Sometimes you buy a record when you only know one song, and the results are terrible. You end up wishing you never bought the thing in the first place, with the other tracks tarnishing everything you loved about the one song that interested you. Then there are other times, like when you buy an album like American Woman by the Guess Who, and suddenly everything fits in place. How can I not have heard more of this band before?
I remember hearing the original version of American Woman – before Lenny Kravitz covered it – on the soundtrack to Ben Stiller’s 1996 film The Cable Guy. It’s probably my favourite moment, in an otherwise disappointing film, when the stereo system installed in the apartment of Matthew Broderick’s character, by Jim Carrey’s cable guy, prompts a karaoke party.
I’ve been kicking around a 7” of American Woman for decades, and only just got around to investing in the album. The band sounds like a hybrid of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane, by way of Zeppelin and the Who, which makes for an interesting prospect, with lead guitarist Randy Bachman probably best known for his later work as part of Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
The single version of American Woman cuts straight in, with the rhythm guitar part setting up the tempo for the incredible fuzz line that is the centrepiece of the song. I was amazed to find a nice little acoustic passage that opens the song on the album version. Hearing this is akin to hearing the instrumental break in the album version of Blue Oyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) The Reaper on Agents Of Fortune.
There are probably plenty of examples of singles being more than judicious in what they cut out of the original song – one infamous example being the single version of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion which disposes entirely of the bass guitar intro. Sacrilege!
I bought a great rock magazine in the early 2000s. It was published by one of the established monthly magazines – Mojo or Q, I can’t remember which – but it was a special issue about essential rock albums you might not have heard. So, there was no Beatles, Stones or Floyd in there. No Bob Dylan. No Zeppelin. No Nirvana. Those would be obvious choices for an essential albums list – this was trying to present something a little out of the ordinary.
It also turned me onto a couple of albums I’ve still not got my head around. One of them is this, Cheap Trick’s 1979 live album recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo. There are a bunch of rock bands from the ‘70s that never really left a lasting impression in the UK. Cheap Trick, Kiss and Aerosmith are definitely guilty of this. I’m not really sure why – but for some bands I suspect it has something to do with a failure to promote their albums, or tour, outside of their native America. Aerosmith only ever crossed the Atlantic once in the ‘70s, to play the Reading festival in 1977. So it might not be hard to believe that some people thought that they were a new band when they came back from the dead in the late ‘80s (they’re probably the same people who thought that Run DMC wrote Walk This Way).
So when I hear a record like this – effectively Cheap Trick’s greatest hits performed in concert – I have no frame of reference. I didn’t grow up listening to these singles, like somebody growing up in the USA might have done. The radio stations in the UK never played them – so I’m like a blank canvas. Even something as ubiquitous as I Want You To Want Me – now on the soundtrack to every teen flick to come out of Hollywood – was a rare sound in the UK.
I recently watched the Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways episode filmed in Chicago. It’s a great series, and nice to see them paying respect to Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. His guest appearance on the song recorded there – Something From Nothing – does leave me scratching my head though. It’s a great song, with a little funk to it, but Nielsen’s contribution is minimal – and barely audible. A wasted opportunity!
I’ve been listening to a new radio station at work. It’s called The Sound, and it’s on the same frequency as the old Classic Gold station used to be (presumably all of their listeners died). It mainly deals with rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the odd track from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The good thing about it is that for a rock station, it doesn’t just play the hits. They play just as many album tracks as they do singles, so it’s not like they’re restricted to a playlist like other stations.
Anyway, I have the radio on really low, and every now and again I’ll hear this really ominous tune. A really short tune, that always seems to come out of nowhere, and then ends really abruptly. It almost sounds like the kind of thing you’d expect from a band like Rush. After catching it again last week, and turning the volume up, I’ve realised that it’s the instrumental break from (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – in the album version that radio stations never play.
So, yes, I have this album and although I don’t think I’ve played it since I bought it, it’s not that bad. I bought it because I was reading some magazine that was listing classic but oft overlooked rock albums. This made the list together with a few others I snapped up on vinyl. It’s pretty good, but obviously (Don’t Fear) The Reaper overshadows everything else on the album.