American Woman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"American Woman"
Cover of the 1970 German single
Single by the Guess Who
from the album American Woman
B-side"No Sugar Tonight"
ReleasedMarch 1970 (1970-03)
RecordedAugust 13, 1969
  • 3:50 (single version)
  • 5:07 (album version)
LabelRCA Victor
Producer(s)Jack Richardson
The Guess Who singles chronology
"No Time"
"American Woman"
"Hand Me Down World"
"American Woman" (Album version) on YouTube

"American Woman" is a song by Canadian rock band the Guess Who, released January 1970, from the album of the same name. It was later released in March 1970 as a single backed with "No Sugar Tonight", and it reached number one for three weeks commencing May 9 on both the United States' Billboard Hot 100[4][5] and the Canadian RPM magazine singles chart.[6] Billboard magazine placed the single at number three on the Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970 list,[7] and it was listed as number five for 1970 on the RPM Year-End Chart. On May 22, 1970, the single was certified as gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[8] It also reached the top ten in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria, and the top twenty in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Produced by Jack Richardson, the single was recorded on August 13, 1969, at RCA's Mid-America Recording Center in Chicago.[9]

Writing and lyrics[edit]

The music and lyrics of the song were improvised on stage during a concert in Southern Ontario[10] (the guitarist, Randy Bachman, recalled it being at a concert in Kitchener,[11] although Burton Cummings, the lead singer, said it was at the Broom and Stone, a curling rink in Scarborough).[12] Bachman was playing notes while tuning his guitar after replacing a broken string, and he realized he was playing a new riff that he wanted to remember. He continued playing it and the other band members returned to the stage and joined in, creating a jam session in which Cummings improvised the lyrics.[11] They noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape.[13] They listened to the tape and noted down the words that Cummings had extemporized, and which he later revised.[12]

The song's lyrics have been the matter of debate, often interpreted as an attack on U.S. politics (especially the draft). Cummings, who composed the lyrics, said in 2013 that they had nothing to do with politics. "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. When I said 'American woman, stay away from me,' I really meant 'Canadian woman, I prefer you.' It was all a happy accident."[12]

Jim Kale, the group's bassist, explained his take on the lyrics:

The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York – all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn't have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn't really. We weren't anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them.[10]

Bachman expressed the view in 2014 that it was "an anti-war protest song", explaining that when they came up with it on stage, the band and the audience had a problem with the Vietnam War. Said Bachman: "We had been touring the States. This was the late '60s, one time at the US/Canada border in North Dakota they tried to draft us and send us to Vietnam. We were back in Canada, playing in the safety of Canada where the dance is full of draft dodgers who've all left the States".[11]

The Guess Who were invited to play at the White House on July 17, 1970, shortly after the song's release. Because of its perceived anti-American lyrics, Pat Nixon, the wife of President Richard Nixon, asked that they not play "American Woman".[14]


While most of the band's charting songs during this period were credited to just Bachman or Cummings or the two of them, this piece was credited to all four members of the band, in keeping with the way they all first improvised it together on stage. This full-band writing credit happened only one other time on a Guess Who single, with their 1973 top 20 Canadian hit "Follow Your Daughter Home", albeit with a different line-up.

Chart performance[edit]

Lenny Kravitz version[edit]

"American Woman"
Standard non-US artwork
Single by Lenny Kravitz
from the album 5 and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
B-side"Fly Away"
ReleasedMay 10, 1999 (1999-05-10)
GenreFunk rock[27]
Producer(s)Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz singles chronology
"Fly Away"
"American Woman"
"Black Velveteen"

American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz covered "American Woman" for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It was released as a single in May 1999 and was later included on the reissue of Kravitz's album 5. Kravitz's version is slower and softer than the original, without the signature guitar solo; he later said to Randy Bachman that the reason why he skipped the lead guitar part was "I couldn't get the sound. I couldn't get the tone."[28]

The cover reached the top 20 in Australia, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Spain, as well as number 26 in Canada and number 49 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The music video (directed by Paul Hunter) featured actress Heather Graham (who starred in The Spy Who Shagged Me); the original political themes of the song were largely replaced by sex appeal. In 1999, the Guess Who joined Kravitz and his band for a live performance of "American Woman" at the MuchMusic Video Awards.


Year Nominee / work Award Result
2000 42nd Annual Grammy Awards Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Won[29]

Track listings[edit]

US 7-inch jukebox vinyl[30]

A. "American Woman"
B. "Fly Away"

UK and European CD single[31]

  1. "American Woman" (single version) – 3:50
  2. "Fields of Joy" (live) – 4:20

Australasian CD EP[32]

  1. "American Woman" (single version) – 3:50
  2. "Straight Cold Player" (live) – 3:42
  3. "Thinking of You" (Hexum Dancehall remix) – 5:58
  4. "Fields of Joy" (live) – 4:20


Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[56] Gold 35,000^
United States 655,489[57]

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref(s).
United States May 10, 1999 Virgin [58]
June 21, 1999 [59][60]
United Kingdom August 30, 1999
  • CD
  • cassette

Other cover versions[edit]

