Monday, April 14, 2014

The Case for : The Guess Who of the 1970's

From 1965 to 1970, from "Shakin' All Over" (#22, 1965) to "American Woman" (#1, 1970) , The Guess Who were Canada's top singles band, thanks to founding guitarist Randy Bachman and lead vocalist Burton Cummings. 1969 was an especially big year for the band with "These Eyes" ( US #6), "Laughing ( US #10) and "Undun"( US #22). Then, at the height of the band's success,  Bachman, a recently converted Mormon, bailed on the Guess Who.

  The Guess Who had two more big hits ,"Share the Land" (#10, 1970) and "Hand Me Down World" (#17, 1970). Then in 1971 they released The Best of the Guess Who ( containing a far out black light poster of the group!) and that's probably where most people stopped listening. It's definitely where most of the critics stopped paying attention.

     Huge mistake.

     Next to The Beach Boys output of the same period, no band deserves to have its albums re-appraised more than the Burton Cummings led Guess Who of the early 70's.

    Consider "Albert Flasher", the single from So Long, Bannatyne , an album full of infectious tunes that made one Rolling Stone critic cite The Beatles Rubber Soul in a search of comparisons.

Next came one of the greatest live albums of all time, Live at the Paramount. This is the one that had  Lester Bangs declare "The Guess Who is God!"

 In his review, Bangs continues :

I saw the Guess Who do this version of “American Woman” live a year ago, and I have never been more offended by a concert. Just as he does on the record, Burton Cummings indulged himself in a long, extremely cranky rumination on Yankee Yin, in a sort of fallen-out Beat poetic style:

 American bitch 
American cunt 
 American slut
 American lesbian 
American schoolgirl 
 American housewife
 American beaver etc., etc., etc.


 Wouldn’t you be offended by this Canuck creep coming down here taking all our money while running down our women? Sure you would! Until you realized, as I did, eventually, that that kind of stuff is exactly what makes the Guess Who great. They have absolutely no taste at all, they don’t even mind embarrassing everybody in the audience, they’re real punks without even working too hard at it.

At this point The Guess Who begin going through "revolving door syndrome" with Cummings the only constant. But he's on a roll.

    For the follow-up , #10, he delivers "Glamour Boy", a tribute to the cross dressing antics of Bowie and Bolan ( "For $37,000 you can look like your sister tonight...). The band could still fill an auditorium but the album stalled at #155 in the charts

   There would be one more hit before the assembly line of writing, recording and the road got to be too much for Cummings: the Top 10 1974 novelty tune "Clap for the Wolfman" from Road Food. There's a lot of good songs on this album including the catchy "Pleasin For a Reason" and the first single, a power pop number called "Star Baby".  It didn't matter. Guess Who fans were rushing out to buy the latest offerings from Bachman Turner Overdrive instead.

   In 1975 Burton Cummings went solo and the group disbanded. But not before releasing a batch of Guess Who albums that deserve to be heard. Especially by fans of classic, catchy pop music and lyricists strange enough to write lines like "Well, have you ever seen a Madras monkey?/Have you seen an Orlon eel?"

Well, have you?

By the way Burton Cumming has been especially busy on Facebook these days, sharing tons of memories and pictures

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