The band got the idea for this song when they were traveling in Japan in the early '70s. War drummer Harold Brown told us: "We're all connected by language, and by our food, and by our culture. Most racists don't know why they're racist. But you pick them up and take them over and drop them in a country, like India or Pakistan, guess what? 'Why can't we be friends?' Because all of a sudden you find out we're more alike inside than we are on the outside. We started realizing that that's really important. You travel all over the world, you can't speak a lot of their language. But one thing they do know, they know your body language, how you may react."
Each verse was sung by a different member of the band, with Brown singing the first. The line, "I may not speak right, but I know what I'm talking about," is harmonica player Lee Oskar, who is from Denmark and was just learning how to speak English.
This song makes a statement about the absurdity of judging others based on our differences. War started out in the early '60s as a black band called The Creators, and they managed to break down barriers, becoming the first black band to be booked on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. As they evolved into War and went through member changes over the years, the band integrated, often playing with white musicians like Eric Burdon, who was their lead singer for two albums. Brown explains his philosophy: "I like exemplary people around me. I don't judge you by your name, your color, or your money. I judge you by whether or not you're an exemplary person. Because if I know you're an exemplary person, and I want you to move this equipment from here to there, or you're building a house or you're shining shoes or stuff, then I know you're gonna do it the best you know how. That's the bottom line. See, that's where people keep falling off of America here, because we get inferior people in positions they have no business being in."
War recorded this at Crystal Studios in Hollywood, where artists like Stevie Wonder and The Fabulous Thunderbirds would also record.
Brown: "We Are Righteous, that's what War stood for. It was trying to bring everybody together through our music."
In 2005, XM Satellite Radio used this in commercials to promote their Major League Baseball broadcasts. The idea was that fans of different teams could still get along as long as they could listen to the games anywhere an XM radio could be found.
Four of the five original surviving members of War formed the Lowrider Band after losing the name in the mid-1990s to Far Out Productions (producer and songwriter Jerry Goldstein), who allows original keyboardist Lonnie Jordan to use the name. Brown harbors no ill will toward Jordan, and feels that, "Ultimately, natural justice will prevail." (Thanks to Harold Brown for speaking with us about this song. Learn more about the Lowrider Band at lowriderband.com.)
Smash Mouth covered this on their first CD, Fush Yu Mang.
The original video for this song features a cast of multi-racial, multi-occupational, multi-cultural earthlings. One segment features a man parachuting in on a couple celebrating their love. He brings them a bottle of wine and pours it into their glasses. Look closely at the woman's ring. It is not on her left hand, she is holding the glass with her right hand. The man might be married, as his ring is on his wedding ring finger on his left hand, but it is not clear if he is married to the woman or if the woman is married at all.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 27th 1975, "Why Can't We Be Friends" by War entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on August 17th it peaked at #6 (for 1 week) and spent 20 weeks on the Top 100... It reached #9 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart... Between 1971 and 1982 the band had fourteen Top 100 hits; six made the Top 10 and "The Cisco Kid" was their biggest hit, it peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) on April 22nd, 1973... The two weeks that "Cisco Kid" was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree" by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.
Joel from Vallejo, CaThis was also used in one of the Lethal Weapon films.
Jim from Long Beach, CaMy mother and my aunts wennt to high school with most of them at Long Beach Poly(Long Beach,Calif.). I love War and they continue to this date with two splinter bands, War and another band name that slips my mind...
K from Geneva, NyDave Matthews gives a nod to this song on his "Funny the Way it is" from Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.
Drew from Tulsa, OkWhat a great song. While War and this song will always be associated with unity, it's clear from the lyrics that they drew the line somewhere, as if they were to say I want to be your friend, even though you drank my wine but now you don't, even though I called your name but you couldn't acknowledge me, and even though you seem to be on permanent welfare, I'm cutting you a break. Until you join the CIA, that is!