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The Guess Who

Rare Grooves

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We interrupt this installment of CL's "Rare Grooves" to bring you its sister feature: "Charred Platters." Disregarding the current gold rush of contemporary Canadian indie rock, Canada's generally thought of as a joke, musically speaking, and with good reason. The liste du crappe includes yowlping thrush Alanis Morissette, cornball rockers Barenaked Ladies, Rush wannabes Triumph and faux-metal mullet-heads Loverboy.

Add Winnipeg's Guess Who to the marked-for-death gallery. Despite some early garage/Merseybeat maneuverings (not to mention Randy Bachman's jazzy, fluid guitar work), by the time of the massive 1970 hit single "American Woman" the band had been all but hijacked by the MOR vision of vocalist/keyboardist Burton Cummings. Proof resides in this remastered/expanded version of 1971's The Best of the Guess Who (RCA/Legacy). Yeah, I know -- the hookish, fuzztone-driven "No Time," acoustic/electric anthem "No Sugar Tonight" and, of course, Pat Nixon's favorite Vietnam war tribute "American Woman" still sound great on oldies FM. Zombies ripoff "Undun" is worth at least a spin.

But can anybody actually stomach pap like "These Eyes" (Michael Bolton's waiting to cover it) or "Laughing" (white soul so overwrought not even Bolton would touch it)? In the incurably sappy "Hand Me Down World," Cummings crows, "Don't give me no hand me down world/I got one already/Anybody here see the fuzzy wuzzy lovin' cup explosion/I think we missed it," as if he'd just stumbled across a missing chapter from the Book of Revelation. The three bonus tracks are no great shakes either: "Albert Flasher" and "Broken" flail aimlessly, while "Rain Dance" undercuts a promising blues-boogie arrangement with a hysterical "Where'd you get the gun, Johnny?" spoken word shtick. Bachman was right when, in a fit of religious frenzy, he quit the band. Even a bunch of fuzzy wuzzy Mormons could rock harder than Cummings.

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