Sunday, November 24, 2013

American Woman - The Guess Who



American Woman
The Guess Who
RCA LSP-4266
1970

As a teenager I was a fan of these guys, I even liked "Clap For The Wolfman," a song that now makes me wince.  This was my favorite of their studio albums although I rarely listen to it (or any of their other records) anymore.  I can't remember why I liked them so much back then but I've always been a sucker for a good riff which was guitarist Randy Bachman's forte.  He left after this album eventually forming the riff-happy Bachman-Turner Overdrive another band I really liked back then.  The album kicks off with the title track which was a massive hit.  I loved the song as a kid, such a compelling riff, but the grown-up me has problems with its misogyny and anti-American lyrics.  As I've mentioned in past posts, I'm a huge Canadaphile.  I love it up there in the Great White North, but I still resent it when a bunch of jackasses from Winnipeg come down here and start ragging on the people buying their records and making them rich.  Furthermore blaming women for the American military industrial complex and institutionalized poverty makes as much sense as blaming Haiti for global warming.  This is an obnoxious song that makes the band sound like a bunch of sexist yokels.  Unfortunately it is also insanely catchy and powerful which has kept it on classic rock radio for more than 40 years.  The entire band gets songwriting credit for "American Woman," but the next song "No Time" is written by Bachman and lead vocalist Burton Cummings who paired up to write all the rest of the songs on the album except "Humpty's Blues" which is another group composition.  "No Time" is less offensive than "American Woman" but just as obnoxious.  It is a callous kiss off to a lover of the so-long-babe-I-gotta-ramble variety only crueler.  Despite its vicious tone the song is melodic and musically pleasant with another catchy riff that helped make it the second hit single off the album.  "Talisman" is a respite from riffs and misogyny.  It is a slow moody song played on an acoustic guitar with a piano emerging at the end playing some lovely lines.  Its trippy lyrics represent the point of view of Native Americans.  Bachman's "No Sugar Tonight" is blended with Cummings' "New Mother Nature" to close out the first side.  This is my favorite part of the album.  I've always liked the little acoustic guitar run that opens the song and reappears in the segue between the two songs.  The rest of the tune is driven by hard rock riffing.  The sugar in Bachman's song refers to sex and Cummings' tune is more about dope than ecology.  Side two kicks off with Bachman's "969 (The Oldest Man)" which is an instrumental.  It starts out rocking with plenty of bluesy guitar runs and then slows down for a flute solo from Cummings.  It is kind of weird but I like it and at least there are no dumb lyrics to annoy me.  "When Friends Fall Out" has the same odd heavy/light dichotomy.  Most of the song is driven by a slow heavy riff played on a fuzz guitar but the center and end of the song revert to a very poppy and melodic passage reminiscent of the Association.  "8:15" is a fast tempo song with a hard driving guitar line and a percussion-based instrumental break in the center and at the end.  The song's alluring mixture of rock power and pop accessibility provide me with a clue of why I liked these guys so much back in the 1970s.  "Proper Stranger" features a return to heaviness with a sluggish fuzzy riff and a get-down growling vocal from Cummings as he intones feelings of alienation and confusion living in the big city.  Time to get back to Winnipeg, kid.  The album ends with the heaviest tune of all "Humpty's Blues" which is a straight blues dominated by Cummings' screechy vocal and harmonica playing supported by a lethargic guitar solo.  At the end of the song there is a brief reprise of the acoustic part of "American Woman" from the beginning of the song which has a nice bookend effect for the album.   I'm starting to remember why I used to like this record and this group, they definitely knew how to rock a riff and had enough pop smarts to stand out among the bland hard rock of the early 1970s.  If the lyrics on this record were smarter (or nicer) I'd probably still be playing it.  Recommended to Steppenwolf fans who have issues with their girlfriends.

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