As we get closer to turning the page to 1969, another historic year for music in America and around the world, I find myself again surprised to learn what was the #1 selling album for 1969. While we have moved past (for now) film or musical soundtracks, I was still expecting this might be the year one of the legendary acts who released albums in ’69 might claim this prize. In a more sudden burst of fame and success, Iron Butterfly claims the title with their landmark release, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.
We will get to the title track soon enough, but let’s discuss the rest of the album first. As I listened to it, I hear an eclectic mix that sounds like 1/3rd Steppenwolf, 1/3rd Deep Purple, and on a relatively upbeat happy tune like “Flowers and Beads”, which is my favorite song besides the obvious headliner, 1/3rd the Lovin’ Spoonful. Through this album, you hear a deeper, darker and heavier tone that lays another key brick in the foundation that would ultimately evolve into what we now call heavy metal. The first five songs are somewhat nondescript in their style and sound, but they do provide a unique blend, containing overtly heavy riffs smashed in with melody and harmony.
The album only has six songs, and gets more intense as it builds, with the iconic conclusion being the full 17-minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, the early metal and jam band classic. Shortened to less than 3 minutes when released as a single, the album version, which makes a play on the biblical origin of Adam with Eve in The Garden of Eden, this song brings all you would expect in a track of this length. Layers of psychedelia, experimental guitar, drum solos and an overarching guitar riff, complete with Doug Ingle’s ominous and haunting deep voice. I had never previously listened to the full version of this song, at least that I can recall, and while I may not again, its influence on the rock music evolution is quite apparent, and was clearly a huge commercial success at its peak.
No matter what Paul McCartney thought he had recaptured with “Helter Skelter”, bands continued to play louder, heavier, and longer than ever before. Iron Butterfly’s success was brief and since then, it has been a continuous rotation of people in and out of the band. However, for 1969, in terms of album sales alone, they ruled the day.