“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”

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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