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The song's origins took the form of a live jam that emerged during a curling rink concert in Southern Ontario (various recollections include Kitchener and Mississauga, while Burton Cummings, the lead singer, recalls the curling rink was "The Broom and Stone" a popular Scarborough location for concerts at the time). When Bachman broke a string he unknowingly played the riff to American Woman when tuning the replacement string. He played it louder and Cummings improvised the lyrics to fit what Bachman was playing. They liked what they had played and noticed a kid with a cassette recorder making a bootleg recording and asked him for the tape. The subsequent studio recording features the original almost completely unchanged; only a few lines were added.

In an interview with Randy Bachman in Songfacts he elaborated further, calling this "an anti-war protest song," explaining that when they came up with it on stage, the band and the audience had a problem with the Vietnam War. Said Bachman: "We had been touring the States. This was the late '60s, one time at the US/Canada border in North Dakota they tried to draft us and send us to Vietnam. We were back in Canada, playing in the safety of Canada where the dance is full of draft dodgers who've all left the States".

Cummings (the song's lyricist) insists it has nothing to do with American pride. "What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous." Cummings told the Toronto Star in 2014. "When I said 'American woman, stay away from me,' I really meant 'Canadian woman, I prefer you.' It was all a happy accident."

Shortly after its release, the Guess Who were invited to play at the White House. Because of its perceived anti-American lyrics, Pat Nixon asked that they not play "American Woman".

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