After 21 years on the RCA Victor label, Belafonte signed with Columbia Records. After a series of Pop-oriented albums, Turn the World Around was a return to interpreting folk songs of other cultures. Gary Ginell stated in his Allmusic review: "It is an absolute triumph and one of the finest albums of his career." Although recorded in the US, it was only released overseas.
The title track became the focus of one of the most acclaimed performances on the successful television series, The Muppet Show, where Belafonte explained the artistic theme of the song before performing it with specially designed puppets that resembled African tribal masks. Series producer Jim Henson considered this production to be his best work on the series, and featured it in numerous retrospectives of his art; Belafonte performed the song again at Henson's memorial service in 1990.