On July 11 of 1968 I was turning 14 years old, and the single 'Journey to the Center of the Mind' was number one on my favorite AM radio station, WKNR ('Keener13') in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Of course 'The Motor City Madman', Ted Nugent, and his Dukes had a decided edge in their own backyard, but the single did rise to number 16 on the national charts also. I clearly remember that summer being deeply impressed by the quality guitar work on several hit songs. At the same time 'Journey...' was claiming the top slot in Detroit, the Stones' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' was resting at number 11, and Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love' had retreated to number 27. But it was Nugent's guitar heroics that dazzled the most. Fortunate for myself, my older brother was working at McDonalds, and had brought home a vinyl copy of this, the Amboy Dukes (annotated as 'The American Amboy Dukes' via a carrot insert on the cover) second album, for my perusal.
Ted Nugent named his band after an R & B outfit that had recently disbanded, saying "I thought it was a cool name". He was unaware that 'The Amboy Dukes' was also the title of a book about a 1950's street gang from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Ted has also claimed to be unaware that the lyrics to 'Journey...' had stong allusions to psychedelic drug use, as does the collection of vintage pipes on the album's cover. I tend to believe Ted when he claims to have never inhaled. I also regard Nugent as being especially astute, and as a young man probably realized that using acid-tinged imagery would further the chances of success for a psychedelic rock band. For most of his associates however, being in a psychedelic rock band must have implied psychedelic drug use, and this resulted in significant conflicts between the anti-drug Nugent and the remaining Dukes.
If you're still reading, you're probably wondering about the album itself. There aren't a whole lot of highlights, save the title track, which features one of the finest electric guitar performances of the psychedelic era, matched by some of the finest psychedelic lyrics ever penned, matched by one of the heaviest bridge segments ever committed to vinyl, tape, or digital stock. Only three other songs really deserve mention, track number 5 (which closed out side one of the original vinyl release), 'Dr. Slingshot', which features overlapping vocal lines from lead singer John Drake and rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer (who, together with Nugent, penned all the songs on the disc), and a great lead guitar riff from Nugent. Unfortunately, Nugent's talent on the six-string are only occasionally put on display, such as on track 12, 'I'll Prove I'm Right', where his fine picking underlies another strong vocal performance from Drake. The band relies much more on the psychedelic imagery of its lyrics rather than Nugent's axe, a highly questionable choice given the quality of the lyrics (on 'Why Is a Carrot More Orange Than an Orange', for instance, we are offered other deep questions such as, "Why are you greener than green?"; go figure). If it's of interest, the tracks on the second side of the disc segue into one another, and while the liner notes claim they collectively tell "a story", the plot is hard to discern. The final track, 'Conclusion', does reintroduce the 'Journey...' melody, and for a few moments brings back Nugent's sterling guitar lines, but it's a case of too little too late. There is a bonus track offered on the Repertoire versions of the disc, the 7" follow up to 'Journey...', a shameless ripoff of its predecessor titled 'You Talk Sunshine, I Breathe Fire'. Despite its obvious origins, it stands as perhaps the fourth best track offered here.
The liner notes are rather sparse, although the reproduction of the original 1968 back album cover is interesting as it gives nods to "Felix and Eddie of the Young Rascals" and "The Mothers of Invention" for their influence over the Dukes. No lyrics and no running times for the songs are offered, though the track listings appear three times. The disc is in short supply, so you won't be finding it in bargain bins. It commands a rather steep price, especially considering that it really contains only one standout song. Too bad it's one of the finest from 1968.