Aside from the work being a terrific piece of cinema, I was a subscriber to RollingStone when the original article–written by Cameron Crowe and based upon the Allman Brothers Band tour–on which now director Crowe’s film is based, was published. I remember the words and for sure the photographs.
I am also a big fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the chameleon actor who portrayed Truman Capote, Scottie (the neurotic “go-for” in Boogie Nights), Brandt, the other Lebowski’s ‘go-for,’ Athletics manager Art Howe (in Moneyball), and my favorite, tragically doomed rock critic Lester Bangs in Crowe’s tome.
In a typically Bangsian rant, the actor dismisses cool bands–including the Doors and Morrison Hotel–, extolling the 70’s band, The Guess Who thusly: “Give me the Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.”
Well, over the last few months we have been having work done to our home, and that meant storing a bunch of crap in what usually masquerades as my music room. Actually, I love the room. All my guitars and array of amps live in there, along with a drum kit and a keyboard. I have a a little PA, and all my music books (some songbooks, but I am talking Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung type books) in there as well.
There is also a stereo–with a turntable no less–and all the 800 or so albums I collected before albums and their moniker became things of the past.
So, with one phase the reconstruction completed, my niece and music bud Lindsay came over not just to help me put stuff in order, but to redo the albums, placing them in band name/release date order a la High Fidelity.
In the course of going through things, I happened onto my old single of The Guess Who’s, No Time which I suppose I have lugged around from house-to-house for the past 40 years or so.
I guess in a Proustian/Swann’s Way fahion, stumbling across the record brought back a flood of Guess Who memories. Like remembering that Burton Cummings had appeared as “an eligible bachelor” on The Dating Game (he wasn’t picked) and the Hoffman cum Bangs line from Crowe’s movie.
In retrospect, Bang’s observation of the band as a bunch of “drunken buffoons” is kind of harsh (but, that is Bangs). Although I don’t know the particulars of their habits regarding the ingestion of alcohol, let alone pyschotropics, but I do know that the Guess Who had a litany of hits.
Between 1968-76, the team of Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman (the Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive) penned/released no fewer than 32 singles that registered on the Top 100 of one, if not all the charts for Canada, Australia, and the United States.
Of their songs that really clicked in the States, both American Woman and No Sugar Tonight/Mother Nature (the song the title for this piece was stolen from) hit #1.
But, there are a number of great pop tunes within the group’s catalog, including the amazing output list below over a three-year span:
- These Eyes (1969)
- Laughing (1969)
- Undun (1969)
- No Time (1970)
- American Woman (1970)
- No Sugar Tonight (1970)
- Hand Me Down World (1970)
- Share the Land (1970)
- Hang Onto Your Life (1971)
- Albert Flasher (from 1971, and which is part of the Almost Famous soundtrack)
The group still released songs after that fruitful period, but nothing apparently as strong, and they barely registered a flicker on any chart other than their native Canadian one.
They continued to perform as the Guess Who until 1975, split up, and then–shudder–reformed and are still apparently playing to my fellow boomers who refuse to let go of the past.
Irrespective, that list of ten tunes above deserves more merit than even Mr. Bangs could offer.
Both These Eyes and especially Undun were just great tracks at the time, with the flute in Undun pre-dating Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson by a couple of years.
No Time is simply a great song, with a cool drum kick that starts the groove off. And there are similarly the vague and cool words:
“no time for my watch and chain,
no time for a summer rain,
seasons change and so do I,
you need not wonder why,
for no time left for you…”
OK, so maybe a little hippy dippy trippy, but it was 60’s, and, well, American Woman was probably no less naive in principle. It also rocked enough for Lenny Kravitz to cover in a great way, and it is another song I always wanted to cover in one of my bands.
The apex, though, was No Sugar Tonight/Mother Nature, probably the band’s maximum opus that sort of merged together two tunes eventually pulling the melody from No Sugar for the coda and finish.
Certainly, Cummings, Bachman, et al, were not The Stooges, or even the Seeds or the 13th Floor Elevators in the world of in your face Rock’n’Roll.
But, for a brief time, right when FM radio was taking off, and baby boomers were determining that “Up With People,” and “The King Family” were not really what represented music and the future (check out the first 20 years of Super Bowl halftime acts, and you will see), and no one really knew what direction we were supposed to go, let alone would go, The Guess Who popped out some pretty good and tuneful tunes.
To me, they were even more than drunken buffoons. They still are.