The term “Classic Rock” was coined to describe a certain type of radio format, which plays a specific kind of rock. and roll music.
While opinions may vary about which musicians, or what songs, ought to be played on these stations, there are two bands that are always included no matter what, The Guess Who, and Bachman, Turner-Overdrive. The Guess Who’s mega-hit, American Woman, is a classic-rock staple that blends together the perfect combination of clanking guitar, screaming vocals, and teenage rebellion. Flip the coin over, and you’ll find BTO’s anthem Takin’ Care of Business. TCB is spontaneous, and rowdy, and one of the most recognizable songs of all time. Like American Woman, it revolves around a hot riff, screaming vocals, and a crystalline guitar solo. Both songs, as well as a host of other classic rockers, were written by Randy Bachman.
Bachman, whose career spans 60 years, has written some of the best-known songs of the rock and roll period, including several number-one hits. For the last decade, he has produced Randy’s Vinyl Tap, which appears Saturday’s at 7pm, Sundays at 6pm, on Canada’s CBC Radio One, and Sirius channel 169. A natural storyteller, he discusses the classic-rock era, and presents the music and artists who are important to him. He said, with a laugh, “that comes from having eight kids. I had to learn to tell bedtime stories. These are my rock and roll bedtime stories.”
One of his favorite tales explains the origins of The Guess Who’s number-one hit, American Woman.
The band was just a struggling act who toured non-stop across Canada and the US, barely making a living. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, the band could work in the US because they had a work visa which was commonly referred to as a Green Card. Upon their latest entry into the US, they received instructions to report to the Selective Service which meant the genuine possibility of being drafted and sent to Viet Nam.
Instead of reporting, the Canadian band returned home. One night, not long after their close brush with the American war machine, the band was playing a gig in Ontario when a string snapped on Bachman’s guitar. He said, “Burton Cummings (the lead singer of the Guess Who) told the audience we were going to take a break while I changed the string. So I got on my knees in front of his piano, and I’m hitting the notes, and tuning the new string, and as I’m tuning up the guitar, I play the riff from American Woman.
I’m just tuning the guitar, but the audience, their heads all jerk at this riff. So I see that they're interested, and I don’t want to forget this, if it's making heads turn around. Cummings comes running up on stage and asks what are you doing? I say listen to this riff! Play something! So he played a harmonica solo, then a piano solo, and then I yelled out to him to sing something! He says what do I sing? I say, sing anything! And the first thing out of his mouth is “American Woman, stay away from me. American woman, mama let me be '' and he sang it over and over.
The crowd sensed that we were making this up. I did a guitar solo, and we played it for around ten minutes, and when we were done he came up to me and asked, Do we have something here? And I say, yeah, we really have something here! Cummings wrote the rest of the lyrics, and we recorded it a few weeks later and it went to number one in the US before the DJs realized that it was an anti-Viet Nam protest song sung by four Canadians!”
BTO’s mega-hit, Takin' Care of Business, came about when Fred Turner, the lead singer, lost his voice.
Bachman had written TCB several years earlier, but it had never been recorded. Up until then, it had, what he describes as "a lame chorus" that, despite Randy’s plea, neither The Guess Who, nor BTO would deign to record. The night that Turner’s voice faltered, Bachman, who had never sung leads before, was forced into the role, and saw his big chance. He instructed his band mates to follow him through the now famous chord progression, then stepped up to the mike and began belting out the song. This time, when he got into the chorus, instead of trotting out, what he described as a sappy, Beatlesesque vocal break, everyone, except him hated, he spontaneously sang the now-famous lines ``And I’ve been taking care of business, everyday. Taking care of business, every way, Taking care of business, it's all mine. Taking Care of business, working overtime.” And just like that, one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded sprung to life.
When asked why he thought the song became so popular, Bachman said, “BTO did songs that were kind of caveman that anybody could sing along with. When You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet was number one, we were touring England, Ireland, and Scotland, and everywhere we played, I don’t think there was a female in the audience.” He continued, “Guys loved BTO. It was the rowdy soccer guys who were diggin' these anthems coming out to the shows. We made the album Four-Wheel Drive to be purposely like that. Randy goes on, “I had no idea that it was going to be a hit record. It was just supposed to be an album filler. Even now, when the song comes over the radio, the car next to me, people are smiling, and they’re singing along, and I want to yell, hey, that's me!”