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Why Can't We Be Friends

United Artists LA441-G
Released: June 1975
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 31
Certified Gold: 7/25/75

The embarrassingly goofy title cut to the contrary, this is War's deepest, most versatile and most musically accomplished album to date. As usual, ballads are War's most impressive fare. The solos on "Don't Let No One Get You Down," "Smile Happy" and "Low Rider" (taken by harpist Lee Oskar and saxophonist Charles Miller) are emotionally direct and involving. War borrows heavily (but successfully) from the Stylistics on "Lotus Blossom" and does a passable (though noticeably inauthentic) Latin medley in addition to the usual quota of tasteful funk.

- Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, 9/11/75.

War - Why Can't We Be Friends
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Bonus Reviews!

War's return to the album scene after a lengthy hiatus caused by complex business squabbles shows that the layoff only improved the soul/rock group's grasp on the concept. Once again, War alternates their LP cuts between get-down funk tailored for AM hit-dom and flowing sophisticated jazzy instrumentals. The guys return better than ever in each category. Best cuts: "Why Can't We Be Friends?" "Don't Let Nobody Get You Down," "Low Rider," "Heartbeat."

- Billboard, 1975.

I like the way "Low Rider" does its bit for fuel economy, but the rest of the good stuff disappoints: the title hit is greater on the radio, "Heartbeat" is greater by the Wild Magnolias, and the salsa section of "Leroy's Lament" gets lost on a record that's a laid-back revision of their basic schtick. They're better off heavy. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

War returned with a vengeance and new material in the mid-'70s, as the title hit was both a pop and R&B top 10 smash and "Low Rider" did even better, topping the soul surveys and peaking at number seven pop. More importantly, they were once more a carefree, loose, jamming band. Unfortunately, it was the last definitive War album, as ego and production battles would soon undermine their success. * * * *

- Ron Wynn, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

To the musicians of War, the question "Why Can't We Be Friends?" was never abstract. The L.A. group chronicled the challenges and day-to-day desperation of inner-city life -- its poignant 1972 album The World Is a Ghetto echoed ideas Marvin Gaye put forth the year before in What's Going On. War didn't just inventory problems, however: The band was interested in solutions. Many of the songs on this album talk about brotherhood and human connection, advocating compassion as an essential step toward neighborhood peace.

That spirit is reflected in the music. War drew elements from all corners of the Los Angeles metroplex, and made them sound like they belonged together. In the addictive songs of Why Can't We Be Friends?, chunky reggae beats connect with the Delta-derived harmonica lines of its star soloist Lee Oskar. Timbale-sparked salsa worms its way into a flamboyant funk party. There's pan-cultural spice, but not in a corny "we're all okay in the global village" way -- the chants are tinged with an activist's sense of indignation. Also here is the at once rustic and futuristic "Low Rider," a suave jam for the ages built on grumbling, almost indecipherable bass vocals.

The singles (the title track and the endlessly sampled "Low Rider") offer a basic outline of the War strategy, and the album tracks, like the four-part suite "Leroy's Latin Lament," go deeper, demonstrating how a boisterous meeting of (often contentious) tribes can yield music of undeniable strength.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

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