“ROAD FOOD” (WRITER: BILL WALLACE–BURTON CUMMINGS)
ARTIST: THE GUESS WHO
RELEASED 1974 ON 7” 45 AND ON ROAD FOOD LP
I was hardly prepared, at age 11, to understand words like:
Road food, I hear you walking down the hallway
Road food, I know you’re sneakin’ up the stairway
Road food, I know you’re in the elevator
Road food, I know my name is in the paper
And the lyrics about female impersonators, drink, drug-dealing, publicity grabs, cheap sex, and the boredom and horror of life on the road as a rock and roll star went right over my head.
But to an 11-year-old falling in love with rock and roll, “Appletown, Appletown, chippa-chippa-chee-chee” just sounded good. Burton Cummings, the Guess Who’s lead vocalist and keyboard player, wrote plenty of catchy songs, this time in collaboration with bassist Bill Wallace.
It was only later that I “got” what Cummings was on about. I first heard “Road Food” in summer 1974, as the flip side to their hit “Clap for the Wolfman,” although it had previous been out for a few months as the title song of their ninth U.S. album in five years.
The Road Food album contained two superb hit singles: “Star Baby” (which barely cracked the top 40 nationally, but was top five here in Chicago) and the odd reggae-pop “Wolfman,” their first top 10 single since 1970 and their final one overall. Several of the album tracks, especially “Don’t You Want Me” and “Road Food,” also kept up a high standard, especially given how much the band was both touring and recording.
And this track really rocks. While some later Guess Who material falls short of being both catchy and muscular, “Road Food” features turbocharged guitars from Kurt Winter and Don McDougall and a strong vocal line full of cool harmonies. The rhythm doesn’t let up, either, going from glam-rock crunch to an almost space-rock chorus.
A tiny handful of stations in small and medium markets actually programmed this side of the record, but most went for “Clap for the Wolfman,” which took an especially long time to climb the national charts and remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for four months.
It was the last hurrah for this version of the band. Shortly after the album’s release—amid simmering band tensions—Cummings apparently fired Winter, with McDougall leaving in protest. The Guess Who’s commercial fortunes also took a quick nosedive.