Friday, March 24, 2023

The Guess Who - The Best Of The Guess Who (1971) and The Guess Who 'EP' (1973)

 (Canadian 1962 - 1975)

When these hard-working Winnipeg, Manitoba natives started their recording career in the mid '60's they seemed like potential one-hit wonders, but in less than five years they became household names in their native country. The Guess Who managed to keep up with the rapidly evolving pop culture, from the British invasion to the Woodstock Nation, and made a crucial, late '60's leap from AM popularity to acceptance on the FM dial. When they finally conquered America, they did it in the most surprisingly subversive way, with an anthemic number that not-so-subtly gave the finger to U.S culture yet still managed to reach the top of the American charts.

For U.S. fans, "American Woman," a #1 pop hit in 1970, is where the Guess Who's story really takes off. For their Canadian faithful, however, it began about five years earlier, with the release of "Shakin' All Over," a low-budget, hastily put-together cover of a British hit that makes up in garage-rockin' attitude what it might lack in studio finesse. At that point, singer and keyboardist Burton Cummings hadn't even joined the band. It was fronted by vocalist Chad Allan, who'd enlisted local guitar whiz Bachman, bassist Jim Kale, pianist Bob Ashley and drummer Garry Peterson to back him up. The combo had already gone through a few names - the Silvertones, the Reflections - before settling on Chad Allan and the Expressions.

The Canadian prairie may not seem like the kind of place where you'd stumble across a happening rock and roll scene, but there were actually plenty of places for young bands to play, especially at local community centers where teenagers would gather. It wasn't difficult to keep up with current trends, either; the long reach of the AM airwaves brought sounds from all over North America up to Winnipeg and you could always get the latest sides from England via mail order.

"Shakin' All Over" wasn't the first track Chad Allan and the Expressions ever cut, but it was the one that got their Toronto-based record label, Quality, excited enough to believe they had a hit on their hands.

Except the label guys felt they couldn't release it with that old-school band name on the sleeve. They wanted something that would link the track directly to the burgeoning British Invasion, not to a quintet of guys who'd already been gigging around the provinces for a few years. So Quality did away with the band's original moniker and any other biographical data. They simply attributed the tune to The Guess Who, hoping programmers, listeners and record buyers would think that bonafide British stars had decided to sneak something out incognito. The gambit worked, undoubtedly due to the band's go-for-broke performance rather than any sort of marketing coup. The upside for the Expressions: they had a hit. The downside: the new band name stuck. They had become The Guess Who. They even got a deal in the States with the New York-based Scepter Records, best known as the home of Dionne Warwick and the Shirelles, and the band was dispatched to some of those fabled package tours that traveled the U.S. in the early to mid-'60s.

The Guess Who 1966
The teenage Cummings entered the picture when pianist Ashley tired of all the touring. A flamboyant performer, Cummings already had a good local following with his band The Deverons and an appealing bad-boy reputation. As Bachman told Maclean's, "He had an incredibly strong voice and had once desecrated a piano at the Winnipeg Arena while opening for some British band. We needed his kind of sassy, cheeky attitude." The piano that Cummings allegedly danced on in his Bearles boots belonged to Gerry and the Pacemakers, so you almost could say that Cummings had made a name for himself - his own name - as part of the British Invasion. Although he was originally brought in as a keyboard player, Cummings quickly assumed the role of main vocalist alongside the smoother-sounding Allan. That was an awkward alliance, and it precipitated Allan's departure.

Further national success initially eluded this reconstituted Guess Who, and a trip to London for an English tour that never materialized left them broke, stuck together in a single hotel room. Back on the familiar Winnipeg circuit, however, the Guess Who continued to find support and opportunity.

They also reunited, in a fashion, with Allan. He was hosting a weekly pop music TV show, Let's Go, and the Guess Who were hired as the house band. In the meantime, Cummings and Bachman were evolving into a natural songwriting team. Together they explored a wide range of sounds and moods, from Bearlesque pop to jazz-like melodies to heavier blues rock. The Guess Who got one step closer to their big break when they were hired to compose and cut some jingles for Coke, part of a radio campaign that spotlighted promising Canadian talent, dreamed up by producer Jack Richardson of the McCann-Erickson ad agency.

Richardson had an even cooler promotional scheme. He suggested that Coca Cola underwrite an album that would feature two of the artists from their jingles (and keep their brand name in view of fans), and he decided that the Guess Who should be one of the acts. A wild Pair, which Richardson produced, was a success for everyone involved, and the experience convinced Richardson to keep working with The Guess Who - but not as an ad man. Next time it was going to be just about the music. He enlisted two colleagues from his agency, plus an accountant, and they created a production company/record label, Nimbus 9, as a vehicle for the band.

The first Nimbus 9 side was a single featuring "When Friends Fall Out," a song that many listeners will recall from the American Woman album. Richardson, who'd already bought our the band's quality contract, showed extraordinary commitment to the Guess Who, going so far as to mortgage his Toronto home to finance the recording of an album at Phil Ramone's state-of-the-art studio in New York city during fall '68. That album, the evocatively titled Wheatfield Soul, cost just under $10,000 to make and became the Guess Who's calling card at U.S.-based major labels. RCA signed them to a modest deal, and within months discovered just how soulful these wheatfield boys could be, thanks to the almost instantaneous success of "These Eyes."

It was in early '69 when "These Eyes" hit the American airwaves and pretty soon you could hear it everywhere. The instrumental arrangement was coolly restrained, with a jazzy R&B feel, but Cummings provided plenty of drama in a vocal performance that alternated between rueful and anguished. (Another track from Wheatfield sessions, "A Wednesday In Your Garden," ventures even farther into jazz-rock territory.) The double A-sided single that followed, "Laughing" b/w "Undun," displayed an equal amount of sophisticated pop craft, and amazing versatility to boot. But it wasn't until they cut "American Woman" that the Guess Who clearly came into focus as a band with a provocative point of view and a sound all its own.

