How the Amboy Dukes Bridged Psychedelia and Hard Rock on ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind’
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In April 1968, the Amboy Dukes released of one of the era’s most definitive singles, “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” which perfectly captured that bridge between psychedelia and the emerging hard-rock sound.
Though primarily known as a footnote to the career of Ted Nugent, the Amboy Dukes were a classic example of teenage America embracing the British Invasion and trying to make their own statement. Inspired by the likes of the Animals and the Rolling Stones, the Amboy Dukes formed in 1964.
A self-titled debut arrived in late 1967 to little, if any, fanfare outside of their home base of Detroit. Despite a highly energized take on the blues classic “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” and a couple well placed covers of Cream and the Who, the LP fizzled out. With album No. 2, Journey to the Center of the Mind, the Amboy Dukes had an ace up their sleeves. Written by guitarists Ted Nugent and Steve Farmer, the title track was pure dynamite.
Though drug connotations are obvious, the notoriously anti-drug Nugent claimed to be unaware of such things. “I’ve been criticized so many times because, ‘oh yeah, sure Ted, you didn’t know that was about drugs,'” he said on VH1’s Behind the Music. “I thought, ‘good idea, journey to the center of your mind … good idea.’ A person should always reflect.” Whether Nugent believed it, it certainly fit the ongoing hallucinatory mood of the times.
That one track, however, is only part of the album’s story. Journey to the Center of the Mind kicks off with a one-two punch of “Mississippi Murderer” and “Surrender to Your Kings” — both raw, blues soaked rockers, full of gritty desperation. Amboy Dukes singer Steve Farmer does his best down-and-out bluesman impression to good effect. We are also made well aware that Ted Nugent was a force to be reckoned with on guitar. His lead on “Flight of the Byrd” which is down and dirty, while his playing on “Scottish Tea” is highly melodic and inventive.
Despite the raunch of much of the material, there is also a more pop sensibility to Journey to the Center of the Mind that plays through nicely. When that approach works, such as on “Missionary Mary,” it’s truly clicks. The approach is more tentative on “Why Is a Carrot More Orange Than an Orange,” which delves deeper into waters more familiar to the Strawberry Alarm Clock or even the Lemon Pipers. It’s pseudo-intellectual gibberish lyrics and an almost bubblegum musical approach seem a step too far for the Amboy Dukes. The second half of side two plays out like a suite, with the songs – all written by Farmer – connecting to each other.
Yet, even in the album’s more pop-oriented moments, Ted Nugent can be found trying to push things in a harder edged direction. While the single of “Journey to the Center of the Mind” charted in at No. 16, the LP only hit No. 74. Nugent wanted a full-on heavy band and, within a couple more years, he would be the sole original member left in the Amboy Dukes.
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