The Original Vs. The Cover – “American Woman”

For this month’s version of The Original Vs. The Cover we tackle “American Woman” by The Guess Who vs Lenny Kravitz’s version.  The song was originally released in 1969 by Canadian band The Guess Who.  The song went to #1 and became such a popular song in the U.S. mainly because of it’s title.

That is strange because the song is not Pro-American, but it isn’t really Anti-American either.  It is a small part Anti-War song (one line says “I don’t need your war machine”) and large part bashing of American women.  Bashing is harsh, it was more like American women were too much for lyricist Burton Cummings.  Here is what he said about the song to the Toronto Star back in 2014

“It 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.”

The article goes on to describe how the song developed and it seems like it was by pure chance…

“We were playing out in Scarborough, at this curling arena called Broom and Stone. We were doing two shows at night. I was out back talking to some guy and then I heard Randy and the boys start this great riff to bring me back in.”

Cummings starts to sing that famous intro. “Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, dum . . . boom!”

“I just raced onto the stage and sang whatever came into my head. I jammed words along with the music. It was all stream of consciousness. Let me make it clear. It was never a song. It was a riff from Randy and then I laid some words on it.”

Fortunately, the band found a kid had been bootlegging that night’s concert with a new invention: the cassette recorder. Instead of getting mad, they listened to it and jotted down what Cummings had ad libbed and he later firmed up the words.

Okay, enough of that.  Let’s get to the music.

THE GUESS WHO

The original album version is over 5 minutes long has an acoustic guitar part at the beginning with Burton Cummings playing and singing and then spelling out American before the song kicks in to the single version everyone is used to hearing.  It is that opening guitar riff that is so famous and instantly recognizable.

There is a really amazing guitar sound that is so cool sounding and unique.  Here is how  Randy Bachman got that sound (per songfacts.com)…

“To get the effect, he would overdrive the preamp (setting it to 9 or 10) while the normal volume settings are turned down. The sound does not get any louder, but gradually it grows dirtier and finally ends up creating a cello-like effect.” Randy Bachman calls the distinctive guitar sound he used on this song “The Herzog”.

With a combination of Burton’s gritty vocals and that guitar sound, the song is a pure classic.  It has that classic late 60’s/70’s vibe that is unmatched and although has been played over & over relentlessly through the years, it is still an amazing song and you can’t help but get into it.

LENNY KRAVITZ

Lenny Kravitz covered the song in 1999 for the movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Soundtrack.  The song wound up on his album 5 for the reissue.  The song garnered Lenny a Grammy for Best Male Rock Performance in 2000.

Lenny comes out of the gate with the heavy guitar sound and adds his own little funky groove to it but still keeps it fairly consistent with the original.  He puts his own guitar effects on the song and even adds a little effect to his vocals.  The guitar solo is what is really different from the original and isn’t able to match the greatness.  According to Lenny, he was unable to capture that sound & tone (per wikipedia).

THE VERDICT

The verdict is really a no-brainer for me.  The Original version by The Guess Who is hands down the best version of this song.  The guitar sound is so unique and legendary that anything else fails in comparison.  Lenny’s isn’t a bad version, it just lacks the heart and soul of the original. He isn’t able to capture the essence of the song and for that it loses.  And vocally, you can’t beat Burton’s style and sound either.  All around top-notch song.

Now the cool thing is that in 2000, The Guess Who were given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the MuchMusic Video Awards and they performed this song with Lenny Kravitz at the ceremony.

Let me know what you think.  Tell me if you agree or disagree and why.  Can’t wait to find out your thoughts.  Have a great day!!

“American Woman”

Uh!

American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don’t come a-hangin’ around my door
I don’t wanna 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

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

American woman, said get away
American woman, listen what I say
Don’t come a-hangin’ around my door
Don’t wanna see your face no more
I don’t need your war machines
I don’t need your ghetto scenes
Coloured 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, woman
I’m gonna leave ya, woman
Goodbye, American woman…

Written by: Burton Cummings, Garry Peterson, Jim Kale and Randy Bachman

17 thoughts on “The Original Vs. The Cover – “American Woman”

  1. “We were playing out in Scarborough, at this curling arena called Broom and Stone. We were doing two shows at night. I was out back talking to some guy and then I heard Randy and the boys start this great riff to bring me back in.”

    Hmmmm. I was always of the understanding it was written at a curling club in Kitchener. This is the first I heard Scarborough. Must investigate further. The Granite Club in Kitchener is the story in these parts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Krokus covered this as well and it was a metalized version of course…
    I always dug the Kravitz version but it drags way too long towards the end…
    To this day Bachman and Cummings are still fighting over Guess Who publishing…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lenny showed so much promise on Let Love Rule, but not much of his output since has come close to that original dynamism, charisma, or appeal. So much posing is more comic book than authenticity. His version of American Woman is a great example of this. He’s got nothing on Burton Cummings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I prefer the original – the Lenny one didn’t feel like it went anywhere, I didn’t get that repetitive vibe from the Guess who.
    Though the Austin Powers 2 association is a favourable one for me!

    Liked by 1 person

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