Among the music gems being released on Record Store Day Black Friday (Nov. 24) is WAR’s The World Is a Ghetto: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. Billboard’s top-selling album of 1973 has been remastered and repackaged as a deluxe, five-LP boxed set curated by founding WAR member/lead singer Lonnie Jordan, the band’s longtime producer Jerry Goldstein and Jeremy Levine.
The boxed set — limited to only 4000 copies — is comprised of the original 1972 album, featuring the gold-certified Hot 100 hits “The World Is a Ghetto” and “The Cisco Kid,” six previously unreleased session bonus tracks and unreleased “the making of” recordings that reveal the origins of the album’s six tracks. The original album (which topped the Billboard 200 and R&B charts) and bonus tracks are pressed on two gold-vinyl LPs; the making of tracks on three black-vinyl LPs. “War Is Coming,” one of the bonus tracks, will also be available digitally on Black Friday. The entire project is being released through Rhino and Avenue Records/Far Out Productions.
The 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition is a fitting insight and tribute to one of the most seminal bands in music. Hailing from Long Beach, Calif., the multi-racial group’s visionary fusion of R&B, funk, rock, Latin, jazz and reggae was embraced by producer Jerry Goldstein and the Animals’ frontman Eric Burdon. The latter joined WAR on its first two albums in 1970, Eric Burdon Declares “War” (spinning off the group’s first Hot 100 hit “Spill the Wine”) and The Black-Man’s Burdon. The band etched its solo status in 1971 with the All Day Music, charting the top 20 R&B hits “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and the title track. Then came The World Is a Ghetto.
“They practically invented their own genre while addressing race, class issues and more,” noted Extra senior music correspondent Adam Weissler when he recently moderated “An Evening with WAR” with Jordan and Goldstein at the Grammy Museum. “They had people on their feet every night.”
“They had a great version of [the Rolling Stones’] ‘Paint It Black,’” recalled Goldstein of first hearing the band play in the late ‘60s. “But I didn’t know what to do with them.” That’s when Goldstein called Burdon and said, “But I have a hunch that you might. And Eric got it right away.”
Another Goldstein hunch also proved prescient for the 50th anniversary set. “I learned to record these guys every time they jammed,” he added. “They were the original super jam band.” Further into the museum chat, Jordan and Goldstein shared that the vibe while recording the original The World Is a Ghetto was “incredible,” with only 29 days elapsing between playing the first note to mastering the project.
Along with The World Is a Ghetto and All Day Music, WAR counts 17 gold, platinum or multi-platinum albums in its catalog. Those include Deliver the Word (“Me and Baby Brother”), Why Can’t We Be Friends? (“Low Rider,” the title track) and Platinum Jazz (“War Is Coming,” “L.A. Sunshine”). The aforementioned “War Is Coming” and “L.A. Sunshine” are among the previously unreleased bonus tracks featured in the anniversary package that later evolved into future WAR songs.
Describing WAR as a “universal street band,” Jordan noted that the group “refused to be political. We just wanted to let people know what was going on outside of their box. We were their internet then.”
Over the years, WAR’s music has been sampled or covered by a diverse range of artists. For example, “The Cisco Kid” has been sampled by Janet Jackson (“You”) and Method Man, Redman and Cypress Hill (“Cisco Kid”) and covered by Willie Nelson and Los Lonely Boys. The Geto Boys sampled “The World Is a Ghetto.”
Currently, three of WAR’s surviving original core members — Howard E. Scott, Lee Oskar and Harold Brown — perform as the Lowrider Band. Jordan continues to perform under the WAR moniker.
“It’s still enduring music,” Jordan told the Grammy Museum audience. “What’s happening now happened back in the day. We were waging war against war, but we didn’t shoot bullets. We shot rhythms and harmonies.”
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