The era of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a particularly bleak one in terms of the music industry, but that hasn’t stopped Canadian rock legends The Guess Who from celebrating the anniversary of one of their biggest accomplishments.
Fifty years ago this Saturday, on May 9, 1970, not only did their song American Woman hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, it became the first-ever Canadian rock track to do so — marking a musical milestone in the history of our nation.
The much-beloved rock anthem was written and recorded by The Guess Who in 1969 and served as the lead single for their then-upcoming sixth studio album of the same name. It ultimately helped launch what became the Winnipeg-formed rock band’s international stardom.
Whether you know the original or not, American Woman has been echoed platform-to-platform over the last five decades. From radio, vinyl and CDs to video games (Guitar Hero) and movie soundtracks (Austin Powers), it’s simply unavoidable.
The guitar-driven classic has been played anywhere and everywhere over the years and can be easily recognized by the most passive of rock listeners.
It’s also been covered by the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Butthole Surfers and Kelly Clarkson, among many, many other popular artists.
Accompanied by Ongoing History of New Music host Alan Cross (102.1 The Edge, Q107), Global News spoke with former Guess Who co-founder Randy Bachman about the longevity of American Woman, its anniversary and overall legacy.
As recounted by the 76-year-old guitarist on May 6 (via Zoom), the song’s unique creation involved two green cards, a visit to the U.S.-Canada border gone wrong and a broken guitar string.
He said: “I started playing that riff on stage and suddenly I realized I’m playing a riff that I don’t want to forget, and I have to keep playing it.”
Once they found out they had topped the charts, Bachman — who was also the driving force behind Bachman-Turner Overdrive — said that the four-piece band celebrated like “girls at a pyjama party” by jumping on a bed in joy and accidentally breaking it.
Bachman later revealed that Burton Cummings, his former bandmate and then-lead singer, initially improvised the lyrics during a gig at a curling club somewhere in Ontario.
— Watch the interview in the video, top.