The year 1970 saw the apex of popularity for The Guess Who as well as the initial cracks in their band unity. The two albums they released that year, American Woman and Share the Land showed the progression of their sound from the strictly pop-oriented output of the late sixties to their more diverse fusion sound of the early seventies. In between these albums, founding guitarist Randy Bachman left the group and some studio recordings were abandoned as the group started over with two new guitarists.
The Guess Who started as Allan and the Silvertones in Winnepeg, Canada way back in 1958. Bachman, bassist Jim Kale, and drummer Garry Peterson were all on board from the jump and this original incarnation of the group released several singles through the early sixties but with minimal success. In 1965 the group adopted the name “Guess Who?” and added then 18-year-old Burton Cumming as lead singer and keyboardist. The late sixties saw the group find Top 40 success in Canada and beyond, due in part to their extended run as house band on a CBC radio show. The group’s 1968 album, Wheatfield Soul, and 1969 album, Canned Wheat, primed The Guess Who for the rock mainstream.
Peaking in the Top 10 of the album charts, American Woman is the most commercially successful album ever put out by the group. In part influenced by the sound of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 albums, a harder-edged rock sound was introduced on this album, led by Bachman’s fuzz-tone guitars and Cummings’ ever more dynamic and bluesy vocals. This album also included a few suite-style medleys as well as slight forays into prog rock.
Share the Land saw the arrival of guitarists, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw and slightly richer overall arrangements. Recording began almost immediately after Bachman’s departure, but producer Jack Richardson found a cohesive sound for the now five piece band. Being how it was so quickly written and recorded, the group was pleasantly surprised when Share the Land reached the Top 20 on the album charts and spawned a few successful singles.
American Woman by The Guess Who
|Released: January, 1970 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Mid-America Recording, Chicago, August-November, 1969
|Side One||Side Two|
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
|Cumberland 969 (The Oldest Man)
When Friends Fall Out
Humpty’s Blues/American Woman (Epilogue)
Share the Land by The Guess Who
|Released: October, 1970 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Jack Richardson
Recorded: RCA Mid-America Recording Center, Chicago, 1970
|Side One||Side Two|
Do You Miss Me Darlin’?
Hand Me Down World
Moan For You Joe
Share the Land
|Hang On to Your Life
Coming Down Off the Money Bag
Song of the Dog
Three More Days
|Burton Cummings – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Flute, Harmonica
Jim Kale – Bass, Vocals
Garry Peterson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Randy Bachman – Guitars, Vocals (American Woman only)
Greg Leskiw – Guitars (Share the Land only)
Kurt Winter – Guitars (Share the Land only)
The opening title track of American Woman starts with an acoustic blues intro before stopping completely and re-starting as a droning, hard rocker, led by Bachman’s distinctive riffs. The song would go on to be one of the most popular and distinct in the Guess Who library. “No Time” is actually a remade version of a song originally released on Canned Wheat the previous year. This version starts with the distinct drum beat of Peterson and features call and response with backing vocals during the verses and great harmonies throughout. The 1970 single of “No Time” peaked at #5 in the U.S. and topped the charts in Canada.
The album drastically changes up with “Talisman”, a pure folk song by Cummings and Bachman with dark acoustic elements and traditional English folklore-like vocal melodies. The medley “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” may actually be more like a two part suite. It is acoustic throughout with an introductory riff starting each section. Kale’s bass sets the rhythms for each of these sections with a slight variation between each and Cummings’ piano makes an appearance during the “New Mother Nature” section. The lyrics morph from those of regret in “No Sugar Tonight” to a quasi-party theme during “New Mother Nature”.
The second side of American Woman contains more obscure material. Bachman’s double-track guitar rock instrumental “Cumberland 969” later morphs into a jazzy, Jethro Tull-style flute solo by Cummings before returning to the strong rock elements to complete the track. The album’s second remake, “When Friends Fall Out”, dates back to a 1968 release as a marching pop track with repetitive verses and a psychedelic ending. “8:15” is a funky rocker with deep Hammond organ and a unique vocal approach by Cummings, while “Proper Stranger” somewhat returns to the vibe of the first side with duo acoustic, sharp bass notes and animated rhythmic drumming later accompanied by electric riffs and lead. The closing “Humpty’s Blues/American Woman (Epilogue)” starts as slow blues with crying guitars and heavy harmonica before the song dissolves awkwardly into a reprise of the intro section of “American Woman” to encapsulate the album in a thematic way.
Share the Land saw Kurt Winter step up as a primary composer in his new band. The opening track “Bus Rider” was penned by Winter as a fifties-style rocker with seventies-style rock riffs to make it overall fun musically, albeit a bit trite lyrically. “Do You Miss Me Darlin’?” is a bit richer and deeper as a ballad with nice, whining guitar and soulful and dynamic vocals by Cummings, accompanied by rich harmonies between the verses and during the softer, piano driven mid-section.
Winter’s “Hand Me Down World” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album with a descending electric guitar riff, bright acoustic chords, driving rhythms, and pleasant vocal melodies. The song reached the Top 20 as a single in The US. “Moan for You Joe” is a jazzy tune with odd timings and a an exceptional overall drumming performance by Peterson along fine guitar and piano work, especially an extended lead by Cummings. The title track “Share the Land” is a fine “hippie” anthem by Cummings featuring dual lead guitar riffs by Leskiw and Winter. This sing-along ballad features dynamic and soulful lead vocals with Cummings almost taking on a revival preacher role.
“Hang on to Your Life” is riff driven with frantic vocals during the rock-oriented verses while the chorus leans back slightly towards pop. An extended outro has guitar leads over the chorus hook before it breaks down in feedback backing with a spoken recital of the biblical Psalm 22. “Coming Down Off the Money Bag”/”Song of the Dog” is perhaps the most unique Guess Who song ever with the first section, written and sung by Leskiw, having an Americana/Country vibe with plenty of cool instrumentation. After a single verse, the song breaks into a rock interlude before morphing into the acoustic driven bluesy “Song of the Dog” by Cummings. Closing out Share the Land is the nearly nine-minute track, “Three More Days”. Led by Kale’s bass, this moderate blues rocker contains lyrics about death and the philosophy of a finite life and musically moves through different sections including a chant about “freedom” and a flute lead.
Although The Guess Who were still high on the pop/rock echelon at the end of 1970, further personnel shifts would undermine and ultimately dissolve the group. Leskiw left the group early in 1972, followed by Kale shortly after. Eventually, it was Cummings who grew weary of the band and departed himself to start a solo career in the mid seventies.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.