"American Woman" has been covered by a number of artists. In 1982, Swiss hard rock band Krokus included a cover on their album One Vice at a Time.[62] Butthole Surfers released a cover version on a bonus 5" vinyl single included with their 1985 home video release Blind Eye Sees All. The 2002 DVD reissue uses the same version as background music for the bonus photo gallery. They also made a drum-heavy experimental remix version of this recording, which appeared on their 1986 album Rembrandt Pussyhorse.[63] Anal Cunt recorded a grindcore version for their 1995 album Top 40 Hits.[64][65]

Use in film[edit]

It was featured in Sam Mendes's film American Beauty, performed by main character Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey).[66] Sam the Eagle performed a karaoke version of this song in a Muppets viral video, until he stops in protest of its lyrics, and finds that it is a Canadian song even more upsetting. It was used in the HBO trailer for the film Game Change. A version sung by an older man was used in the film The Cable Guy (1996). It was heard during the ending credits of the Witchblade TV film (2000), starring Yancy Butler and based on the Top Cow comic book series. American Woman was featured in the second instalment of the Austin Powers film trilogy, The Spy Who Shagged Me, with Heather Graham dancing provocatively whilst it played. The song was featured in an episode of "Due South"s first season (Diefenbaker's Day Off S01 E02). Kelly Clarkson recorded a cover version of the song as a theme song from the Paramount Network TV series, American Woman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joan Nicks; Jeannette Sloniowski (October 21, 2009). Slippery Pastimes: Reading the Popular in Canadian Culture. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-55458-761-2.
  2. ^ James E. Perone (2001). Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-313-31528-2.
  3. ^ Jacqueline Edmondson Ph.D. (October 3, 2013). Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped our Culture [4 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-313-39348-8.
  4. ^ Martin Charles Strong (2002). The Great Rock Discography. Canongate. p. 912. ISBN 978-1-84195-312-0.
  5. ^ a b The Guess Who - Awards at AllMusic
  6. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 13, No. 12, May 9, 1970". RPM. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  7. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970
  8. ^ "Type "The Guess Who" under Artist". RIAA. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007. Retrieved August 13, 2011. This song was originally written and performed at a curling club in Waterloo, Ontario, which at that time brought in bands. The club has since closed and became a Home Hardware Store on Weber St. near University Ave. Not far from Laurier University. There is a commemorative plaque inside the current store memorializing this event.
  9. ^ Greatest Hits RCA Victor BG2 67774 liner notes
  10. ^ a b "'American Woman' - The Guess Who". May 9, 1970. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Prato, Greg (December 23, 2014). "Randy Bachman : Songwriter Interviews". Songfacts.
  12. ^ a b c Ouzounian, Richard (August 30, 2013). "Burton Cummings doesn't live in the past, but he loves it". The Toronto Star. We were playing out in Scarborough, at this curling arena called Broom and Stone.
  13. ^ Cummings, Burton (July 23, 2013). "The Guess Who legend reveals true origin of 'American Woman'". Used View (Interview). Interviewed by Ray Shasho. Clarity Digital Group. Retrieved June 21, 2017. It was jammed onstage one night in Mississauga, Ontario, we were playing at a club called the Broom & Stone which was actually a curling rink and doing two shows that night. Between the two shows, I was outside bartering with this kid, he had some old Gene Vincent records that I wanted to get for my collection and tried to strike up a deal with this guy. The next thing I know, it's time to start the second show and the other three guys have gone back on stage and I hear them start this riff ... I said to this guy, Oh my God; I'm supposed to be on stage man, I've got to run, I'll see you later about these Gene Vincent records. I run inside and run up onto the stage and just grab a microphone and singing whatever came into my head; it was all stream of consciousness at the moment stuff ... all that stuff about war machines and ghetto scenes, colored lights can hypnotize... it was all just spur-of-the-moment. And nobody would have ever heard it again but there happened to be a kid bootlegging the show that night. This was way back in the 60's and he had a cassette machine, and those machines were a relatively new invention at that time. But this was 1968, forty-five years ago. We noticed this onstage as the night went on and he still kept recording. So we motioned to our road manager, go get that tape, go get that tape! He got the cassette tape and we listened to it later and heard this jam about American Woman stay away from me. So we actually kind of learned it from that tape, otherwise nobody would have ever heard it again. So talk about a Cinderella story. And that was a monstrous hit record for us; it was number one on Billboard for three weeks. So it was all an accident, I guess the music gods were smiling on us. The music gods probably sent that kid with the cassette machine.
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  28. ^ Pat Pemberton (August 6, 2010). "Randy Bachman Learns to Enjoy Lenny Kravitz's 'American Woman' Cover". Spinner Canada. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
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  30. ^ American Woman (US 7-inch jukebox vinyl disc). Lenny Kravitz. Virgin Records. 1999. 38668.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  31. ^ American Woman (UK & European CD single liner notes). Lenny Kravitz. Virgin Records. 1999. VUSCDE 153, 7243 8 96032 2 4.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  32. ^ American Woman (Australasian CD EP liner notes). Lenny Kravitz. Virgin Records. 1999. 7243 8 96031 2 5.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
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External links[edit]