Reviewed, Rewound ‘n Revisited: War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?
War: Why Can’t We Be Friends
Purchased: Music World
Key Tracks: Lotus Blossom, Leroy’s Latin Lament, Smile Happy, So, Low Rider, Why Can’t We Be Friends
Creating happy music that can be taken seriously is truly an art form. As incredible as bands such as Pink Floyd, Nirvana and the Rolling Stones are, the darkness entailed in their musical excursions makes for, in this writer’s opinion, easier artistic territory to mine. War is one of those rare acts that made music that was bursting with joy, yet splashed with a dash of sadness lying just beneath the surface.
Why Can’t We Be Friends, their 1975 album, is just such an effervescent statement. Brimming with sunny jams and tenderhearted ballads as well as deep, deep deep funk (shot thru in their entirety with a latin spin), the album’s two most famous songs, the title track and “Low Rider”, have been covered and soundtracked almost into infinity. This sadly leaves most listeners with familiarity with only these two songs. War’s catalogue, however, is rich with musical exploration, innovation and a sense of joyous pathos that enrich the listener with almost every note.
The instrumental “Smile Happy”, for example, is a thoroughly absorbing musical piece that swells and swirls upward and upward, existing on a plane somewhere just out of reach of the soul, into the mystic. The song changes direction midway thru into a funk exercise in slow latin shuffle, crescendoing once again before coming to its uplifting conclusion. Fans of early 2000’s pop music may recognize the song’s main thrust in the form of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”…the incorporation of which only underscores War’s unique ability to keep things joyously serious instead of lightweight and spurious.
The two ballads on the album, “Lotus Blossom” and “So” positively drip 70’s morning dew. War’s harmonies are nothing short of Motown-esque, yet with a touch of the Band’s formula of not keeping everything too tightly organized harmonically. “So”, in particular, has to be one of the most lovely ballads this writer has ever heard.
The combination of Lee Oskar’s harmonica and Charles Miller’s horns made War’s sound indelibly stamped as their own, their own, their own…they paint every song with textures that have yet to be copied cause, really who’s gonna actually try? And, as massively overplayed as Low Rider and Why Can’t We Be Friends are, it is a testament to the greatness of these two tunes that they can still get any party jumping within seconds.
I bought this album on a hope and a dime in 1997 and have yet to tire of its grooves. I can listen to it front to back anytime and be gripped by that wondrous joy…Take a listen to “Smile Happy” and deny the groove, deny the feeling, deny that swell of emotion, I dares ya! I double dog dares ya! You don’t stand a chance, y’all!