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How The Guess Who Wrote 'American Woman' By Accident (Lyrics, Meaning) 

Music | May 9, 2020

The band on the sleeve of the 'American Woman' and 'No Sugar Tonight' single. Source: Discogs.com

"American Woman" by The Guess Who might seem like an anthem praising the ladies of the 50 states... maybe an heir to the Beach Boys' "California Girls." But take a look at the lyrics and the band's explanation of the meaning, and you'll find it's anything but complimentary. For these Canadian rockers, "American Woman" was a critique of the seductive but dangerous women across their homeland's southern border, and what's more, the American womanin the song is actually a metaphor for the United States and all its domestic and foreign turmoil. 

A Canadian motley crew (discogs)

Music works in funny ways. People hear what they want to hear even if the artist’s message goes against their beliefs. Perhaps the most famous example is John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Most people believe the beautifully written song urges people to put their differences aside. However, Lennon himself called the song, “virtually the Communist manifesto." Likewise, the genesis of “American Woman” by The Guess Who goes against the common perception of the song.

“American Woman” was a happy accident, inspired by an overzealous border agent, a broken guitar string, and an impromptu concert in a Canadian curling ring. That might make “American Woman” by The Guess Who the most serendipitous song ever made!

A Failed Trip To America

The band did eventually tour America for a few years to cheers for "American Woman" (youtube)

The inspiration behind “American Woman” wasn’t a broken-hearted band member, longing for his American sweetheart. No, in fact, “American Woman” started with a pushy border crossing guard who tried to sign up the members of The Guess Who to go fight in Vietnam. The peaceful Canadians were on their way to a gig in the US but got freaked out and hightailed it back to the safety of the Great White North. 

A Surprise Gig

A curling ring ranks among the unluckiest places to create a hit song (facebook)

When one door closes another opens. Luckily for the band and music at large, they were able to score a last-minute gig playing at a curling arena. During the set, the lead guitarist Randy Bachman broke his string. Back in those days that meant the show went on hold as the string was fixed and the guitar was tuned. 

A Riff From Above

"American Woman" had more legs than the band, which broke up not long after the birth of the hit song. Of course, there's always a reunion tour (youtube)

As Bachman tuned his guitar, a riff just came to him like mana from heaven,. The milling crowd suddenly stopped and locked in on Bachman’s riff. "I started to play that riff on stage, and I looked at the audience, who are now milling about and talking amongst themselves. And all their heads snapped back. Suddenly I realize I'm playing a riff I don't want to forget, and I have to keep playing it. So I stand up and I'm playing this riff. I'm alone on stage."

The other band members heard Bachman’s playing and quickly scrambled onstage to join him. Bachman implored the band’s lyricists and piano player Burton Cummings to sing something. And with that crazy border guard in his subconscious, the words “American woman, stay away from me" came to life.

The Real Meaning Of 'American Woman'

Hard to imagine them as a hit rock band but rock they did (ultimateclassicrock)

Many Americans won’t like this but as Bachman said, the song is "an antiwar protest song." The lines "I don't want your war machines, I don't want your ghetto scenes," express the band’s thoughts on Vietnam. Cummings further explains his thought process, "What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous," Cummings told the Toronto Star in 2014. "When I said 'American woman, stay away from me,' I really meant 'Canadian woman, I prefer you.' It was all a happy accident."

Despite the meaning, Americans couldn’t get enough. Released as a double A-side with “No Sugar Tonight,” “American Woman” stayed at #1 for three weeks. The band was even asked to play at the White House because President Nixon’s daughter was a fan. The First Lady appeared to understand the lyrics as the band was asked not to play the accidental hit.

At least one member of the band regrets playing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "It left a bad taste in my mouth," Cummings told the Winnipeg Free Press. "They wanted a Commonwealth act when Charles and Anne went there. We were the token Commonwealthers."

The Lyrics To The Guess Who's 'American Woman'

Source: theinsidehook.com

American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
I don't wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you

Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say
American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be

Don't come a-knockin' around my door
Don't wanna see your shadow no more
Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes

Now woman, I said get away
American woman, listen what I say, hey
American woman, said get away
American woman, listen what I say

Don't come a-hangin' around my door
Don't wanna see your face no more
I don't need your war machines
I don't need your ghetto scenes

Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be

Go, gotta get away, gotta get away
Now go go go
I'm gonna leave you, woman
Gonna leave you, woman

Bye-bye
Bye-bye
Bye-bye
Bye-bye

You're no good for me
I'm no good for you
Gonna look you right in the eye
Tell you what I'm gonna do

You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go
You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go, woman

I'm gonna leave ya, woman
Goodbye, American woman...

Tags: American Woman | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The Guess Who

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!