There are records, there are nights, and there are memories. Indelible, irreplaceable, lifetime memories. This one included me and my friends Zing and Stenley in our frat house (and later, critically, Stenley’s roommate Yak), and it featured one album: The Best of The Guess Who, a compilation disc by the aforementioned lords of late-‘60’s/early-‘70’s Canadian rock bands (and guess who led The Guess Who: Burton Cummings, simply one of the greatest vocalists in rock music history, and Randy Bachman, who would leave the band at the height of their popularity to begin taking care of business with a new one, Bachman-Turner Overdrive). I really don’t remember how it was that on some perfectly average weeknight we ended up congregating in Stenley’s room, or hanging in this exact 3-man grouping – we never had before nor ever would thereafter – and I definitely don’t recall why Stenley chose this particular album; to my recollection, we’d never discussed the band, and they were neither hip nor newsworthy in 1980, when this occurred. But Stenley confidently pulled the record out, saying something like “You guys are gonna dig this” as he dropped the needle. He was even more cocky in declaring something else, too. “I know,” he offered conspiratorially, “where Yak hides his weed.”
For Zing and I it wouldn’t exactly be the first time, though it was far from a regular occurrence, but we quickly decided to go with the flow (after all, we were just a couple of dumb freshmen and Stenley was practically an upper-classman). And so, while sampling some of the hybrid Kentucky bluegrass/California sinsemilla on which Carl Spackler might’ve just played 36 holes, and cannonball-ing¹ it with some local Dixie beers, we began our essential Guess Who listening session, starting off with the killer opening track, ‘These Eyes,’ a crooning classic later to have an only slightly less famous rendition by Evan in “Superbad.”² That was followed by ‘Laughing’ and ‘Undun’ (yes, that’s the correct spelling), two more impeccable pop-rock creations (the bitching flute solo midway through the latter, enough to make Ron Burgundy jealous, really started to get things going). Then, with the effects of the wacky tobaccy beginning to take firm hold of us, Stenley announced, “Okay, this is where it starts rocking.” And with that, the pounding drum intro of ‘No Time’ kicked in. Good God, what a song. Bachman would describe it as “Our country-rock one. Me and Burton were trying to be like Neil Young and Stephen Stills.” Personally, I would call it a virtually perfect tune: the driving guitar line, the lush, ringing harmonies, the chugging bass, and (starting at 2:48), Cummings’ raw, raspy and unrivaled ad-libbing. I can’t think of another singer in the annals of rock (except, perhaps, Bob Seger) whose scratchy scatting could possibly measure up.
Mesmerized by the music, we listened to the rest of the album in veritable stoned silence as the sublime tracks kept spinning. The next one was the band’s most well-known hit, ‘American Woman,’ before proceeding on to the ‘No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature’ medley, ‘Hand Me Down World,’ ‘Bus Rider,’ and ‘Share The Land’ – every one an absolute gem (and that wasn’t just momentary reefer madness, I love them all to this day). By the time the record closed with the sludgy and psychedelic ‘Hang On To Your Life,’ it seemed like we had only a tenuous grasp of ours (while unsurprisingly also feeling a bit sleepy and hungry). It was around this time that Yak showed up in his room. And Stenley, noticeably trying to pull himself together, greeted him with, “Hey man, do you have any weed we can smoke?” to which Yak quickly replied, “Oh, I’d love to offer you guys some,” he assured, “I just don’t have any right now.” Well, as Thin Lizzy sang in ‘The Boys Are Back In Town,’ we just fell about the place. Uproarious, hysterical laughter. For minutes. Sure, it may have been aided by what we’d already had, that Yak earnestly stated there wasn’t any of. But still, that’s high comedy. To my knowledge it was never talked about after that evening – neither that he’d flagrantly fibbed to us about his stash, nor that we’d taken the rather unneighborly step of helping ourselves to it. The incident simply vaporized like the smoke from which it had emanated. The memory of listening to The Best of The Guess Who that night, on the contrary, remains rock solid.
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