Lost Classic: The Guess Who – Live At The Paramount

The Guess Who - Live At The ParamountThe Guess WhoLive At The Paramount (RCA)

This is a true story, and anyone who’s ever read Lester BangsPsychotic Reaction And Carburetor Dung and actually followed through with it can confirm its accuracy.

By “followed through,” I mean reading Bangs’ assessment of the Guess Who‘s Live At The Paramount record and gone out and bought it shortly afterwards.


A friend of mine read Psychotic Reaction about the same time as me, and we discussed the book one night on the phone. Both of us were taken by his enthusiasm of Live At The Paramount. I mean, it’s The Guess Who, for cryin’ out loud—there’s no way that they could have been that good of a live band. We already knew some of the band’s material—or so we thought-as it was permanently embedded on classic rock playlists, oldies AM radio, and the occasional superstars of the ’70s compilations that lazy parents bought when outside of their car radio signal.

My friend worked two jobs at the time, one of which was a record store in a college town. Don’t bother looking for the record store, as it’s no longer around, a victim of too little traffic thanks to a never-ending inventory of Jesus Jones’ sophomore effort and Chumbawamba promo items. But back then, they did an admirable job of staying hip and filling their inventory with decent new releases.

One day, he received an upcoming releases notification and saw that the Guess Who’s Live At The Paramount album was getting the remaster treatment. The allure was too great, particularly after Bangs’ words continued to taunt him.

Was Lester just being ornery, or was Live At The Paramount really the equivalent of a Canuck snowstorm, blasting your face with the cold reality that the Guess Who was indeed a credible and capable rock and roll band.

He ordered the disc, paid for it with his payroll deduction plan (meaning that he had to stay in the store for about an hour to pay for it) and waited for the delivery the following week.

I don’t think he even got halfway through it before he called me.

“Remember that Bangs review of The Guess Who’s Live At The Paramount?” he asked.

“Yeah…”

“It’s really good, dude.” He stammered, as if he was still in shock at the record’s quality.

I should point out right now that when Bangs compares Burton Cummings to Jim Morrison, we both thought he was exaggerating. We also thought he was joking when he quoted those references to roast beef, American sluts, and drunken scat singing in Psychotic Reaction.

My friend assured me that it was all there.

“And you know what?” he added “It works!”

It was enough praise for me to get my own copy of Live At The Paramount and I concur: it totally rocks and it’s not at all what you’d expect from that Wonder Bread outfit that gave us “These Eyes.”

The only time that song was ever hip was when they made fun of it in Superbad.

Live At The Paramount shows the Guess Who was indeed very hip—at least for one memorable night—and their performance is the epitome of “superbad.”

Their ferocious performance makes them sound like a band from the Canadian prairie with nothing to do but smoke pot, listen to Doors albums, and practice.

As good as the band is, Cummings is even better. He is indeed a ringer for Morrison on some parts without all of the Lizard King pretention. He makes no attempt to feed you some bullshit that he’s a modern-day Rimbaud, he acts like you and I act when we’re drunk: stupid. He makes shit up when he forgets the words. He verbally chastises all the women who’ve done him wrong while he’s on stage. He knows in the back of his mind that the ebb of the Guess Who’s popularity is closing in and he’s come to watch the whole shithouse go up in flames with a cold Oly in one hand and a half-smoked j in the other.

It out-Doors the Doors to the point where Live At The Paramount slays Absolutely Live and it does what no other studio album can do for the Guess Who: make you believe that they are—at least for one documented evening—one hell of a rock and roll band.

Just like Lester Bangs told us back in 1972.

Check it out for yourself, if you still don’t believe.

You’ll find the proof is in the pudding—or the roast beef, in this case.

The Guess Who: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

5 thoughts on “Lost Classic: The Guess Who – Live At The Paramount”

  1. Curse you GLoNo for making me wanna spend money on records! Gonna have to scan the old man’s collection for this one, but I don’t think he’s got it.

  2. Lately some people have begun to assert that, what with 1967 so far gone and all, ain’t nothin’ cosmic anymore. They say that rare evanescent psychic Pez drop has gone out of contemporary life. But I Know Different. Ever since last Thursday, when I was awakened at five o’clock in the morning by a bolt of lightning striking the streetlight in front of my house, creating such a big boom, with a slowly fading aftermath hiss so close to the one at the end of “A Day in the Life,” that I was sure the Russkies or the Chinks had dropped the Bomb on us at last. I just lay there waiting for the shock wave to come and snort me up.

