Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Guess Who

  • Wheatfield Soul [RCA Victor, 1969] B-
  • The Guess Who [MGM, 1969] D
  • American Woman [RCA Victor, 1970] B
  • Share the Land [RCA Victor, 1970] C+
  • The Best of the Guess Who [RCA Victor, 1971] B+
  • Flavours [RCA Victor, 1974] C
  • The Greatest of the Guess Who [RCA Victor, 1977] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Wheatfield Soul [RCA Victor, 1969]
This is a Winnipeg group that hit big with a white-soul ballad, "These Eyes," which most of you probably hate. I love it. Nothing else on the lp is up to it, but except for one bummer cut (which of course runs over 10 minutes on the "These Eyes" side) it is well-played, well-sung, well-arranged, and personal without being push. Not to be confused with . . . B-

The Guess Who [MGM, 1969]
Apparently a compilation of old cuts ("Released through license from Quality Record Ltd.," the fine print says) this is recommended only to Guess Who scholars. They sure have come a ways. One original song, "Stop Teasing Me," distinguishes itself as the most perfect early-Beatles copy this side of "Lies" by the Knickerbockers. D

American Woman [RCA Victor, 1970]
As a Canadian, Burton Cummings is no doubt aiming his "symbolic" rage more at the "American" than at the "woman," but his choice of "symbol" is no less despicable for its putative naivete. I like the riff that goes with it, though, and except for the poetasting "Talisman" can find it in me to enjoy every cut on this record. The beat is unyielding as well as wooden, Randy Bachman's square yet jazzy guitar style is one of a kind, and the lyrics usually give up a phrase or two worth humming. AM fans should be proud. B

Share the Land [RCA Victor, 1970]
Somebody asked the band how they knew the Indian on the cover and they answered central casting. That must also be where they found guitarist Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw, both of whom play ringing heavy clichés in all the proper places. Randy Bachman's clichés were altogether subtler. C+

The Best of the Guess Who [RCA Victor, 1971]
What do people gain by resisting all this popcraft? Is AM acceptance so tainted that these proven riffs and melodies shrivel the soul on contact? Or does the way Burton Cummings shifts from rock to swing or croon to growl without any show of strain or even technique just make him "slick," as they say? Granted, when I hear all the singles together like this I notice that since the romantic loss recorded in "These Eyes" Cummings has become unnecessarily spiteful. But songs that put down women and people who work for a living have never bothered AM haters before. B+

Flavours [RCA Victor, 1974]
The Burton Cummings part of this group always wanted it to be the Doors, Santana, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap all rolled into one. This rather monstrous goal has finally been realized. Personally, I always preferred the part that wanted to be Bachman-Turner Overdrive. C

The Greatest of the Guess Who [RCA Victor, 1977]
Unbeknownst to anyone but their record company, the Guess Who staged a mild comeback in 1974 and 1975--their next-to-last official LP, Flavours, charted higher than anything they'd released since 1971. What this meant was that they'd gone top ten on the AM again, with the inspired "Clap for the Wolfman"--Burton Cummings quickly mastered the music-life song once somebody else thought of it. The second side of this ultimate compilation showcases their late period, which means a decrease in misogyny (and the elimination of such dubious hits as "Share the Land" and "Bus Rider") from Best of. Tuneful, hard-driving commercial rock and roll with some lilts for variety. What more do you want? A-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]