"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. One of the most popular funk groups of the '70s, War was also one of the most eclectic, freely melding soul, Latin, jazz, blues, reggae, and rock influences into an effortlessly funky whole. Although War's lyrics were sometimes political in nature (in keeping with their racially integrated lineup), their music almost always had a sunny, laid-back vibe emblematic of their Southern California roots.
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 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
It seems unfathomable today that War's "The World Is a Ghetto" was the best-selling album of 1973, a triple-platinum chart-topping blockbuster back in the days when few albums even went gold. Released in late '72, War's fifth album in three years had only six songs, three of them more than eight minutes long, all recorded live in the studio by six black Americans and one Danish harmonica player, who had the biggest Afro in the band. None were polished singers, and their sound was as much Latin jazz as it was funk or R&B, their sensibility more FM rock than AM pop. But this was the era when progressive black music was pop, when Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield sang about inner-city realities on rock stations, when sprawling bands such as Kool and the Gang were stretching out with abstract vibes, ensemble rhythms and jazz harmonies. War went further in more directions than their peers while presenting a unified groove that worked as well in flourescent-lit bedrooms as it did on proto-disco dance floors. The Long Beach, California, ensemble got its first big break when England's Eric Burdon, former lead singer of the Animals, chose War to be his backing band, and got their second break when he quit a subsequent tour, leaving War on their own. The World Is a Ghetto, released three albums later on the heels of Shaft, Superfly and other blaxploitation film classics, was a soundtrack without a movie, the black Dark Side of the Moon. "City, Country, City" pointed toward dance music's future with a travelogue of deep beats, each melodic theme more euphoric than the next. "The Cisco Kid" featured a mindless lyric but Latin syncopations that were hotter than a jalapeño. Subsequent War hits such as "Low Rider" and "Why Can't We Be Friends?" consolidated Ghetto's multicultural breakthrough, ready to be rediscovered, sampled and upheld as West Coast signifiers of expansive urban realism. - Barry Walters, Rolling Stone, 8/22/02
"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"
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