45 Years Ago: Iron Butterfly Release ‘Ball’
Who was having a ball in February 1969? Why, the members of Iron Butterfly, that’s who, as they collectively unveiled their hotly anticipated third album, which they chose to christen simply as ‘Ball.’
Over the previous six months, the San Diego-birthed psychedelic warriors had seen their sophomore album’s 17-minute title track, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,’ become one of history’s most unlikely Top 40 hits (albeit in a truncated single edit) and catapult them to radio airwaves ubiquity, if not quite household name status.
Not bad for an epic song captured in just one take during soundcheck warm-ups — nor for a band that had only recently hemorrhaged three of the five musicians featured on its January 1968 debut, ‘Heavy,’ thus forcing vocalist/organist Doug Ingle and drummer Ron Bushy to rush-recruit guitarist Erik Brann and bassist Lee Dorman to fill the void.
Luckily, none of these trials seemed to hamper the resulting album, which went on to become the Age of Aquarius generation’s unofficial soundtrack for turning on, tuning in, and dropping out throughout the second half of ’68 — then posed just one major problem for the men of Iron Butterfly: how to deliver a worthy follow-up?
But ‘Ball’ duly blazed the same accelerated trail into the Billboard Charts’ Top 5 as its predecessor (cresting at No. 3) and earned a Gold sales certification by March — even though a dominant radio single on par with ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ was not forthcoming. Both the upbeat ‘Soul Experience’ (No. 75) and the funereal ‘In the Time of Our Lives’ (No. 96) fell well short of the Top 40.
Unfortunately, so many decades have amplified what separates a mega hit from a couple of modest ones and unfairly labeled ‘Ball’ as a major disappointment. Anyone familiar with Iron Butterfly’s discography will know its songs were no less excitingly adventurous (see the urgent ‘In the Crowds,’ the Gothic ‘Filled with Fear’) nor maddeningly inconsistent (behold ‘Lonely Boy,’ ‘Real Fright’ and other sappy experiments) as the more illustrious ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.’
Such is human nature though, and once Iron Butterfly’s ensuing career missteps (the no-show at Woodstock, the recurring personnel turnover) conspired to compound this perception into harsh black and white instead of realistic shades of technicolor, ‘Ball’s’ under-appreciated fate was sealed — though not for those willing to listen and give it the credit it’s due.