The Guess Who, the Canadian powerhouse ignored by Rock Hall
By Phill Marder
There is terrific support for Rush to make the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That trio deserves it and will be featured as this series continues. But Rush is not the greatest band to come out of Canada. The Guess Who holds that honor and, in addition, they came first.
Rock royalty in their native country, the Guess Who did everything well. While they churned out a steady stream of radio hits, their albums may be the best listening of the Rock era, right next to the Beatles. For, like the Beatles’ LPs, Guess Who albums contained classic cuts from almost every genre of music, each group managing to forge a couple hit singles from each long player while avoiding filler and sameness on the rest of the cuts. And, no other group compared to the Beatles when it came to meshing humor into their recordings.
Where the Beatles gave us “Eleanor Rigby” next to “Taxman,” the Guess Who could follow “Undun” with “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” Where the Beatles would throw “Honey Pie” and “Helter Skelter” at you, the Guess Who could flip “Nashville Sneakers” and “American Woman” your way. The Beatles could offer “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” or “Rocky Raccoon,” but the Guess Who could match the hilarity with “One Man Army” or “Get Your Ribbons On.”
Burton Cummings is one of the greatest of all rock vocalists, a 1960s version of Jerry Lee Lewis but with a much more versatile voice. When it came to creating lyrics on the fly, he was without equal. He could melt the radio waves with “These Eyes” and “Laughing,” then crack your speakers with “American Woman,” “No Time,” “Hand Me Down World” and “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” In addition, his talent on the piano and flute is first rate, and he also plays guitar when necessary. Randy Bachman is one of rock’s most underrated guitarist, capable of holding his own with any of the top axmen. Likewise Jim Kale on bass. And Garry Peterson stands with the Rascals’ Dino Danelli and Stewart Copeland of the Police in the top three on my list of rock’s greatest drummers. Everything Peterson played was perfect and his versatility went beyond the group as he worked with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in some down time.
Bachman and Cummings were one of rock’s greatest songwriting teams. And when Bachman left to form the highly successful Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Cummings continued the Guess Who’s strong tradition, working with Bachman’s replacements, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw. Before the next ballots are cast, the group’s “Canned Wheat, “American Woman,” “Rockin'” and “So Long, Bannatyne” albums should be required listening for everyone involved. Along with “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road,” “Rockin’ may contain the best ending of any LP of the rock era along with heavy rockers “Heartbroken Bopper” and “Guns, Guns, Guns,” the country tinged “Get Your Ribbons On” and the humorous “Your Nashville Sneakers” and “Herbert’s A Loser.” If that’s not enough, there’s a reverent cover of Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear,” no less, which finishes in chaos. The more serious “Bannatyne” LP still manages a classic unknown to all but Guess Who faithful – the aforementioned “One Man Army.”
Perhaps the group’s lack of success in the United Kingdom accounts for the Hall of Fame’s failure to recognize Canada’s greatest band. That’s the UK’s loss. Its homeland certainly supported the group as did the United States. Between 1965 and 1974, The Guess Who placed 21 singles on the Hot 100, six reaching the top 10, including “American Woman,” which held the top spot for three weeks. Fifteen times the band hit the top 200 LP chart, three times reaching the top 10. And that doesn’t include Cummings’ solo success and Bachman’s hits with Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
The Guess Who’s musical output, if one takes the time to listen to it, stands head and shoulders above practically any group to ever enter a recording studio.
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