Sunday, October 31, 2010

Come along if you can

By Wayne Shelor

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In April 1968, a Detroit-based band called The Amboy Dukes released its second album. It was nothing to speak of chartwise, but the album’s same-titled single -- " Journeyto the Center of the Mind" -- became a song immediately associated with the advent of heavy metal music and psychedelic lyricism.

And it’s a song forever tied to the man responsible for its distinctive guitar histrionics: Ted Nugent, the Motor City Madman.

A heavy yet melodic song -- tune and tearin’-it-up by Ted, lyrics by rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer --  "Journey to the Center of the Mind" always invokes the portent of wide-eyed doom, what with its incessant bass line holding you down while the guitar delivers shot after shot after shot as the echoey lyrics swirl and seduce … so this is acid?

Nugent, his trademark Gibson Byrdland guitar in full-fretted attack mode, created one of the '60’s most memorable storming-the-parapets-of-convention songs. And he introduced to a rising generation of would-be rock stars a three-minute, thirty-second primer of primal playing that included two lead guitar solos.

Take a look at the “video” accompanying this song, made 15 years before the dawn of MTV: it’s not from a live show, but rather compiled from several studio takes, so someone was ahead of the curve, making this look like a performance from a program such as American Bandstand. The band mimes the song – accompanied by the requisite go-go girls - and there’s even “dance choreography” (watch Ted and lead singer John Drake, who must have stolen Tommy James’ performing outfit, turn around to play to the camera).

"Journey to the Center of the Mind" will forever be known – quite legitimately - as a guitar song, but what I find most remarkable is the galloping bottom. If someone told me Amboy bassist Greg Arama’s bass line was really played by another Detroit musician - James Jamerson of Motown’s house band, The Funk Brothers - I would have believed it without question.

I invariably find myself a bit bruised after listening to this song at high volume; why it may be the black-and-bluest song in history of recorded music. And although Nugent had several other charting songs in his here-and-there career, his first psychedelic hit (so to speak) will always be the high point of his legacy.

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