Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Guess Who -- "These Eyes" (1968)

The Guess Who were the hippest rock group to ever bust out of Canada. Considering Canada's constant national drumbeating, culminating in its Juno Awards, these guys were that country's most successful export since ice hockey, and although they didn't have the longevity of Rush, they went on a spectacular Top 40 run from the late 60's through the early 70's.

It was true inspiration that the Guess Who's first American hit "These Eyes," was pulled out of the archives for teen horndog flick "Superbad," with actor Michael Cera singing it out of tune with a bluesy bent to a bunch of older weepy stoners.

"These Eyes" is a moderately-paced ballad with a slightly soulful feel, starting from its slightly fuzzy Wurlitzer electric piano Dm7-C riff. Rift with sentimentality and a touch of drama, the song's narrator is full of sadness from a typical breakup, but keeps referring to some kind of pact the couple made, perhaps engagement? Marriage?

You gave a promise to me, you broke it, you broke it.

You took the vow with me, babe, you spoke it, you spoke it.

Lead singer and co-writer Burton Cummings had loads of charisma and a unique emotional vocal timbre. I recall reading in some "Song Hits" magazine at the time that Cumming's cited Elvis Presley as his biggest influence and it showed in his grunts, shouts, and charging delivery. He knew when to turn it up for the choruses and fade outs. Early on, he had long flowing hippie hair, but eventually cut it and grew a bushy mustache. When the Guess Who broke up in 1975, he signed with CBS-distributed Portrait Records and released some middle-of-the-road hits, notably "Stand Tall."

Cummings' right hand man and fellow songwriter was guitarist Randy Bachman, who of course went to be the main namesake of thundering blue-collar rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

More of a garage band in their early days, producing a local hit cover of "Shakin' All Over," the Guess Who hit it big below the border on the RCA label, who made sure the band had all the earmarks of a pop-acceptable band. "These Eyes" was the only hit of theirs that I remember which featured a string arrangement. After that, they were rocking and rolling all the way.

The video below is the Guess Who lip-synching their way on a Canadian TV show around the time the song was a hit. Note the long close-ups on Cummings' face, his high cheekbones leading me to believe he probably had some Indian blood in him. And if you've seen photos and video footage of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, it's sort of wild to see Randy Bachman all clean cut, wearing a jacket and tie, always a large hulking figure.

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