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The Best of The Guess Who
The Guess Who

RCA 1004
Released: April 1971
Chart Peak: #12
Weeks Charted: 45
Certified Gold: 6/15/71

Randy_BachmanBurton CummingsThe Guess Who, despite their good intentions, have never seemed like natural candidates for superstardom. With a collective personality that could be described as lumpy at best, dressed neatly in a set of duds at least two years out of time, and possessing few of those flashy stories that are so desperately needed to flesh out the bottom of the myth, they might have been put aside as yet another example of a Canadian music scene still in the process of searching for the roots of its home-grown musical identity.

But there ain't nothin' like a hit single to change a group's fate, and to their credit the Guess Who have had a slew of them. So many, in fact, that this is the first recent such album I've heard which manages to stand up strong, with a minimum of dead moments and a lot of good times.

"Laughing," "No Sugar Tonight" and "Share The Land" all contain the one thing that any hit single needs to make it a hit single once you've heard it, you never stop hearing it. Play it a few times, take it off, walk outside the house, and it's still there with you, buzzing just inside the lower medula, a little soundtrack that sets itself to everything and anything. Instant nostalgia, if you will, since about the only way one can cope with the constant hunger to experience the song is to go home and run it again. Hooked, yes indeed, and that's all there is to it.

How they do it, though, should not be much of a mystery, if you work backwards from Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" (which was produced by Nimbus 9 in the guise of Jack Richardson) to the Guess Who (which was produced by Nimbus 9 in the guise of Jack Richardson). The man knows how to whip a group into shape. Even granted the considerable talents of the Guess Who -- which, among other things, includes a fine ability to harmonize and write -- the job he has done must appear mildly incredible. In the space of an average single, he has worked in more melodic hooks than you can shake a stick at, a pure case of if you can't get 'em one way, get 'em another. Separating each layer of instrumental track, you can really feel just how far this goes: everything, be it bass or rhythm guitar or even the splatterings of strings, revolves and echoes upon the main theme of the song. Even better, in the grand tradition of hit singles past, it's all amazingly accessible, a bit familiar, nearly an entire history of post-Beatles rock and roll. The touch, as those little gold discs always prove, of genius.

I've picked "Laughing," "No Sugar Tonight" and "Share The Land" as the best tracks here, simply because they seem to me to represent the very essence of what the Guess Who are, where all the influences have been nicely digested and they're simply doin' what comes naturally. As they get farther from this, which comes to mean when they're simply trying on styles, things tend to get a little shallow. "These Eyes" is pretty, but Randy Bachman isn't Dennis Yost and the Classic IV, and so what would be kind of ghostly in the latter's hands is merely sentimental blah with Bachman. Similarly, "Undun" is the kind of thing that happens when groups decide that they simply have to inject a little jazz into their muzak, and since the Guess Who obviously don't listen much to Pharoah Sanders, we're presented with the kind of neutral MOR bossa-nova that forced up progressive (remember that?) rock in the first place.

"American Woman" almost works (in fact, the production usually manages to pull it over the top eight out of ten times), except that it eventually comes off as just a shade too jive and unbelievable. The Guess Who, even if their lead vocalist does deliver a series of grunts worthy of the milder side of Screamin' Jay, just were never that mean and nasty. "No Time" is much better: a guitar move from Spirit to lead it off, a bit of semi-chorus to attract your interest, and then that double-dealing powerhouse of material over arrangement over guitar licks and voices and refrains. Just wunnerful. "Hang On To Your Life" is also quite a number, with the most tasteful use of a tape-loop echo chamber in the longest of whiles, and, uh, yes, one of those choruses again. And then there's "Hand Me Down World," with this great chorus, and "Bus Rider," which don't do too badly with its chorus either, and "Do You Miss Me Darling" (wait'll you hear the chorus), and even "New Mother Nature" (with a great chorus).

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review: Road Food

Album Review: Flavours

Single Review:
"American Woman"

Guess Who Lyrics

Guess Who Videos

Burton Cummings Mugshots

At least for me, the Guess Who's previous albums never came off, because in spite of their desire to be accepted as a Real Group, they were always an essentially AM-oriented combination. Now, this album captures them in that light, three minutes and on down the pike, and there are tricks in here which very few others are ever going to grasp as well or come as close.

So a good band and a Best album. Can you beat it? Available at your local neighborhood supermarket or department store; cheap at twice the price.

- Lenny Kaye, Rolling Stone, 6-24-71.

Bonus Reviews!

The best cuts from one of the top Canadian groups known in America have been bottled and branded in this LP for the Guess Who. Included here are songs such as "These Eyes," "Undun," "American Woman," "Share The Land" and "Hang On To Your Life," all performed in the typical Guess Who fashion. This LP will be a must for their fans and Top 40 listeners across the country.

- Billboard, 1971.

A fine single-disc collection of the band's greatest hits, it's perfect for listeners who don't want to invest in the double-disc Track Record Collection. * * * *

- The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The Best of the Guess Who is a compact collection of some of the best AM radio rock hits of all time. * * * * *

- William Hanson, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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