    I stayed that way for about fifteen seconds, and when I was finally and absolutely convinced that it definitely was not coming, I got up and played the sixteen-minute version of “American Woman” on the new Guess Who album recorded live in Seattle, Washington. In the process of auditioning this performance for the first time, I was hit by not one but two of the first true flashes I could remember having in, oh, it must be at least four years. I realized simultaneously that:

    1. The Guess Who is God.

    2. Burton Cummings is the rightful and unquestionable heir to Jim Morrison’s spiritual mantle.

    I saw the Guess Who do this version of “American Woman” live a year ago, and I have never been more offended by a concert. Just as he does on the record, Burton Cummings indulged himself in a long, extremely cranky rumination on Yankee Yin, in a sort of fallen-out Beat poetic style:

    American bitch

    American cunt

    American slut

    American lesbian

    American schoolgirl

    American housewife

    American beaver

    etc., etc., etc. Wouldn’t you be offended by this Canuck creep coming down here taking all our money while running down our women? Sure you would! Until you realized, as I did, eventually, that that kind of stuff is exactly what makes the Guess Who great. They have absolutely no taste at all, they don’t even mind embarrassing everybody in the audience, they’re real punks without even working too hard at it. This was all brought home when I went to see them a couple of months ago and got offended all over again by a song which had Cummings hollering: “I got cocaine and morphine too / Lots of stuff to get you all high . . .”

    I mean, these guys just don’t know when to quit! That’s what puts ‘em so far ahead of everyone else. They’ll say anything. What do you think “diesel fixer, fixed a diesel, diesel fixed me, what a weasel” means? Do you care? No! Do you love it anyway? Sure!

    This album, as far as I can tell, is the Guess Who’s magnum opus so far. “Woman” alone, starting with a long sloppy medium tempo blues, proves that Burton can improvise the best gauche jive lyrics since the Lizard King himself. Who else but Burton or Jimbo would have the nerve to actually begin a song with the line “Whatchew gonna do, mama, now that the roast beef’s gone?” Then he actually has the gall in the course of his rant to list every last way that the American Woman just totally submits to and serves him, and proceeds to dump on her for “messing your mind”! Man, that is true punk; that is so fucked up it’s got class up the ass. And on top of all that, he’s getting into some great, lazy, uncontrolled scat singing and he plays harmonica better than anybody since Keith Relf.

    In case you wondered about the drug commercial, it’s in a song called “Truckin’ Off Across the Sky,” the main character of which is the Grim Reaper. There he is, head and shoulders looming over yonder bluff, grinning, outstretched arms holding bags of you-know-what. Positively the best drug song of 1972. And this may well be the best live album of the year. Fuck all them old dudes wearing their hip tastes on their sleeves: get this and play it loud and be the first on your block to become a public nuisance.

    Creem, November 1972

  3. Holy crap, what a coincidence — my dad and I were just talking about this album the other night. Having spun his copy numerous times as a kid and a couple times since, I can confirm, it is pretty badass.

  4. Cummings could sing. Really sing.
    Those Eyes is one of many virtuoso performances.
    American Woman has some very sophisticated tech apps which set it ahead of the game in its day.
    Guess Who was tight live and albums were always well produced
    in the early days by Jack Ricardson.
    Glad you guys finally came around to this hidden treasure.
    Their road manager was also amazing. A road warrior, hockey player, professional and hard working roadie.
    I worked with these guys a couple of times in the early and mid
    seventies, once in Chicago the other as sound tech at the Winnipeg Pacaderm House benefit concert they did to offset some charges levied a long time ago. A ROCK AND ROLL BAND!

  5. The GHLATP album defined our youth! It was what we were. I just saw a photo of my school class from 1973 and we all looked like we came from that band!

    I have a friend who has often said that if he could have one gift from God it would be to sing like Burton Cummings!

    Two tracks from the album are being played tonight after 5.00pm on “The Sound” a station that celebrates the rock and roll we grew up with.

    98.3 out of Auckland NZ. Listen and enjoy!

    Lester was right on the money!!

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