Exposé Online banner

The Guess Who — American Woman
(Buddha 74465 99734 2, 1970/2000, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2018-08-16

American Woman Cover art

With the recent unexpected arrival of a new — yes, new — album from this long-running Canadian band, I was prompted to revisit what I feel is their high point. The Guess Who put out a number of fine albums, with everything from 1969 to 1971 being quite solid — and that two-year span includes five studio albums. But without a doubt, American Woman is the best of the bunch, a true classic of the psychedelic era that to my ears has aged quite well. It was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money, and it has the distinction of being the only album I ever had dissected in class by a teacher. In 7th grade, my English teacher taught us about symbolism and metaphor in poetry by analysing the lyrics to several of the songs on American Woman. (I seem to recall we also covered a few Paul Simon compositions, but that’s neither here nor there.) There was a time when it might have been unnecessary to describe this music because it had permeated culture so thoroughly that a good half of the album seems to have been familiar to nearly everyone. But that was a long time ago, and today it’s likely more people know the Lenny Kravitz cover of the title track than are conversant with the original, let alone the other tracks. It starts out humbly enough, with a stock blues lick on acoustic guitar and some nonchalant mumbly singing. But then that riff kicks in, with some excellent lead guitar from Randy Bachman using wah-wah very skillfully. Even to pre-teen me, the lyrics were clearly using the titular character as a metaphor for American imperialism, especially with regards to the Vietnam war, but that didn’t stop people from construing them all sorts of different ways. “No Time” is a beautiful rock tune, constructed of a great chord progression, impeccable vocal harmonies, and a fairly straightforward lyric about the end of a relationship. And that amazing tone on the lead guitar. It’s a great variation of the sound the Byrds introduced with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The next track is the enigmatic “Talisman,” full of evocative phrases and unclear symbolism. The intricate acoustic guitar parts feature unusual chords, and the vocal melody seems to avoid any notes that you would expect. Side 1 finished with “No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature,” which combines two seemingly different songs in a very clever way, laying two completely different melodies over the same chords. Side 2 begins with a simple boogie instrumental called “969 (The Oldest Man),” with some tasty dual guitar work over a shuffle beat. Halfway through, it drops down to a jazzy walking bass line under a flute solo. These jazzy inflections show up on “When Friends Fall Out” as well, in a chorus seemingly at odds with the style of the verses. “8:15” brings in some nice percussion for a funky blues vamp, and “Proper Stranger” is another solid tune. And it features the great lyric “Broke my mind, had no spare.” They finish off with “Humpty’s Blues,” a slow blues with harmonica, which leads most satisfyingly into a reprise of “American Woman” to bring it full circle. Taken as a whole, the album hits an appealing balance between familiar blues and folk rock sounds with more unusual elements, sophisticated harmonies and unexpected chords that hint at what would come to be called progressive rock. The mixture of acoustic and electric guitars is perfect, and Bachman’s lead work is stellar — maybe not flashy, but his tone is to die for. This release from March 1970 serves as one of the capstones of rock in the 60s, taking the best lessons and applying them artfully.


Filed under: Reissues, 2000 releases, 1970 recordings

Related artist(s): The Guess Who

Latest news

2019-08-20
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Iona - The Book of Kells – Imagine the best elements of Enya/Clannad blended with the folk-rock presence of Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny, make it a bit more progressive and powerful, and top it off with a Christian...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues