It strikes me as extraordinary that "The World Is A Ghetto" didn't make any real mark in the UK – a country that loves its Soul Music with a rabid passion. I say this because it's incredibly rare that a US Soul album crosses over so hugely from the R&B charts to the notoriously hard-to-break into Rock charts.
Yet that's what "...Ghetto..." did in November 1972 – hitting the coveted Number One spot on both counts. Not Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (1971), Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (1972) nor Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" (1973) ever achieved this - legendary titles or no. You have to back Isaac Hayes and his genre-busting "Shaft" Blaxploitation double in 1971 on Stax or Curtis Mayfield's brilliant social-statement "Superfly" in 1972 on Curtom to get simultaneous Numbers 1's on both charts. It would take until February 1973 for the British vinyl LP to arrive – by which time all momentum was gone (it didn't dent any chart in Blighty).
Having said all that - Universal's 'Avenue Records' of the USA seems to think "The World Is A Ghetto" is a masterpiece of the genre and have given it a proper sonic makeover - a '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' CD reissue that absolutely rocks. Here are the inner city details y'all...
US and UK released December 2012 – "The World Is A Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition" by WAR on Universal/Select/Avenue Records/Far Out B0017703-02 (Barcode 602537194964) is a Remaster and plays out as follows (69:38 minutes):
1. The Cisco Kid (4:35 minutes) 2. Where Was You At (3:25 minutes) 3. City, Country, City (13:18 minutes) 4. Four Cornered Room (8:30 minutes) [Side 2] 5. The World Is A Ghetto (10:10 minutes) 6. Beetles In The Bog (3:51 minutes) Tracks 1 to 6 are the album "The World Is A Ghetto" – released November 1972 in the USA on United Artists UAS-5652 (No.1 Pop & R&B charts) and February 1973 in the UK on United Artists UAS 29400 (didn't chart). It was Produced by JERRY GOLDSTEIN with all track were written by WAR.
BONUS TRACKS – GHETTO JAMS (All Previously Unreleased): 7. Freight Train Jam (5:41 minutes) 8. 5 8 Blues (5:29 minutes) 9. War Is Coming (Blues Version) (6:15 minutes) 10. The World Is A Ghetto (Rehearsal Take) (8:06 minutes)
WAR was: HOWARD SCOTT – Guitars, Percussion and Vocals LEE OSKAR – Harmonica, Percussion and Vocals LONNIE JORDAN – Organ, Piano, Timbales, Percussion and Vocals CHARLES MILLER – Clarinet, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones, Percussion and Vocals PAPA DEE ALLEN – Conga, Bongos, Percussion and Vocals B.B. DICKERSON – Bass, Percussion and Vocals HAROLD BROWN – Drums, Percussion and Vocals
HARRY WEINGER has produced the '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' and provided the short but enlightening essay on the LP and its 1972 impact in the 8-page booklet. But the big news is first generation master tapes provided by the original LP producer – JERRY GOLDSTEIN – that have uncovered four lengthy jams – all Previously Unreleased. PETER DOELL of Universal has remastered the CD and it sounds truly fantastic – kicking on every level. When you're in the middle of one the funky workouts – the instruments are pumping – not overdone or over trebled – just there. This is a warm remaster and I love the way it sounds. My only real complaint would be that there are 7" single four-minute edits of "The World Is A Ghetto" and its flipside "Four Cornered Room" (USA United Artists 50975) – a single edit/mix of "The Cisco Kid" and Promo-only 'Mono' mixes of "The Cisco Kid" and "The Whole Is A Ghetto" - that could have been added on as Bonus Material (but alas).
War's music appears to be that strange hybrid – not quite Soul and not quite Rock – but somewhere in-between. And that's ably demonstrated by the album's lead off track "The Cisco Kid". Brilliant stuff and an obvious single - United Artists USA released it January 1973 on UA-XW163-W with "Beetles In The Bog" as its B-side (April 1973 in the UK on UP 35521 with the same flip). It peaked at No. 5 on the US R&B singles charts - but cruised up to No. 2 on the Pop side. Blessed with an irresistible funky keyboard backbeat aligned with street lyrics about 'kids on Sunset' and 'outlaws' (complete with spoken Mexican) – "The Cisco Kid" is typically War – very hip and very cool. A loose piano/harmonica/guitar jam – "Where Was You At" again hits that finger clickin' sweet spot when he sings "...I looked around for someone to help me...where was you at..." (it also has an almost Capt. Beefheart break which is brilliant). "City, Country, City" is the first of those lengthy funky workouts and really makes the Remaster shine – sounding just incredible when that breathy harmonica kicks in (it ends Side 1). As the liner notes state - it's a 'go to track' if you need convincing - and after a few saxophone flourishes fill your speakers in this 13-minute instrumental – you're also in no doubt as to how good Peter Doell's transfer is – brilliant stuff.
