Guess Who is a legendary Canadian band. No, that’s not a question. That’s the name of the band – The Guess Who. With a career spanning decades and a list of hit songs as long as a Canadian winter, you can still hear them played on classic rock stations daily.
They started in garage rock but transitioned into pop-rock with jazz and blues influences. And they helped define the late 60s/early 70s sound that we all remember.
But just who is this band, and what are the best The Guess Who songs of all time? That’s what we’re about to find out…
- The Guess Who’s Top Songs
- Shakin’ All Over – (Chad Allen and the Expressions)
- Glamour Boy (Re-Edited Single Version)
- RAIN DANCE – 7 inch vinyl / 45
- Share The Land
- These Eyes
- Clap for the Wolfman
- No Time
- No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature
- American Woman
- The Story of the Guess Who Name
- Looking for Legendary Music?
- Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time – Wrap Up
The Guess Who’s Top Songs
From an early garage rock hit to 2 US Billboard #1 singles, The Guess Who did pretty darned well.
Their classic line-up of Randy Bachman and Kurt Winter on guitars, Burton Cummings singing and playing keyboards, Jim Kale on bass, and Garry Peterson on drums did extremely well from about 1968 to 1975.
A few of their albums and singles were huge hits in the US and all over the world. Others were just big on their turf up in Canada. And some of The Guess Who’s most popular songs are still getting played. Which songs? Well, here they are.
Shakin’ All Over – (Chad Allen and the Expressions)
Alright, this might be cheating a little. The name of the band that recorded this track was Chad Allen and the Expressions. But this is the same band that eventually morphed into The Guess Who. So, I think we can still call it their first big hit.
“Shakin’ All Over” was a single by the UK group Johnny Kidd & The Pirates that hit the UK #1 slot in 1960 and was a big success all over Europe. However, it didn’t make it across the pond. That made it fertile ground for an up-and-coming band from the Canadian Prairies to cover.
The Chad Allen and the Expressions version was recorded in 1964 and went all the way to #1 in Canada. Although it only reached #22 in the USA, this success was a huge boost for the band.
The single was distributed in America by quality Records, who put “Guess Who?” on the cover as a publicity stunt to suggest that it was part of the British Invasion, and it worked. This was also the origin of the band’s name, but more on that later.
Another single that made it to the same level, #22 on the US Billboard charts, is “Undun.” This track was written by Randy Bachman after he had expanded his playing by incorporating jazz chords, and it shows.
This 1969 track came from the band’s second album as The Guess Who and their 6th album overall. It’s light and airy and quite chilled out. Strangely, though, the lyrics are a lot heavier than the music.
Losing her mind…
Taking a cue from the drug scene of the late 60s, this is a song about a girl who fell into a coma after dropping acid at a party. The chorus “She’s come undone” refers to her losing her mind. So while the music trips and floats around smoothly, the words go in a very different direction.
And what’s up with the funny spelling? Maybe that’s what made it one of The Guess Who’s hit songs?
Here’s a track that reached #14 in Canada but didn’t chart at the time in the US. This 1973 slow ballad written by Cummings features him on piano and singing to a “Glamour Boy” (note the Canadian spelling!).
The production here is very clear and incredibly well mixed, making this one of the band’s most critically acclaimed songs. There’s probably a reason why it wasn’t such a huge hit, though.
The song was inspired by David Bowie and was a stab at him and other glam rockers. Asking, “Don’t you want to take to sing and play an honest song for the people tonight?” Cummings reveals his insecurity regarding Bowie and the glam scene.
He claims that at the time, he felt threatened by those rockers that he felt were more about image than sound. Later, he admitted that he was wrong about Bowie. Don’t we know it!
One of The Guess Who’s strangest songs has got to be “Rain Dance.” This single came from their 1971 album So Long, Bannatyne and was written by Cummings and Winter.
It has a bright, driving verse in The Guess Who’s signature style, with Cummings’ voice and fat chords coming through loud and strong. However, the chorus of “Don’t you wanna rain dance with me?” is repeated in a strange, half-spoken, echoey voice, and other lines are clearly spoken.
This represents a time of experimentation for the band and an album that didn’t do all that well compared to their previous successes. Still, the track got to #19 in the US and did even better in Canada, where it hit #3. I guess the Canadians just like it a bit more experimental.
The year 1969 was big for The Guess Who. They had their classic line-up all set and were working like a well-oiled machine. Their album Canned Wheat produced “Undun” and also “Laughing,” which is something of a power ballad mixed with some slow groovy rock.
This was getting to be par for the course for the band by this time. As a result, some critics felt the track was too formulaic.
Well, whatever your opinion, you can’t argue that the song didn’t do well. It made it to #1 in Canada and up to #10 on the US Billboard charts. And things would continue to go this way for the band.
The Guess Who’s success continued into the 1970s with the album Share The Land and the title track, which was released as a single. Lyrically, this song by Cummings looked to a hippie-inspired version of the future where people could leave their troubles behind them and live together in harmony.
The song features some smooth oohs and ahhs, a hooky sing-along chorus, and a soulful breakdown alongside smooth sailing guitar solos care of Bachman. This combination made for a memorable early 70s hit.
If you hear some similarities to The Beatles’ classic “Hey Jude,” you’re not alone. Hey, if it works, it works! It was also enough to send The Guess Who up the charts to #10 in the US and #2 in Canada.
The hook from “These Eyes” is unforgettable. This is due to the soulful delivery of the singing, the romantic content of the lyrics, and the slow crescendo as the chorus repeats about a dozen times at the end of the song.
