American Woman

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This article is about the song. For the album, see American Woman (album). For the novel, see American Woman (novel).
"American Woman"
Cover of the 1970 German single
Single by The Guess Who
from the album American Woman
B-side "No Sugar Tonight"
Released March 1970 (1970-03)[1]
Format 7" 45 RPM
Recorded August 13, 1969[2]
Length 3:51 (single version)
5:08 (album version)
Label RCA
Writer(s) Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Garry Peterson and Jim Kale
Producer(s) Jack Richardson[2]
Certification Gold (RIAA)[5]
The Guess Who singles chronology
"No Time"
"American Woman" / "No Sugar Tonight"
"Hand Me Down World"

"American Woman" is a song by Canadian rock band The Guess Who, first released in January 1970 on the album of the same name and later in March as a single,[1] which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.[6] Backed with "No Sugar Tonight," Billboard ranked it as the No. 3 record of 1970.[7]

The song has been covered by many rock artists, including Krokus, the Butthole Surfers, and Lenny Kravitz. The song was included in Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2.


The album version begins with an acoustic blues intro:

American woman, gonna mess your mind.
American woman, gonna mess a-your mind.

The intro then proceeds to spell out the title, then repeats the first verse before fading out and entering the hard rock portion.

The single version omits this intro and goes straight to the hard rock portion of the song.


The song's origins took the form of a live jam that emerged during a curling rink concert in Southern Ontario (various recollections include Kitchener and Mississauga, while Burton Cummings, the lead singer, recalls the curling rink was "The Broom and Stone"—a popular Scarborough location for concerts at the time).[8][9][10] Lead singer Burton Cummings was late returning for the second set, so the rest of the group began improvising a rhythm when the crowd started getting restless.[8] When Cummings dashed onstage he began improvising lyrics to fit the music.[9] They liked what they had played and noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape.[9] The subsequent studio recording features the original almost completely unchanged; only a few lines were added.[8]

In an interview with Randy Bachman in Songfacts he elaborated further, calling this "an antiwar 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/Canadian border 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".

Singer Burton Cummings (the song's lyricist) insists it has nothing to do with American pride. "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."

Shortly after its release, The Guess Who were invited to play at the White House. Because of its supposed anti-American lyrics, Pat Nixon asked that they not play "American Woman".[11]

Interpretations of the lyrics[edit]

The song's lyrics have been the matter of some debate, often interpreted as an attack on U.S. politics (especially the draft). Jim Kale, the group's bassist and the song's co-author, 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.[8]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1970) Peak
UK (The Official Charts Company)[12] 19
Canadian RPM Singles Chart[13] 1
Switzerland (Hit Parade Top 75 Singles)[14] 4
Austria (Top 40)[15] 7
Netherlands (Dutch Charts)[16] 4
US Billboard Hot 100[6] 1
US Cash Box Top Singles[17] 1
Preceded by
"ABC" by The Jackson 5
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (The Guess Who version)
May 9, 1970 (three weeks)
Succeeded by
"Everything is Beautiful" by Ray Stevens


"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.[18] Butthole Surfers created a drum-heavy experimental version for their 1986 album Rembrandt Pussyhorse.[19]

Lenny Kravitz version[edit]

"American Woman"
Single by Lenny Kravitz
from the album 5
Released June 29, 1999
Format CD
Genre Hard rock, funk rock
Length 4:25
Label Virgin Records America
Producer(s) Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz singles chronology
"Fly Away"
"American Woman"
"Black Velveteen"
Alternative cover
Limited edition cover (with exclusive poster)

The most notable cover of "American Woman" is Lenny Kravitz's 1999 version. Kravitz recorded the song for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It was released as a single and was later included in the 1999 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."[20] 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.

Track listing[edit]

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


Grammy Awards 2000

  • Best Male Rock Performance: Won

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1999) Peak
Canadian RPM Singles Chart[21] 26
Canadian RPM Rock Chart[22] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[23] 49
US Billboard Adult Top 40[23] 23
US Billboard Top 40 Mainstream[23] 17
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks[23] 3
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[23] 7

Use in film[edit]

It was also featured in Sam Mendes's movie American Beauty.[24] Sam the Eagle performed a karaoke version of this song in a Muppets viral video. It is being used in the HBO trailer for the movie 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 movie (2000), starred by Yancy Butler and based on the Top Cow comic book series.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Strong, Martin Charles (2002). The great rock discography (Sixth ed.). The National Academies. p. 912. ISBN 978-1-84195-312-0. Retrieved October 18, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Greatest Hits RCA Victor BG2 67774 liner notes
  3. ^ Edmondson Ph.D., Jacqueline (2013). Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped Our Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 53. ISBN 978-0313393471. The Guess Who's psychedelic-rock infused "American Woman"... 
  4. ^ E. Perone, James (2001). Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 62. ISBN 978-0313315282. This hard rock piece, based on a relatively simple rhythmic riff... 
  5. ^ "Type "The Guess Who" under Artist". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970
  8. ^ a b c d ""American Woman" - The Guess Who". 1970-05-09. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  9. ^ a b c Cummings, Burton (July 23, 2013). The Guess Who legend reveals true origin of “American Woman". Interview with Ray Shasho (Clarity Digital Group). 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 onstage and I hear them start this riff … I said to this guy, Oh my God; I’m supposed to be onstage 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 started 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. 
  10. ^ "Memories of Scarborough: A Bicentennial Celebration". Scarborough Public Library Board. 1997. Retrieved 2015-07-06. 
  11. ^ allmusic ((( The Guess Who > Biography )))
  12. ^ "The Guess Who - American Woman/No Sugar Tonight". Chart Stats. Archived from the original on 2012-04-11. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  13. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 13, No. 12, May 9, 1970". RPM. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  14. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  15. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  16. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  17. ^ "Cash Box Top Singles - 1970". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  18. ^ Henderson, Alex. "Krokus One Vice at a Time review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  19. ^ Leland, John & Robbins, Ira. "Butthole Surfers biography". Trouser Press. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  20. ^ Pat Pemberton (2010-08-06). "Randy Bachman Learns to Enjoy Lenny Kravitz's 'American Woman' Cover - Spinner Canada". Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  21. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 69, No. 15, August 2, 1999". RPM. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  22. ^ "Rock/Alternative - Volume 69, No. 8, June 14, 1999". RPM. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  23. ^ a b c d e
  24. ^ American Beauty Soundtrack Retrieved March 7, 2015

External links[edit]