"Four Cornered Room" is my crave on this album – the guitar, bass and warbling Oskar harmonica sounding mean and alive. It's a fantastic groove and showcases everything that’s brill about this seven-piece band (it's similar in feel to the Crusaders-sounding instrumental "Vibeka" on the 1971 "War" album). Alongside "Low Rider" - the album's title track "The World Is A Ghetto" is probably their most famous song and I'm taken aback at how good it sounds here – beautifully clear – all those harmony vocals filling your living room - accompanied by that chunky backbeat. The album ends "Beetles in The Bog" where the band sound more like Malo meets Santana than War.
The Four Bonus Tracks are 'funky funky' nirvana – wildly good. "Freight Train Jam" feels like James Brown's JB's having a wig-out on a wah-wah guitar – all brilliant licks underpinned by a slick-as-Mister Cool backbeat (the piano fills from Lonnie Jordan are wicked too – what a winner). "5 8 Blues" is a harmonica driver about a dubious acquaintance. Sounding not unlike Little Walter having fun with a funky bunch of cats – you get saucy gender-bender lyrics like "...Did you see my big legged lady...walking across town...she's got a long blond wig...weighs about 125 pounds..." I can see why it was left off the album – too much like good-time Chess and Cadet R&B of the 60ts (not in keeping with the album) – but that doesn't stop it from being a genuine bonus in more than name. But even better is a 'Blues Version' of "War Is Coming" – six-minutes of grinding Soul-Blues. A version of would eventually show up on the "Platinum Jazz" LP in 1977. The 'Rehearsal Take' of "The World Is A Ghetto" is a couple of minutes shorter than the finally released album cut (runs to 8-plus but still wonderful) – and is presented here with truly gobsmacking audio quality.
Our US compatriots have always dug WAR and their 1972 Number 1 platter - "The World Is A Ghetto". I can’t help thinking that it’s about time their UK buddies got streetwise too. And this fabulous '40th Anniversary Expanded Edition' is the place to do just that. Wonderful stuff...and peace in all ghettos the world over...
This something of a melting pot of influences, a Funky, Jazzy groove, incorporating elements of Latin and Rock music, which undoubtedly arises from the multi cultural line up of the band. British R & B singer Eric Burden had "discovered" War, and there had been a couple of critically acclaimed releases before this one, but "World..." would become their breakthrough album.
War had a distinctive sound, which was honed by the band following their split from Burden. "Cisco Kid" is typical of their best known output, Latin funk workouts, which are at once danceable and laden with memorable hooks. "Where Was You At" and "Beetles..." mine the same seam, but the strength of the album comes with the extended tracks.
Each of these shows the band to full effect. "City Country City" is a masterpiece, which would not be out of place on a Jazz album and "Four Cornered Room" has a dark Sly Stone influence. It is the title track though which has to be the top track on show here, a loping Conga driven groove, which is slightly at odds with the hard hitting lyric.
As the 60's became the 70's, War occupied the same space as the likes of Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Miles Davis, the Ohio Players and Earth Wind and Fire. They would go on to make more superb music, but "....Ghetto" is the album that defined them - essential for those interested in Black music.
With the release of this album in 1972 War established themselves as the funkiest band on the planet bar none. In the same vein as the Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang (early stuff), Mandrill and Funkadelic, War's latin influences gave them a distinctive sound that sold millions. Cisco Kid was the dancefloor hit, but the standout tracks are the jazz funk epic City Country City and the mellow moody melancholy of the title track. The preceeding release All Day Music and later releases such as Deliver the Word and Why Can't We be Friends are excellent, but this is War's masterpiece. Absolutely essential and my favourite funk album of all time.
Some very useful comments from the previous reviewers. The Latin Funk thing is epitomized by the infectious Cisco Kid. Other than Low Rider, by the same band on a different album, I can't think of anything or anybody who does it better - and that includes Mandrill. War then show their versatility with the soul-funk title track, the epic flowing jazz-funk of "City Country City" and the brooding "Four Cornered Room",which, after innumerable listenings, still makes my hair stand on end. Music which will never date.
I was a latecomer to the 'WAR' sound - I guess pre 1990 if I had seen an album with that name I might have suspected Heavy Rock or Thrash or something similar... but I picked up a copy of the 'World is a Ghetto' record on the recommendation of a friend and loved it from, oh about the first 10 seconds onwards. It's funky, groovy, laid-back, and the perfect soundtrack to lazy days spent doing not very much... Post Eric Burdon War really came into their own, and this is them at their peak, along with 'Lowrider' (their best known song - in the UK it is best associated with an ad campaign for Marmite!) Anyway, I can't recommend this highly enough!
I'm hoping that other War albums get remixed for genuine remastering! I enjoyed the count-off (though low in volume) to The Cisco Kid! Nice! Thanks! I can't say I appreciated the mix of The World Is A Ghetto (rehearsal), a bit too Hip-Hop sounding for me! Otherwise, I'm pleased! :)
The World Is A Ghetto the album is a key milestone for War. Finally moving away from the influence of Eric Burden they let their Latin and Funky side shine through.
Whilst later albums such as 'Why Can't We Be Friends' successfully crossed over into the more commercial World of chart success, The World Is A Ghetto remains true to the original ethos of the band. Another much later version of the title track can be found on their 'Music Band 2' album that offers a very different sound to the original.