One of the most misinterpreted songs ever, the lyrics are a scathing commentary on America's imperialistic attitude at the time of the Vietnam War. Despite a very clear lyric: "American Woman, get away from me," Americans often hear it is a patriotic ode and a tribute to American women. The Guess Who are Canadian.
Randy Bachman explained the origins of this song in an interview with Words & Music magazine, Spring 2005. Said Bachman: "We were playing in a curling rink in Kitchener, Ontario (Canada), and I broke a string. I was up there alone, tuning up my E an B strings on an old Les Paul. I started playing that riff and in the audience, heads started turning. The band got up, and I said, 'Keep playing this, I don't want to forget it.' When Burton had run out of solos, I yelled out, 'Sing something!' So out of the blue Burton just screamed, 'American Woman, stay away from me!' That was the song, the riff and Burton yelling that line over and over. Later, he added other lines like 'I don't need your war machine, you ghetto scenes.' Before America knew it, it was a #1 record and it was a protest song." (thanks, Darryl - Cambridge, Canada)
Some of the lyrics were inspired by a problem the band encountered at the Canada/US border involving the Vietnam War draft. (thanks, Tony - Westbury, NY)
Due to the anti-American lyrics, The Guess Who was not allowed to play this when they performed at the White House for President Richard Nixon in 1970.
The first time the band performed this was before 150,000 people at the Seattle Pop Festival in 1969. The crowd loved it even though they had never heard it.
Randy Bachman calls the distinctive guitar sound he used on this song "The Herzog." To get the effect, he would overdrive the preamp (setting it to 9 or 10) while the normal volume settings are turned down. The sound does not get any louder, but gradually it grows dirtier and finally ends up creating a cello-like effect.
Recorded at RCA Studios in Chicago with producer Jack Richardson, this was released as a double A-side with "No Sugar Tonight" and stayed at #1 in the US for 3 weeks. The Guess Who were already huge in Canada, but this broke them in the States.
In the late-'90s, this was used in a variety of commercials, including one for Tommy Hilfiger and another for Castrol motor oil. Nike also used in an ad featuring women's soccer.
Lenny Kravitz covered this in 1999. His version was used in the movie Austin Powers 2, The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Kravitz and The Guess Who performed this September 21, 2000 at the MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto. The Guess Who were given a lifetime achievement award.
The album version contains a 1:05 acoustic intro. Radio stations often skip past it.
Randy Bachman left the group the month after this hit #1 in America because the band's lifestyle did not jibe with his religious beliefs. Because of his departure, they did not tour the US when this was hot, which could have made them a lot of money.
The Guess Who reunited and toured in 2000, 30 years after this was a hit.
This was featured in the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy, where it appears in a Karaoke scene, and American Beauty, where Kevin Spacey rocks out to it while going through a mid-life crisis.
Jack Richardson, who produced this song, was also responsible for other big hits like The Guess Who's "These Eyes
" and Bob Seger's "Night Moves
." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)