Song Lyric Sunday — O Canada

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday prompt, Jim Adams has given us the theme Canadian Music. Okay, I assume that what Jim wants us to do is focus on Canadian artists who write, play, and record music. So, to that end, I have chosen the Canadian rock band, The Guess Who. And the song I’m going to feature on this tribute to Canadian music is the song by that Canadian band, entitled, of course, “American Woman.”

“American Woman” was written by the band’s lead singer, Burton Cummings. It was released by The Guess Who in January 1970 as a track on their sixth studio album of the same name. In March 1970, the song was released as a single, and reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song was virtually written on stage and came about almost extemporaneously. Randy Bachman explained that the band was playing a show in Ontario when he broke a string on his guitar. In those days, that meant stopping the show until he could replace it. His bandmates left the stage, and Bachman put a new string on guitar. The next challenge was getting it in tune, so he went in front of Burton Cummings’ electric piano and hit the E and B notes to give him reference. As he tuned his guitar a riff developed and Bachman said, “something magical happened.” He started to play the riff on stage and he looked at the audience and saw their reaction, so he kept playing the riff on stage all alone.

The band’s drummer, Garry Peterson, jumped on stage and started playing. Bassist Jim Kale heard the ruckus and joined them, and finally Burton Cummings came up and grabbed the microphone. “Sing something!” Bachman implored him. Burton obliged: the first words out of his mouth were, “American woman, stay away from me.”

An interesting little factoid is that after Cummings completed his ad-libbed vocal performance of the song, he discovered a kid in the crowd who was bootlegging the concert using a portable cassette recorder. The band asked for the tape, listened to it, and jotted down the words that Cummings had extemporized. It did go through several relatively minor revisions before it was actually recorded for the album.

The song’s lyrics have been the matter of debate, often interpreted as an attack on U.S. politics. Cummings, who composed the lyrics, said in 2013 that the song had nothing to do with politics. “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. When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.”

But Cummings later did admit that it was “an antiwar protest song,” explaining that when they came up with it on stage, the band and the audience had a problem with the Vietnam War. The lines where the anti-Vietnam/anti-American sentiment are most apparent are “I don’t want your war machines, I don’t want your ghetto scenes.”

The Guess Who were invited to play at the White House on July 17, 1970, shortly after the song’s release. Because of its perceived anti-American lyrics, Pat Nixon, President Richard Nixon’s wife, specifically asked that they not play “American Woman.”

Here are the lyrics to “American Woman.”

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
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin’ old with you
Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay

American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be
Don’t come a knockin’ around my door
Don’t want to see your shadow no more
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes
Now woman, I said get away
American woman, listen what I say-ay-ay-ay

American woman, said get away
American woman, listen what I say
Don’t come a hangin’ around my door
Don’t want to see your face no more
I don’t need your war machines
I don’t need your ghetto scenes
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama let me be

Go, gotta get away, gotta get away now go, go, go
I’m gonna leave you woman
Gonna leave you woman
Bye-bye bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye
You’re no good for me
I’m no good for you
Gonna look you right in the eye
Tell you what I’m gonna do
You know I’m gonna leave
You know I’m gonna go
You know I’m gonna leave
You know I’m gonna go-o, woman
I’m gonna leave you woman
Goodbye American woman
Goodbye American chick

18 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday — O Canada

  1. bushboy September 20, 2020 / 3:15 am

    A favourite song for sure. Thanks for the background I never knew.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Maggie September 20, 2020 / 7:09 am

    Great back story. Another great song from my formative years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. newepicauthor September 20, 2020 / 7:40 am

    Great song and an excellent job of writing about it. I learned a lot from your post Fandango.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango September 20, 2020 / 4:08 pm

      Thanks, Jim. Coming from a music aficionado like you, that means a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Marleen September 20, 2020 / 10:11 am

    Well, you answered questions I had as well as questions I didn’t know to ask. Great! And I really like this song.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisa Coleman September 21, 2020 / 12:29 pm

    That has always been an anthem of sorts and I didn’t know the backstory on how it came about. Great write up and I learned something new! Thanks for the post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. leigha66 September 27, 2020 / 12:28 am

    I love the way they came up with the song… great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. aisasami September 27, 2020 / 7:04 am

    I didn’t know that Nixon thought it was filled with anti-American messages. I learned something new! (Well, Nixon was always paranoid.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen September 27, 2020 / 8:26 am

      The long hair likely meant that he didn’t need to hear a word before he decided the people involved were anti-American.

      Liked by 2 people

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