpsons who on a Sunday in church have to sing it as a Hymn entitled “In The Garden of Eden” with a rather freaky organ introduction and riffed ostinato, all vaguely resembling a certain Iron Butterfly track! Rather hilarious really.
Love and Peace Man and don’t forget it is now the 21st century so put the kaftans away along with the beads and the bongs.

Posted by author: Ash Ahmed
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20 thoughts on “Iron Butterfly (In the Garden of Eden!)

    • Ah now there was a band of strange creatures if ever there was one. They released some great stuff early on in their career did they not. There is also Hawkwind who made quite a scene with their endless riffs.

  • I think the bass player went on to play with Hawkwind.
    Interestingly I think Amon Düül reflected their culture, they felt tougher to us compared to Syd Barrett’s English whimsy and the West Coast style. It’s a long time since I’ve really listened to them and the records gradually disappeared while we were otherwise engaged but I seem to recall that you could almost hear the presaging of Kraftwerk and industrial music.

    • I always loved the West Coast Scene with its more flowery hippiedom feel than anything else, other than Pink Floyd that is. Bands such as Strawberry Alarm Clock and of course The Grateful Dead and Country Joe and the Fish. Hawkwind were a band I got into in the mid seventies and nowadays the wonderful Ozric Tentacles.

      • Well I was going to mention Strawberry Alarm Clock and their appearance in Russ Meyer’s satire of the time, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.
        We listened to the Floyd. Piper to Meddle, more than any of them because as well as the whimsy and the Doctor Whoness, we could relate to the darkening English pastoral; a couple of steps on the way to Nick Drake territory.
        I saw Country Joe at the Bath Blues festival (thanks to Google for confirming I wasn’t imagining it) and sang along with the Fish Cheer, hell no we didn’t have to go! Hahahaha

        • There was a beautiful Nick Drake documentary on TV, probably a couple of years ago now, which was a superb evocation of how that time felt. It’s like the aroma of something suddenly transporting you back. It connected me with what it felt like to be me back then, something I couldn’t have recalled by my own volition. Nick Drake’s music and words and the film maker’s imagery worked together perfectly to achieve that.

        • Nah Nigel… Quintessence maaahn… Actually I never said Peace N Love one time or wore beads bells or a caftan and never had an Afghan coat… the residual Mod in me Hahahaha

  • I guess one measure of artistic influence is to be noticed and parodied by the writers of The Simpsons. Over the years a considerable number of works of art have appeared in the background of episodes of the show (link here for those interested).
    Here’s an extract from the 1995 episode where Bart convinces the vicar that work is a hymn written by one I. Ron Butterfly. Enjoy

    • Thats the episode. What a great fun skitt that was. Typical of the makers of the Simpsons.
      The track was also used in the Film “Manhunter”, starring William Petersen (CSI fame) which was the original version of Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon”. It is used to such brilliant effect that I wasn’t able to listen to the track for quite a while (three years) after that due to its insidious dark and threatening atmosphere. Extreme contradictions I suppose on every level in its use in that film, Light and dark, heavy and soft, etc.

  • In the context of the old adage that ‘if you can remember the sixties you weren’t there’, I’m beginning to wonder whether I had a better time than I thought I did – because I don’t remember ‘Iron Butterfly’! Does anyone else hear hints of Cream ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ in that riff?

      • The thing is the Iron Butterfly came before the Cream so did they actually influence Mr Clapton et al? Or could we say that the original hard rock riff originated with the Kinks “You Really Got Me” when Dave Davies slashed his amp covering and played the riff as hard as he possibly could to get the distortion and the heavy rhythmic drive? It could go on and on and on and etc etc. One thing at the end of it all is it was great music to get into.

        • “The thing is the Iron Butterfly came before the Cream …”
          I am certainly no expert, Andy, and could be totally wrong – so not looking to start a ‘nerdy’ debate 🙂 – but I think they were contemporaries. I think ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ was on a 1967 album. That said, you’re probably spot on that it was The Kinks who kicked it off!!

          • Hi Stan. I know exactly what you are saying these things can degenerate into that sort of “nerdy” debate can’t they. The IB track was written in mid 67 according to Ingle but only appeared on the second album once he had written the solo organ and got the main structures worked out apparently, which took some time, so he probably did hear Cream. It probably took Ingle that long to get his head straight again after all the booze and drugs while working on it. Probably a lot of cross fertilisation going on as it always does in these things.
            Now the Kinks, ah, that is a track and a half for all rock fans. Thanks for the link Clive certainly will check it out.

    • I enjoyed listening to this again – and Andy’s technical analysis ! Some psychedelic music was rather fey and whimsical and hasn’t always aged well, but even without the aid of stimulants and flared trousers this still sounds like a powerful piece of music. The more electronic /experimental side of psychedelic music is well represented by Joe Birds ‘United States of America’ L.P. from the same era. Interestingly, there’s a Festival of Psychedelia on in Liverpool this weekend with many new young bands embracing the genre. What goes around comes around !

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