"American Woman" was a ballsy, Vietnam War-era anthem. The Guess Who played it with a confident swagger and an offhand, almost punk-ish snottiness. It had started out as a live instrumental

jam that the band reshaped in the studio, and its roots showed the stripped-down guitar hooks were even more powerful than the cynical lyrics. Although it was emblematic of its era, the sound of "American Woman" is too cool to ever feel dated. Its theme of a corrupting U.S. influence in the world is probably even more relevant today. In 1999, the producers of the Austin Powers movies stole some of its mojo, getting Lenny Kravitz to do a cover for 'The Spy Who Shagged Me'.

However, it was more than just one startling single that attracted a wider, hipper audience and gained the band entry onto cuming-edge FM stations. American Woman, their third LP released in two years' time, was essential listening in its entirety, a career-defining work that truly felt like a seamless album rather than a mere collection of songs, which was exactly what the band had set our to accomplish. The production was bracingly to-the-point, the sequencing very smart, and no one could go "Unh!" to punctuate a break quite like Cummings. Two other outstanding cuts from this LP are included on this Best Of: "No Time," a streamlined re-recording of a number from their sophomore album, Canned Wheat, and "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature," two disparate tunes - the first by Bachman, the second by Cummings - fused together for dramatic effect. Back in the day, many a record needle was dropped on the middle of that track so the cool segue could be reheard again and again.

The Guess Who's artistic and commercial triumph had been a long time coming, but it was undercut by a growing tension between the more conservative Bachman and his hard-partying bandmates. They had hung together through years of grueling work; being thrown headfirst into the major label maelstrom proved far tougher to cope with.

And so, in the summer of 1970 Randy Bachman, sick and in need of hospitalisation and a rest from touring, quit the group. A converted Mormon (no alcohol, tea, coffee, dope, immorality) he had always had difficulty in stomaching his band's on-tour lifestyle.

Bachman went on to form Brave Belt with old band member Chad Allan, out of which emerged the enormously-successful Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO). Although the parting was at first amicable, it became less so with the passing of time - and in the early '70s there existed considerable animosity between BTO and The Guess Who.

Two more Canadians, guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw, came in to replace Bachman and, despite the loss of Bachman's compositional ability, The Guess Who continued to dominate the albums and singles markets. Share The Land (1970) and this compilation 'Best Of The Guess Who' (197I) both went gold, while the title track from the former made the U.S. singles lists, along with Raindance and Hang On To Your Life.

Further Personnel changes followed in 1972 when Leskiw and original bass player Kale quit the line-up to be replaced respectively by Don McDougall and Billy Wallace, both from Winnipeg.

Winter stayed around longer but was eventually replaced by Domenic Troiano (ex James Gang).

From 1973 onwards, the fortunes of The Guess Who drifted gradually into decline as Bachman's BTO took over their former position as Canada's hottest commercial rock group.

In late 1975, Billy Wallace left the band and, as the year ended, The Guess Who ended industry speculation by announcing their final dissolution. After a 75-concert North Americarn tour, they had played their last date in Montreal on Sept 7. At the height of their popularity, in 1970, Guess Who record sales had grossed an estimated five million dollars.

Burton Cummings was immediately successful with his first eponymous, solo album in 1976 - produced by Richard Perry. From this, "Stand Tall" was a sizeable America hit and also hit the top 10 in the Australian Charts  [extracts from 'Liner Notes: The Guess Who Anthology' and 'The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock', 1977 p99-100]

This post consists of FLACs ripped from my pristine vinyl (LP & EP) and includes full artwork for both vinyl and CD.  My first introduction to The Guess Who was an impulse purchase of a budget release of their 'Born In Canada' LP (1970), which featured their early hit 'Shakin' All Over'. I think it was the strange cover that drew me to the LP while browsing the record shelves at K-Mart. 
Sadly this naïve young teenager did not realise the value of this gem at the time, and stupidly sold it several years later for a pittance. 

Anyhow, I finally came to my senses and started to collect their albums, 'The Best Of' being my favourite. I also acquired their 1973 Selftitled EP which I am also sharing here. This EP is of particular interest as it contains the full version of "American Woman" (unlike the short version on the Best Of ) and a live version of "Albert Flasher" (which I think was recorded at the Paramount).   Finally, I have included 4 bonus tracks for this Best Of release, unable to be included on vinyl due to time restrictions, but essential for this CD collection.
In fact, you might also consider swapping the edited version of "American Woman" with the EP version, to really make it The BEST !

Track List
01  These Eyes   3:43
02  Laughing 2:44
03  Undun 3:25
04  No Time 3:45
05  American Woman (Edit)   3:50
06  No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature  4:50
07  Hand Me Down World 3:26
08  Bus Rider 2:56
09  Share The Land 3:53
10  Do You Miss Me Darlin'? 3:55
11  Hang On To Your Life 4:08
Bonus Tracks
12  Albert Flasher   2:25  
13  Broken   3:08
14  Raindance   2:45
15  Shakin' All Over  2:41

The Guess Who (EP)
01  American Woman (LP Version)  5:03
02  Albert Flasher (Live)  2:31
03  Heartbroken Bopper   4:53
04  Raindance   2:45 


  1. Though they did have their hey-day in America, I've always felt they were scoffed at by the so-called rock and roll morons who dismissed them. Burton Cummings is one of the best vocalist in R&R. Listen to the song "Friends Of Mine" to find out where he got his inspiration. The list of GREAT songs these guys released is immeasurable. A truly great and underrated band.