Bill Wallace

REVIEW: The Guess Who – Greatest Hits (1999)

THE GUESS WHO – Greatest Hits (1999 RCA)

Fun fact:  every Canadian citizen in good standing is issued a Guess Who album when they turn voting age.  Instead of that one, I upgraded to the remastered Greatest Hits in 1999.  The timing for a new compilation was right for the Canadian institution.  Though they never broke up, they had a big reunion tour in 2000.  Burton Cummings (Guess Who singer/pianist 1966-1975) and guitarist  Randy Bachman (1962-1970) had been out of the band a long time.  There was a 1983 reunion but even that was far in the past.  It was the Guess Who’s time in Canada once again, and in talking to Record Store customers, they couldn’t have been more excited if it was the Beatles.

18 tracks of Guess Who hits cover most of the well known bases.  Opening with the dramatic ballad “These Eyes” (made famous once again by Canadian Michael Cera in the movie Superbad) I’m reminded what a tremendous singer Burton Cummings is.  From the ballads to rockers like “No Time”, he could do it soulful or raspy.  Whatever the songs required.

And let’s not forget ex-James Gang six-stringer Domenic Troiano.  The Italian-Canadian guitar wiz was brought in on in 1974 and quickly aided and abetted the group in songwriting.  Only one Troiano-penned track is included here (“Dancin’ Fool”) but his slick riff is totally tasty.  (Unfortunately, Troiano is probably best known as the guy who Gavin Rossdale had to pay off to call his band “Bush” instead of “Bush X”.  Troiano had a band called Bush in 1970.)

The Guess Who were a remarkable band in their day, with a firm hand on both ballads and slick boogie rockers.  Yet their best known song, 1969’s “American Woman” is one of their least remarkable.  Written while tuning up at a curling club (look it up) in Kitchener (says Bachman) or Scarborough (says Cummings), it’s just sledgehammer rock.  Which is fine — there is nothing wrong with that kind of rock.  It’s just bizarre that it’s “American Woman” that people remember when The Guess Who had 20 or so better songs.   Check out “Albert Flasher”, a piano boogie that rivals the best of the genre.

This set is a fine listen from start to finish, and I can only really think of one rocker that’s not present — “Bus Driver”.  Otherwise it covers all the important stuff from the beginning to Cummings’ departure.*  It’s not an album for deep cuts or obscurities.  If you’ve spent extended periods of time listening to Canadian radio, you’ll know 50-80% of these songs.  If not, you hopefully already know “These Eyes” and “American Woman”.  Maybe even “Laughing” or “Undun”.  The Guess Who were always solid with just a little bit of quirk to them.  Solid bouncy musicianship, clever arrangements and lyrics, and a killer voice.  That’s Greatest Hits by The Guess Who.

4.5/5 stars

* The Guess Who continues today with a lineup including original drummer Garry Peterson and Quiet Riot’s Rudy Sarzo.