“American Woman” by The Guess Who

It doesn’t take rocket science to conclude that “American Woman” is an anti-American song, no matter how, at times, The Guess Who may try to argue otherwise. But before women from the United States get upset about being told to “stay away from” the vocalist, the band offered some clarification in that regard.

The Guess Who is a musical act from Winnipeg. And though Winnipeg is a notable city itself, it is nothing, based on Jim Kale’s own explanation, as compared to the hustle and bustle of places like “Chicago, Detroit [and] New York”. Those latter localities were American cities the band were visiting at the time, as the group’s name took off. So more simply put, The Guess Who are akin to small-town musicians who ended up making it big. As such, there was logically some culture shock involved.

So after a while, Jim and the gang got homesick. Once again going back to his own explanation, things reached a point where when The Guess Who did return home on occasion, they were very happy to ‘see the girls they had grown up with’. Or phrased differently, let’s say that Kale and his band mates came to personally realize, through experience, that they weren’t really the big-city types.

Who is the American Woman?

On top of that, this song’s issuance harps back to an era when criticizing America was basically en vogue. As the lyrics progress, it becomes obvious that the “American Woman” being referred to transitions more akin to a personification of the United States. 

This is made evident as early as the second verse for example, where she is depicted as someone who possesses the ability to mesmerize onlookers. This would speak to the earthly fact of America being the most-coveted nation in the world – for lack of a more concise explanation. Also, later on we have shout-outs to her “war machines” and “ghetto scenes”, with the former clearly being an allusion to warmongering and the latter, poverty.

So with this piece having (as explained above) sort of a romantic genesis, so too is arguably its general motif. In other words, it’s hard to imagine any American lady who was personally associated with The Guess Who at the time and probably had that type of relationship with them walking away flattered and hopeful after listening to this.

But let it be known that outside of the intro, none of the lyrics actually center on what beef the vocalist has with American women. Instead, more direct wording is dedicated to his apparent gripe with America itself. Even when he does state in the intro that she has a tendency to “mess your mind”, that statement is probably more macrocosmic than individualistic. In other words, this piece, in its entirety, doesn’t read like the vocalist has issues with a particular group of women, though all things considered he obviously isn’t too fond of said group either.

All in all

The narrators’ beef with American women isn’t personal per se. It is more along the lines of possessing a general disliking of America.

Lyrics to "American Woman"

Release Date of “American Woman”

This is the title track and lead-off song from The Guess Who’s sixth album. It was officially released as one its album’s singles in March of 1970. 

The Guess Who

The Guess Who, not to be confused with the British band The Who, is a rock group from Canada. The band’s existence interestingly dates back to the same era, i.e. the mid-1960s, as The Who. 

However, they are not nearly as well known, having experienced only limited success in the UK especially. But The Guess Who have topped the Billboard Hot 100 twice, with one of those cases being “American Woman”.

With the above being said, it should be noted that, even if only briefly, The Guess Who were poppin’ enough stateside that they even performed at the White House. For instance “American Woman” was a double A-side. The other side of the single, “No Sugar Tonight”, happens to be their only other song to top the US Hot 100. 

Said performance was held during the summer of 1970, with President Nixon’s own daughter, Tricia Nixon (Cox), being a personal fan of the band. However, Cummings is under the impression that they were invited for political purposes). However, things did not go as far as Garry and the boys actually playing “American Woman”. The prevailing myth is that the powers that be instructed them not to. But Cummings clarified that it was actually the group’s own people who started that rumor. They did so as a “publicity stunt”. However, it ultimately “backfired”.

The US was involved in the very-unpopular Vietnam War abroad. Furthermore, times on the domestic front were also so “tumultuous”, as Burt Cummings put it, that terrible incidents were transpiring such as the Kent State shootings.

Credits

The Guess Who is still around to this day, being led by drummer Garry Peterson, who has been down throughout the band’s nearly 60 years existence. At the time of this track’s dropping, he was joined by the following:

  • his most-consistent band mate (from the classic era of The Guess Who), front man Burt Cummings
  • guitarist Randy Bachman (who left the group shortly after this song was dropped)
  • bassist Jim Kale

It is that quartet who is credited with writing this song, with its producer being Jack Richardson (1929-2011).

Song’s Origin

This song has an interesting origin, having originated from a riff that suddenly came to Randy Bachman on stage. Not wanting to forget the tune he continued playing it, with the rest of the band getting in on the act also. Then, as the rest of the story goes, it just so happened that someone in the audience was recording a bootleg (i.e. illegal copy) of said performance. And from that recording, The Guess Who were able to then put together the lyrics of “American Woman”.

Success of “American Woman”

This song was a big hit in the United States of all places. Here, it topped the following charts:

  • Hot 100
  • Cash Box Top Singles

In doing so, it holds the distinction of being the first track rendered by a Canadian group to top the US Hot 100.

Then in the year 2000, Lenny Kravitz actually won a Grammy for his take on “American Woman”. He won in the category of Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

In addition, the original also topped the Canadian Singles Chart and broke the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart.

American Woman

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