Happy Accidents #043 - American Woman

A spontaneous riff begets an iconic song for a generation.

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Imagine crafting one of rock music's most iconic hits not through rigorous songwriting sessions, but by sheer accident.

"American Woman" by The Guess Who stands as a testament to the creative power of serendipity. In this edition of Happy Accidents, we delve into the unexpected origins of this legendary song.

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

It all began in the late 1960’s in a humble venue called the 'Broom and Stone' in Mississauga, Ontario. Yes, it was actually a curling rink (how Canadian is that, eh?)

The Guess Who, a Canadian rock band, was in intermission, preparing for their second set of the show that night.

The lead singer, Burton Cummings, was a collector of vintage vinyl records. During the break, he stepped outside to talk to someone who had a large collection that Cummings may be interested in seeing and purchasing some of his favourites.

The conversation was taking longer than planned and the crowd was getting anxious for the show to start back up again. The rest of the band decided to fill the air with some spontaneous music.


This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

Without Cummings, the band began to jam, and guitarist Randy Bachman created an impromptu riff, one that would later become one of the most famous in rock history. This unplanned creation happened as easily as the flip of a switch.

Just as this accidental riff echoed through the venue, Cummings returned, hearing the band's unexpected symphony. He rushed back inside and, with an electrifying burst of creativity, began to craft lyrics on the spot, almost in a stream of consciousness.

"American woman, get away from me" were among the lyrics he improvised. Little did they know it, but these words would soon go on to captivate the world.

(Check out this video of The Guess Who performing American Woman live 👇)


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

The song "American Woman" was officially released in January 1970 as part of an album with the same title.

But the real magic happened on May 9, 1970, when the track took the music world by storm. It ascended to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, dethroning megastars like the Jackson 5 and the Beatles.

(“American Woman” would finish the year at number 3 on the top 100 in 1970. Click here to see what other songs made the list that year)

How cool is that?

"American Woman" is more than a rock classic; it's a testament to the incredible power of serendipity. Its birth, as a product of happy accidents, reminds us that great things can come when we least expect them.

Whether you're a songwriter or simply someone looking for inspiration, remember that sometimes, unplanned moments lead to masterpieces.


"American Woman," one of rock music's iconic hits, was born from a moment of spontaneity during a concert at a curling rink.

The memorable guitar riff and powerful lyrics came together when guitarist Randy Bachman and lead singer Burton Cummings improvised on stage, leading to a chart-topping song that captured the essence of the late 1960s.


Check out this article where Deepak Chopra talks about the massive role that luck plays in success.

Special thanks to David M. Jones for sending this one my way!

Some fun facts:

  • "American Woman" is not just a song; it's a cultural and political statement. The lyrics contain elements of social commentary and express the turbulence of the late 1960s.

  • The Guess Who's success with "American Woman" is often seen as a defining moment in Canadian music history and played a crucial role in paving the way for other Canadian artists' international success.

  • This song has been covered by countless artists over the years, attesting to its enduring appeal and influence.

  • The iconic riff, created by Randy Bachman on the spot, was so potent that it still resonates with listeners worldwide. It's an essential part of the song's unmistakable charm.

The lessons here:

  1. Creativity Thrives in Spontaneous Moments: Sometimes, the most iconic creations emerge when you least expect them.

  2. Embrace the Unexpected: "American Woman" reminds us that accidents can lead to spectacular results. Embrace it, you just might stumble upon your masterpiece.

  3. Innovation can Stem from Improvisation: Even in the world of music, where composition is highly structured. Don’t be afraid to take chances, and let your creativity flow freely.

YOUR Happy Accidents

Got a Happy Accident story of your own? Send it to me and get featured in this section of the newsletter!

Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

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