April 26 – Guess Who Made A Name For Themselves From ‘Wheatfield’

It was a big day in Canadian music history 52 years ago today as the Guess Who put out their first album… sort of. Wheatfield Soul was released on this day in 1969, in the U.S. Canadians had been listening to the offering from the pride of Winnipeg’s rock scene for a few months already at that point.

Nowadays, Canada is seen as a pretty major player in the world music scene, particularly in rock. Over the past three decades, the likes of Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and, lord help us, Nickelback have become international superstars coming out of the Great White North. But in 1969, Canada was still a bit of a musical backwater. Sure Paul Anka was from there and wrote popular songs, and Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot were at the front of an impressive folk music scene in Toronto, but when it came to rock… well, Canadians looked back to the motherland (Britain) or south to the States. This album, as much as any, changed that perception.

The Guess Who had in a way been around almost the entire decade in that cold Prairie city, led by Chad Allan and using various names always involving his name though. In 1965 they had a #1 hit at home (and top 30 in the U.S.) with their cover of “Shakin’ All Over.” Around that time, their label then, Quality thought it would be fun to build up a mystery about who was singing “Shakin’…” for some reason. Remember, it was the ’60s and umm, “experimentation” was in vogue! So although it was technically Chad Allan and the Expressions, the label shipped it to radio stations in a sleeve saying “Guess Who?” Well, the little ruse backfired… DJs played the track on radio, a lot, but introduced it as “here’s the Guess Who?” Not long before the band, and the record company decided they had no choice but to change the name to The Guess Who?

As 1965 went along, for some reason Chad Allan quit (good thing it wasn’t called “Chad Allan” anymore!) and a young Burton Cummings came in to take over the mic. A couple of unsuccessful albums followed in Canada, but in ’69 this one changed things. Although an up-and-down affair veering all over the pop music world, while leaving no doubt as to where they came from (witness songs like “Lightfoot” for good ol’ Gord, and “Maple fudge”) it hit gold with the great single “These Eyes,” their first to be played on radio with Cummings singing. It added some neo-psychedelic keyboards as well, making it all the more a good fit for the era. It zoomed to #1 in Canada on the small Nimbus label, but seeing how well it was doing to the north, RCA came in and signed them to the American market and put the record out, the single going to #6 there. (It should be noted that record-keeping then wasn’t ideal in Canada; some references listed it as only a #7 hit domestically.)

The album did fairly well, their first to make U.S. charts at all. The reviews were middling. As allmusic say, they were “Canuck rockers who dabbled in R&B, blues rock and summer of love anthems” and on this album they were a “band stretching and searching for direction” and dissing Cumming’s “imitating Jim Morrison” on “Friends of Mine”, decrying their lack of use of Randy Bachman’s great guitars but approving of “excellent production” and “These Eyes” which showed Cummings at his best and “the authority that the band would repeat on diverse chart songs…down the road.” Those would include the two-sided hit “Laughing” and “Undun” which hit #1 in Canada and saw both A-side and B-side chart both sides of the border, and later their tour de force, “American Woman.”

Bachman left around 1973 to start another successful rock band, BTO, while Cummings steered the Guess Who for a few more years. They were among the first inductees into Canada’s Music Hall of fame and in 2002 won the prestigious Governor General’s Award for a lifetime achievement in the arts.

8 thoughts on “April 26 – Guess Who Made A Name For Themselves From ‘Wheatfield’

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    Love these guys. That name forever tied them with the Who…people have come to me before and said…hey here is the Who and play Laughing…no…thats the Guess Who…it’s almost like a routine.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was listening to ‘No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature’ on shuffle on our weekly takeout run- another guilty pleasure- last night! They were good, damn good.
    I recall reading Randy said the ?Who came about as they wanted to be thought of as ‘British Invasion’ as that was the ‘in’ thing that was hot (and selling) at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: April 26 – Guess Who Made A Name For Themselves From ‘Wheatfield’ — A Sound Day – battleoftheatlantic19391945

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