American Woman

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"American Woman"
American Woman45.jpg
Cover of the 1970 German single
Single by the Guess Who
from the album American Woman
B-side "No Sugar Tonight"
Released November 1969 (1969-11)
Format 7-inch single
Recorded April 13, 1969
  • 3:51 (single version)
  • 5:10 (album version)
Label RCA Victor
Producer(s) Jack Richardson
the Guess Who singles chronology
"No Time"
"American Woman"
"Hand Me Down World"

"American Woman" is a song released by the Canadian rock band the Guess Who in November 1969, from their sixth studio album of the same name. It was later released in March 1970 as a single backed with "No Sugar Tonight", which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.[4][5] Billboard magazine placed the single at number three on the Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970 list.[6] On May 22, 1970, the single was certified as gold by the RIAA.[7]

Produced by Jack Richardson, the single was recorded on August 13, 1969 at RCA's Mid-America Recording Center in Chicago.[8]


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).[9][10][11] When Bachman broke a string he unknowingly played the riff to American Woman when tuning the replacement string. He played it louder and Cummings improvised the lyrics to fit what Bachman was playing. They liked what they had played and noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape.[10] The subsequent studio recording features the original almost completely unchanged; only a few lines were added.[9]

In an interview with Randy Bachman in Songfacts he elaborated further, calling this "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".[12]

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."[13]

Shortly after its release, the Guess Who were invited to play at the White House. Because of its perceived anti-American lyrics, Pat Nixon asked that they not play "American Woman".[14]


While most of the band's charting songs during this period were written by Bachman or Cummings or Bachman/Cummings, this song is credited to all four members of the band, in keeping with the ad-lib style in which it was created live on stage that fateful night. This full-band writing credit would only happen one other time in the band's history, with their 1973 top 20 Canadian hit "Follow Your Daughter Home", albeit with a different line up by that date.

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.[9]

Chart performance[edit]

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.[27] Butthole Surfers created a drum-heavy experimental version for their 1986 album Rembrandt Pussyhorse.[28] , In 2018 the band The Rock Alchemist released a heavy-rock version as an album-single.

Lenny Kravitz version[edit]

"American Woman"
Lenny American Woman EU.jpg
Single by Lenny Kravitz
from the album 5
Released June 29, 1999 (1999-06-29)
Format CD
Recorded 1997–98
Genre Funk rock
Length 3:50
Label Virgin
Producer(s) Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz singles chronology
"Fly Away"
"American Woman"
"Black Velveteen"

"Fly Away"
"American Woman"
"Black Velveteen"
Alternate cover
Cover of the limited edition single
Cover of the limited edition single

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."[29] 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, Kravitz and his band were joined by the Guess Who for a live performance of "American Woman" at the MuchMusic Video Awards.

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
Australia (ARIA)[30] 14
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[31] 26
Canada Rock Report (RPM)[32] 2
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[33] 16
France (SNEP)[34] 88
Germany (Official German Charts)[35] 78
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[36] 59
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[37] 12
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[38] 19
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[39] 59
US Billboard Hot 100[40] 49
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[41] 23
US Alternative Songs (Billboard)[42] 7
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[43] 17
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[44] 3

Use in film[edit]

It was also featured in Sam Mendes's movie American Beauty.[45] 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), starring Yancy Butler and based on the Top Cow comic book series. American Woman was featured in the Austin Powers movie "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. 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 (21 October 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. (3 October 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. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1970
  7. ^ "Type "The Guess Who" under Artist". RIAA. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  8. ^ Greatest Hits RCA Victor BG2 67774 liner notes
  9. ^ a b c ""American Woman" - The Guess Who". 1970-05-09. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  10. ^ a b 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 21 June 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. 
  11. ^ "Memories of Scarborough: A Bicentennial Celebration". Scarborough Public Library Board. 1997. Retrieved 2015-07-06. 
  12. ^ Prato, Greg (23 December 2014). "Randy Bachman : Songwriter Interviews". Songfacts. 
  13. ^ Ouzounian, Richard (30 August 2013). "Burton Cummings doesn't live in the past, but he loves it". The Toronto Star. 
  14. ^ Steve Huey. "The Guess Who | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  15. ^ a b "David Kent's "Australian Chart Book 1970-1992"". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  16. ^ "The Guess Who - American Woman/No Sugar Tonight". Chart Stats. Archived from the original on April 11, 2012. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  17. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 13, No. 12, May 9, 1970". RPM. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  18. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  19. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  20. ^ Steffen Hung. "The Guess Who - American Woman". Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  21. ^ "Search listener". Flavour of New Zealand. Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  22. ^ "Cash Box Top Singles - 1970". Archived from the original on 2011-08-18. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  23. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 
  24. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1970" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved February 25, 2018. 
  25. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1970/Top 100 Songs of 1970". Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  26. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1970". Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  27. ^ Henderson, Alex. "Krokus One Vice at a Time review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  28. ^ Leland, John & Robbins, Ira. "Butthole Surfers biography". Trouser Press. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  29. ^ Pat Pemberton (2010-08-06). "Randy Bachman Learns to Enjoy Lenny Kravitz's 'American Woman' Cover - Spinner Canada". Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  30. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
  32. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
  33. ^ "Lenny Kravitz: American Woman" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  34. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  35. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  36. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  37. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  38. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  39. ^ " – Lenny Kravitz – American Woman". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  40. ^ "Lenny Kravitz Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  41. ^ "Lenny Kravitz Chart History (Adult Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  42. ^ "Lenny Kravitz Chart History (Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  43. ^ "Lenny Kravitz Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  44. ^ "Lenny Kravitz Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  45. ^ American Beauty Soundtrack, Retrieved March 7, 2015

External links[edit]