“These eyes are cryin’, These eyes have seen a lotta loves, But they’re never gonna see another one like I had with you”
Now, some critics saw the song as a commercial sell-out. After all, it was a big change from the band’s harder-rock roots to a slow, soulful power ballad with full orchestration. But it definitely worked. The single track from 1969’s Wheatfield Soul got up to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a breakthrough hit that paved the way for greater success for the group.
The next highest charting and arguably one of the catchiest and best The Guess Who Songs of all time came quite late in the classic line-up success.
“Clap for the Wolfman” is a track off the band’s 13th album, Road Food, released in 1974. It was written by Cummings and Winter, as well as new bassist Bill Wallace and features vocal samples of the Wolfman speaking and laughing throughout the track.
This slow tempo, slightly bluesy track has a great chorus and claps that get an audience involved. It fit right in with the music at the time, even though it referenced earlier times.
So just who is this Wolfman?
The song is an homage to Wolfman Jack, who was a staple of American radio throughout the1960s. With his gravelly voice and cool daddy-o style, the Wolfman was instrumental in breaking new bands and bringing new sounds to the fore.
After a decline, “Clap for the Wolfman” was enough of a hit to get The Guess Who back on the charts and up to #4 on the Billboard 100.
The last three songs on this list are The Guess Who’s biggest hits. They also came out in the same 1969-1970 period that was the band’s peak in popularity. “No Time” made it up to #5 in the US and #1 in Canada (supporting the home team, I suppose).
Originally recorded on the 1969 Canned Wheat album, the band decided to re-release the song on American Woman the next year. The newer version was shorter, faster, and changed up a bit. And this time, it was a hit.
The sound here had influences from country rock and a hippie-influenced multi-part harmony chorus. The lyrics also struck a chord. This is a very direct break-up song in the times of free love. But, it still wasn’t the biggest hit The Guess Who ever had.
Oh no, another “No” song?! After being fairly positive in their music, three seemingly negative songs suddenly hurled them up the charts.
“No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” blew up a bit in 1970 after being released on the American Woman album. This energetic, multi-part song moves through trippy rock, acoustic guitar minstrel music, and funk.
This song was probably the most successful collaboration between Bachman, who wrote the “No Sugar” part, and Cummings, who contributed the lyrics for “New Mother Nature.” Taken together, this is a story of the realization that a relationship is dysfunctional and needs to end.
And, like many of their songs in the late 60s, there are also strong drug references here. “No Sugar” flew up to #1 in the US, thanks in part to coming hot on the heels of The Guess Who’s biggest song ever.
Even if you haven’t heard of The Guess Who, you would still definitely know the song “American Woman.” While it’s used extensively as an anthem that seems vaguely patriotic or complementary, a quick look at the lyrics will tell you otherwise. This song from a Canadian rock band says,
“American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama let me be
Don’t come a hangin’ around my door
I don’t want to see your face no more”
But it’s not political…
Instead, the still green Canadian farm boys were intimidated by the aggressiveness and forward behavior of women they met while on tour in the US. Who knew?
This song blew up and is by far The Guess Who’s most popular song of all time. It hit #1 in Canada and the US. It has been covered numerous times, most notably by Lenny Kravitz in 1999, and has been used in film and TV many times.
And, for the band, it was a huge moneymaker too. It was certified gold after having sold nearly 700,000 copies worldwide. Easily one of the best The Guess Who songs of all time.
The Story of the Guess Who Name
I promised that I’d explain the story of The Guess Who’s name, so here it is.
The original 1962 line-up of the band included Bob Ashley on keys, Jim Kale on bass, Garry Peterson on drums, and the great Randy Bachman on guitar. But no Burton Cummings yet.
The lead singer and guitarist was Chad Allen, and the band was called Chad Allen and the Reflections, then Chad Allen and the Expressions.
A marketing gimmick?
When they released their hit single covering “Shakin’ All Over” in 1965, American distributor Quality Records hid their identity and just put “Guess Who?” on the cover.
The record sounded like the British Invasion bands at the time, and they tried to play this up. Even starting rumors that it was by The Beatles themselves. Once the record became a hit, the band was revealed, but they were already nicknamed “Guess Who?” by DJs, and the name stuck.
After two early albums, the band officially changed its name to The Guess Who? in 1965. After that, Chad Allen left the band, and Burton Cummings took over lead vocal duties. In 1968, the band also dropped the question mark, becoming for the first time The Guess Who.
The Guess Who had broken up with the different members going their own ways. However, ex-bassist Jim Kale realized in 1977 that the name hadn’t been copyrighted and took it over.
Since then, there have been formations of the band billed as The Guess Who, with few or even none of the classic line-up members even performing.
Fast Fun Fact
The UK band, The Who, was frequently confused with Canada’s The Guess Who and vice versa. Furthermore, The Who was often requested to play the hit song “Shakin’ All Over.” Giving in to the joke, The Who started to perform this song as early as 1969.
Looking for Legendary Music?
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Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time – Wrap Up
The Guess Who went from a “Winnipeg Wonder” to a global phenomenon in the 60s and 70s. Their music helped to define the sound of that era. And some of their smash hits like “American Woman” and “No Sugar” are still in heavy rotation on classic rock radio.
There’s no denying that some of their songs are the stuff of legends. It seems that whenever Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings got together with the rest of the band, a certain kind of magic was bound to happen.
Until next time, let the music play.