The Guess Who

The Best Of The Guess Who (RCA ’71) Rating: A
These guys were huge in their homeland of Canada but are primarily remembered by U.S. audiences because of several excellent late '60s/early '70s hits, most of which can be found on this stellar 11-track compilation (the only high charting omissions are their earlier hit cover in ’65 “Shakin’ All Over” and their later lighthearted sing along tribute to disc jockey Wolfman Jack "Clap For The Wolfman"). Led by Burton Cumming’s ruggedly raspy voice, which somewhat recalls the Small Faces/Humble Pie's Steve Marriott, the first seven songs here have all gotten airplay over the years, and they all still sound great for the most part. The Blood, Sweat & Tears-ish “These Eyes” starts off the proceedings with a classic tearjerker notable for Cummings’ vocal acrobatics, while "Laughing" likewise features crooned verses, heartbroken lyrics, and a lively chorus. "Undun," with its jazzy keyboards and moody late night vibe, is even better, while the atmospheric “No Time” is another personal favorite that showed that these guys could rock out. Fuzzy guitars, moody psychedelic verses, CSN-type harmonies, and a great vocal from Cummings (especially on the fadeout ending) make this a winner all around, and the high quality continues with the scat intro, classic riffs, and Cummings' nasty delivery of the misogynist lyrics (hey, that's rock n' roll) on "American Woman," the band's best known song (it later became a hit for Lenny Kravitz, though his version is rather lame). The "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" medley is a real treat, too, being two songs in one: the first starts with acoustic guitar, a good groove, and a catchy chorus before part two takes over with jazzy keyboards and a mellower (but still groove-based) vibe before returning to the original melody at the end. Great stuff, and "Hand Me Down World" continues with paranoid, edgy verses before a catchy pop chorus comes in on which the band's harmonies are again a highlight. “Bus Rider” is a less substantial but mildly enjoyable boogie before the popular hippy anthem "Share The Land" starts with a soulful guitar wail and delivers another sing along chorus, as well as another excellent vocal from the underrated Cummings, particularly on the fadeout (and I'm a sucker for groups like Led Zeppelin and Guns n’ Roses who have that knack for ending songs on a high). Rounding out the set list is the soulful ballad “Do You Miss Me Darlin’,” on which Cummings again shines, before the hard rocking, almost metallic “Hang On To Your Life” provides a satisfactory finale. These last two tracks demonstrate that The Guess Who could do both rockers and ballads quite well, and though even the band’s best songs can sound a bit dated at times, this nevertheless is an extremely enjoyable collection from a band whose métier was the hit single. The Best Of The Guess Who can therefore work as both an introduction to, and a summation of, what The Guess Who were all about. Note: There are other more comprehensive Guess Who compilations available, but this one has always had my loyalty, perhaps because I simply wore out a cassette tape of it way back when, but also because unlike many of the other comps this one is all killer, no filler. Note #2: The band’s other well-known member was Randy Bachman; tensions between him and Cummings (with whom he co-wrote many of the band's songs) caused his departure in 1970. He went on to form another quality singles act, Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

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