THE AMBOY DUKES — Journey to the Center of the Mind (review)

THE AMBOY DUKES — Journey to the Center of the Mind album cover Album · 1968 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
"Journey to the Center of the Mind" was the second album by Detroit garage band The Amboy Dukes. The song writing team of Ted Nugent and Steve Farmer continued to gel, and vocalist John Drake provided his powerful, white soul vocals for the second and last time on a Dukes album. Andy Solomon makes his debut here and would go on to become an important song-writer and even vocalist in the band later on.

The album can be divided into two parts: the heavier and more aggressive guitar-based music of Ted Nugent and the lighter psychedelic pop of Steve Farmer. There's also a single blues number, "Mississippi Murderer", which sounds more like the debut album.

For a proto-metal album, tracks 2 to 6 are solid examples of heavy guitar-based rock with "Surrender to Your Kings" and "Flight of the Byrd" especially delivering urgent and heavy guitar work with good fuzz tone. Vocalist Drake suits the style perfectly, nearly shouting at times and getting in a good scream or two. "Scottish Tea" reminds me of an early ancestor of a Steve Morse instrumental or two, and "Dr. Slingshot", though more cool and groovy, still packs a punch with some solid hitting music.

Side two opens with the title track with music by Nugent and lyrics by Farmer. The only Amboy Dukes single to climb way up the charts, the harmonized vocals are very poppy, but the music has that Nugent stamp of speed and urgency, plus it drops into a cool fuzz tone riff partway through. Up to here, any fan of proto-metal is likely to be well pleased with the sounds of The Amboy Dukes. But now the Journey begins and its more like the good ship LSD Lollipop.

Three-part harmony vocals and strong psychedelic themes (the journey is an acid trip) dominate the rest of side two. If you like The Strawberry Alarm Clock, then this might be a good listen. In one way, it's nice that this part of the album is kept separate from the heavier harder half rather than having the album jump between cotton cloud fluff and heavy driving rock. I wouldn't say it's bad music. It's just that this is meant to be a psychedelic journey and it can't compete with side one or the title track for early metal thrills.

The Amboy Dukes would go on to explore different sounds and styles as Nugent kept the band moving while members came and went. Later the Dukes would become more progressive and experimental and then finally evolve into a hard rock act before Nugent went solo. Side one of this album definitely show early on that Ted Nugent was a force to be reckoned with on the guitar. Five stars for tracks 2 to 6, four stars for track 1, and two or three stars for the remainder.
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