“American Woman” by The Guess Who

"American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be
Don't come knocking around my door
I don't want to see your shadow no more
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, get away
American woman, listen what I say"

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Description: "American Woman" by the Canadian rock band The Guess Who started out at as jam in Kitchner, Ontario, in July, 1969, with Burton Cummings improvising the lyrics with Randy Bachman backing on guitar. The band was rushing to begin their second set and began improvising to warm up the crowd.

"It started as a jam," said co-writer Kale. "We were playing in Ontario after being on the road in the States, trying to solidify our hold in the American marketplace with 'These Eyes.' We were playing a two-set situation, and for one reason or another we were late getting back onstage for the second set. In order to dispel the ominous air that was hanging over the place — as we raced on the stage, one by one we picked up on just this simple rhythm. Cummings came up, ad-libbed some lyrics, and it worked. We recorded it just like that. It was an accident — completely spontaneous.

"'American Woman' was also controversial. The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York — all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn't have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called in anti-American, but it wasn't really. We weren't anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them."

Commentary: In the turbulent times of the Sixties and early Seventies, relations between Canada and the United States were somewhat strained. Canada's acceptance of draft-dodgers (Canada had no military draft) seeking to avoid the Vietnam War and their general distaste for the War itself, and their refusal to cooperate with the nuclear expansion program of the Nixon Administration all contributed to feelings of discontent between two countries with a long-standing tradition of cooperation (and, some would way, benign indifference on the part of the US.) US pressure on Canada, in situations such as draft-dodging, was seen as unacceptable interference in Canadian affairs.

All this comes out in Burton's lyrics: the seductive ability of the more powerful United States over its ally and neighbor, the resistance by the Canadians, the desire, the need on the part of the Canadians to be heard. And they were heard. "American Woman" hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and was part of a rare "double-gold" with "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" (both sides of the single hitting #1.) At the time, it competed with "ABC" by The Jackson 5 and "Let It Be" by the Beatles, two very popular songs in their own right, making "American Woman"'s accomplishment all that much more impressive.

Trivia:

  • The song comes with a 1:15 minute instrumental by Randy Bachman that is rarely played on the radio.
  • When The Guess Who played the White House during the Nixon presidency, they were asked not to play this song by Pat Nixon.
  • "American Woman" is featured in both the "Guitar Hero World Tour" and "Rock Band 2" video games.

References:

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