Even though I probably wasn’t aware of the routine yet, Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s On First?” reminds me of buying The Guess Who’s American Woman. I called my best friend on the phone after getting the album and the conversation went something like:
“The Guess Who.”
“Not The Who, Guess Who!”
“You know, dammit. The Guess Who, American Woman.”
“Oh……… Is it any good?”
Yeah. It was good then and remains so today.
I have little doubt the title cut, which hit number one on the charts 40 years ago this week, led me to buy the album. Like the Abbott and Costello routine, I’m guessing the band’s earlier top 10 hits, “These Eyes” and “Laughing,” didn’t really register with me. But American Woman, the album, marked a shift for the band. The prior hits were largely on the soft side of rock. American Woman opened with the title cut, which itself opened with an acoustic blues intro. But about 75 seconds in Randy Bachman’s electric guitar made clear this was going to be a harder and edgier sound. And the trait carried through virtually all of the album.
Although acoustic guitars remained strongly in the mix, Bachman’s fuzz switch and a harder tone to Burton Cummings’ vocals made clear this was electric rock and roll. Only the third song on the album, “Talisman,” was strictly acoustic. Both “No Time” and “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” which remain popular on “classics” radio today, had the same mix the title single announced. If anything, the fuzz box and harder rock sound was more prevalent on side two, particularly on “When Friends Fall Out.” Moreover, the band was reflecting their influences. The blues dominated “Humpty’s Blues” structure and Cummings’ vocals while it still is perhaps the most fuzzed out guitar performance. “8:15” combined call and response lyrics with a chorus driven by what can best be described as surf band guitar. The instrumental “969 (The Oldest Man),” which opened side two, had a jazz flavor to it.
The album also represented the influences that impacted bands of the era. The title cut was in the tradition of political rock, being a commentary on the state of affairs in America from the viewpoint of neighbors to the north. “New Mother Nature” reflected elements of the drug culture. Yet not all of the trends stand the test of time, as evidenced by “Talisman.’ More so than the other songs, it reflected the inclination toward obscure yet “meaningful” lyrics. As a result, although nicely performed, “Talisman” contains lines such as “Ships in bottles cannot sail and neither can a tombstone kill a feather.” No one at the time probably knew what that meant but, hey man, it must be deep.
While much of this is apparent to me now, it probably was lost on a 13-year-old kid at the time. But that still says a lot for the album which, being 40 years old, could be expected to have an anachronism or two. The fact enjoyed it then and can do so today helps explain why I view American Woman as the single best LP issued by The Guess Who.
You’re trippin’ back now to places you’ve been to
You wonder what you’re gonna find
The Guess Who, “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” American Woman