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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Amboy Dukes: The Amboy Dukes


1) Baby Please Don't Go; 2) I Feel Free; 3) Young Love; 4) Psalms Of Aftermath; 5) Colors; 6) Let's Go Get Stoned; 7) Down On Phillips Escalator; 8) The Lovely Lady; 9) Night Time; 10) It's Not True; 11) Gimme Love.

It would seem simple and logical to suggest that when Detroit-based Amboy Dukes released their self-titled album, completely and sincerely dedicated to issues of Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll, lead guitarist Ted Nugent would take care of the Sex, rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer would take care of Drugs, and both would share equal responsibilities on the Rock'n'Roll thing. But, of cou­rse, matters are never quite that simple: Ted is regularly co-credited on most of the band's drug songs — a paradox that he has since preferred to resolve by simply claiming that he had no idea they were about drugs (some would reply that this either makes him a liar, or a coward, or a mo­ron, but we will just settle on Ted the Naughty Mystifier).

Plus, even if these days, The Amboy Dukes are mostly remembered as the odd druggie band the Nuge used to play in before testosterone and Artemis got the better of him, the connection is weak — The Am­boy Dukes were really a band, and their importance goes way beyond (okay, somewhat beyond) having merely served as a launching pad for the solo career of America's most famous hunter since Hawkeye.

In general, the Detroit scene is known as the birthplace of «proto-punk», famous for bands such as the MC5, the Stooges, and Alice Cooper, who preferred to shock the establishment with loud­ness, vulgarity, and evil rather than flower power and mushroom essence. The Amboy Dukes had plenty of loudness and vulgarity within their systems, but they had a much more tolerant attitude towards psychedelia as well, so one could think of them as sort of a cross between Alice Cooper and, say, Arthur Lee's Love — although their most serious source of inspiration was British ra­ther than American psychedelia: it is no coincidence that one of the cover versions they did was Cream's 'I Feel Free', performed in a highly competent manner, but so slavishly adhering to the original that there is no reason at all for it to linger today. (The other British cover that they do is, as a fairly odd choice, Pete Townshend's 'It's Not True', which they do not slavishly adhere to since they drop the tune's signature riff — but that doesn't make it treasurable, either).

The band's psychedelic inclinations are fairly naïve and dated on such tracks as 'Psalms Of After­math' (everything about which is clichéd, starting from the title and pretentious lyrics and ending with the obligatory sitar and choral vocals) and 'Down On Phillips Escalator' (don't miss the ana­gram!). But as soon as they go into hard rock mode, the situation gets better — they come up with some nicely brutal riffs ('Colors'), and Nugent consistently shows that he's done his Hendrix homework fairly well.

The single, which did not chart, but ranked high enough with critical taste to make it onto Nug­gets, was Big Joe Williams' 'Baby Please Don't Go', whose fast-rocking arrangement was bor­rowed by the band from Them, but, quite probably, later served as the more direct source of in­spiration for Budgie, AC/DC, and God knows who else. Anyway, no other song by the band so perfectly merges their psychedelic and their sexual side together ­— the lead vocalist, John Drake, may be no great shakes, but Bill White's unnerving bass groove is impossible to resist in its enti­cing primitivism, and Mr. Ted unleashes a juicy psychedelic extravaganza in the middle (even throwing in a direct quotation from Hendrix's 'Third Stone From The Sun' and getting away with it) that rocks your mind as much as it blows it, even if every single lick out there must have been copied from somebody else's record. Even so, he's a master splicer.

In short, I would easily give this record a hearty thumbs up, if not for the fact that Nugent and Farmer's songwriting is so sour. Apart from two or three cool hard rock riffs, there is very little on here that is memorable. This is no big fault for the band — they were clearly trying to find their own voice, throwing in everything that could be thrown in (I have not mentioned the Rolling Stones yet, but John Drake must surely have been a major admirer of Mick Jagger, essentially dedicating 'Night Time' and the cover of 'Let's Go Get Stoned' to his name), but it does little, if anything, to convince the listener that any other track on here besides the epochal reworking of 'Baby Please Don't Go' deserves salvation.

That said, it would not exactly be right to give it a thumbs down, either, because the bizarre mix of cock rock with dope rock that The Amboy Dukes had worked out from the very start is weirdly special in its own way — almost each individual song may be weak per se, but the idea itself has never been realized so completely by anyone I know (even the Rolling Stones preferred to separate these two sides: as psychedelic as Satanic Majesties is, the Stones had seriously slowed down their regular sex drive rate on it). And, as you can see from the massive amount of covers, this was, after all, just the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. Screw drug-propaganda, what I really demand to know is, what the hell is up with the sacriligeous mocking of My Country, 'Tis of Thee in "Colors"?
    Where's McCarthyism when you need it?