“The World Is A Ghetto” by War (1972)
Release Date: November 1972
Produced by Jerry Goldstein, Lonnie Jordan, Howard E. Scott
Chart Positions: #1 (US)
Certifications: Gold (US)
Singles: “The Cisco Kind” (#2 US), (#1 Canada), (#4 Netherlands), (#10 France), (#22 Holland), “The World Is A Ghetto” (#7 US)
(70’s Music: Album by Album highly recommends this album for any music lover + this is a must buy)
The band's commercial high point - it topped the charts and quickly went gold. It brilliantly blends rebellious 60s experimentation with starry-eyed 70s hedonism, delivering all of their signature motifs: superbly lyrical Lee Oskar solos, inclusive group harmonies, taut Latin rhythms, wah-wah'ed guitar, and smoky jazz saxophone, all of it packaged as hard-driving funk and R&B with heavy hints of jazz. Rolling Stone Magazine music critic described the album as the black “Dark Side of the Moon.”
War has progressed far and fast since they split from Eric Burdon to develop fully as a band on their own merit. They continued and developed a full, luscious sound that's engagingly funk-filled. Their previous album, All Day Music saw the evolvement of this distinctly urban sound to a point just short of proficiency -- War could talk but hadn't yet mastered the language. With The World Is a Ghetto, they edge even closer to total mastery of their music as they attempt to use it to communicate the essence of ghetto life.
Their emphasis was to rely less on lyrical content, allowing space to develop the relaxed instrumental groove that became widely respected. In addition, their timing was perfect, as a host of African American stars such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield were experimenting and developing their own sounds and messages, all with increasing critical and commercial success. War’s style developed beyond soul, to loosely fuse progressive rock, jazz, R&B and a splash of calypso.
“The World Is A Ghetto” was War’s third studio album (fifth if you include the albums they did with Burdon). It has been certified Gold by the RIAA and topped the charts in the US. The album had been re-evaluated by music critics in 2012 when the 40th Anniversary Edition was released. The echoing verdict is that the album has held up extremely well through the decades and remained relevant to the social issues of the current day. With “The World Is A Ghetto” War created a visionary work of music.
The album opens with "The Cisco Kid," a song just teeming with imagery about Cisco and obese buddy Pancho. Sittin' down by the Rio Grande, drinkin' wine and "eatin' salted peanuts from the can" C.K. and Pancho are no more than a fantasy in the minds of the ghetto youth singing their praises, but an important fantasy because it allows them hope, heroes, and a temporary respite from the harsh realities of ghetto existence. “The Cisco Kid” was the second single release from the album and shot straight to the top of the charts. War guitarist Howard Scott came up with the idea for this song. Drummer Harold Brown commented, "Howard has always been a major contributor. He was in Compton, he had this apartment. I visited Howard there and he was sitting on his amp. He said, 'Harold, I got this idea. Cisco kid was a friend of mine.' That idea came about because there were no ethnic heroes at that time. Mainly, we were seeing people like Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. There wasn't really anybody to relate to except Cisco Kid. He was like the total different kind of person. We wanted to give kids, people, another alternative besides the ones that were right in our face, obvious heroes. And it worked out really good, because it had the right kind of hook, it was a fun song. People at that time didn't want to be hearing about wars or anything, they just wanted fun music." “The Cisco Kid” struck a chord with the African American community but the song went well beyond striking a chord with the youth of the US. “The Cisco Kid” represented a yearning of escaping from what had become viewed as acceptable by the norms of society. The song quickly rose to #2 on the US charts for 2 weeks as well as #1 in Canada and the Top 10 in a few countries across Europe. The song received a Gold record certification from the RIAA.
The first single release was the titled track, “The World Is A Ghetto,” the song was an instant hit making it to #7 on the US chart. The song was their first post Eric Burdon top ten hit leading to another five top tens. "The World Is a Ghetto" was written by Papa Dee Allen (percussion), Harold Brown (drums), Morris "B.B." Dickerson (bass), and Leroy "Lonnie" Jordan (keyboards): together with Howard Scott (guitar), Charles Miller (sax/flute) and Lee Oskar (harmonica), they formed the band War. The song was released as a single—it entered the Billboard Top 40 the week of December 30, 1972 and stayed for 9 weeks, peaking at #7 the week of February 10, 1973. "The World Is a Ghetto" was also the name of the album—the only one they ever released that topped the pop charts, it sold over three million copies—on which the song (over 10 minutes long) was placed. The song was edited down to 3:59 for the single release. The title track is simply the most successful use of the "Groovin'" motif since the Rascals tantalized urban America with the prototype. A study in casual, laid-back musical discipline, it soothes savage passions, lulling them to sleep to be awakened only by the stark, sudden refrain, "the world is a ghetto". Charles Miller's sax solo is magnificent, as definitive a statement of emotion as can be imagined.—Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 3/1/73
The title track was a triumphant blend of great exchanges and unison vocals, plus concise and spirited musical contributions all around.—Ron Wynn, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995
"Walkin' down the street, smoggy-eyed / Looking at the sky, starry-eyed / Searchin' for the place, weary-eyed / Crying in the night, teary-eyed / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Wonder when I'll find paradise / Somewhere there's a home sweet and nice / Wonder if I'll find happiness / Never give it up now I guess / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto /—long instrumental break—/ There's no need to search anywhere / Happiness is here, have your share / If you know you're loved, be secure / Paradise is love to be sure / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto / Don't you know that it's true / That for me and for you / The world is a ghetto"
"The World Is A Ghetto"
The album is one highlight after another. There’s not one track that misses or slows the album down. "Where Was You At," which follows, is a true delight, a soulful get-down cut from the Isley Brothers mold. The kinda funk you need to get off on the good foot! These two cuts are truly Watts and Harlem unleashed -- ghetto life at its most brazen.
"City, Country, City" is a tour de force energizer in which each band member gets the chance to show off his ability. Through a series of solos ahead of varying rhythmic percussion accompaniment, War attempts to convey the hustle and bustle of a ghetto day, sandwiched between the comparative calm of morning and night. "City, Country, City" pointed toward dance music's future with a travelogue of deep beats, each melodic theme more euphoric than the next.
"Four Cornered Room" is a Temptationesque choral ballad that introduces a darker element to War's music, one that would culminate with the title track. A slow, languid gospel/blues/jazz pattern carries the rhythm and tempo and conveys a sense of dark foreboding. A near instrumental, the vocals are only a chant in the first half of the song, eventually building to a chant of the title chorus. Soon after this, a spoken word recitation takes over, delivering a message of despair and urban dread. The street politics that the band often sang about come to a great climax here, mirroring the dark emotions of the early '70s. “Four Cornered Room” was used as the b-side to the single release of “The World Is A ghetto.” (Note this is my favorite song from the album).
Closing the album, after two downcast but brilliant songs that reflected the urban dread at the time, the rhythmic "Beetles in the Bog" is a life-affirming, almost joyous African-styled chant. Over a funk base, the group's vocal camaraderie is in full swing here, creating a feeling that is hopeful and empowering. As in many of War's songs, the percussion section almost acts as a melodic instrument, and this was one of the things that set the band aside from many of their contemporaries.