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"Low Rider"
War
United Artists 706
Oct. 1975
Billboard: #7    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Warar was a band with an unusual early history. Football fans may remember a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams named David "Deacon" Jones, but I doubt they recall his singing. Back around 1969, Jones was performing in nightclubs with a backup group known as Nite Shift. It was at one of those shows that Eric Burdon, an ex-Animal, and Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar caught their act and spent the evening jamming. Although the band already contained a powerful array of voices (just listen to "All Day Music"), they realized that Burdon offered them a ticket to record company connections. So, when Burdon asked Nite Shift and Oskar to join forces with Burdon at MGM, they decided to bill themselves as Eric Burdon and War.
Why Can't We Be Friends?
War's late 1975 #7 hit "Low Rider" was their tenth single of the Seventies to make the Top 40 in America. It was the second single from their #8 July 1975 album Why Can't We Be Friends?, which stayed on the Billboard Hot 200 album charts for 31 weeks.
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Soon after, they released the compellingly weird single "Spill the Wine." The drug-induced lyrics were as opaque as mud, but the song's cross-pollination of hippie culture and African-based rhythms raised more than a few eyebrows and lifted the record to #3 on the pop charts. Burdon remained with War for two albums (tell me if you can believe these titles: Eric Burdon Declares War and -- brace yourself -- The Black Man's Burdon) before leaving the band in mid-tour, allegedly because of physical exhaustion. War finished the scheduled shows without its front man and then renegotiated a record contract of its own with United Artists.

After years of experience in the service of others, War was eager to break out and had no problem developing its own material. "All Day Music" was their second single, and it proved them to be a formidable outfit with sufficient talent of their own. The well-crafted and mellow 45 cracked the Top 40 at #35, and War was on its way. From this point on, the group pulled out all the stops and released single after single that featured a relentless funk groove with Latin underpinnings. "Slippin' into Darkness," "The World Is a Ghetto," "Cisco Kid," and "Gypsy Man" are uncompromising in their rhythmic appeal and made War one of the top-selling funk/crossover acts of the decade. The band's material was often the result of intensive jamming, and its singles all exhibit a live feel that captures the spontaneous energy of their ensemble playing.

Surprisingly, "Low Rider" was the only War 45 to reach #1 on the R&B charts. Written about the West Coast Latino subculture that lived to cruise the boulevards, this song is about as stylishly cool as the culture it describes. Pieces of funk, Latin, and rock rhythms all blend together under an astoundingly simple melody, forcing the groove to stand out front and center. The funky minimalism that was pioneered by James Brown is on display here in a locked-down rhythm that instantly captivates. By 1975, the steady deconstruction of soul music had reached its minimalist peak, as soul was about to be completely snuffed out by the looming disco machine. "Low Rider" marked the end of an era, a point made all the more obvious when its replacement at #1 on the R&B charts was "Fly, Robin, Fly" by the Silver Convention.

- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.

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