By Harvey Kubernik
Released through Universal Music Enterprises, Exodus, described by Time magazine in 1998 as “the album of the 20th century,” was initially released on June 3, 1977, just a few months after Marley relocated to England, having escaped an assassination attempt on his life in Jamaica that sent him into exile in London for 14 months.
Exodus was a turning point for Marley, as he had just lost his band. The two lead guitarists, Earl “Chinna” Smith and Donald Kinsey, split after the shooting, and a new guitarist joined the ranks. Junior Marvin was introduced to Marley in the spring of 1977 in London by Chris Blackwell, the owner of Island Records. During the mixing process, Marvin helped greatly alter Exodus’ arrangements.
The album established Marley as the first Third World music superstar and was a masterpiece of spiritual exploration and quest. Songs like “The Heathen” are indicative of the biblical themes that permeate throughout.
The “One Love/People Get Ready” medley underscores why Marley and the Wailers adored Curtis Mayfield, and why he adored them. The group saw Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions at a theater in Kingston in the ‘60s. It was one of the songs they would sing privately and made a beautiful medley with “One Love.”
“One Love” is the anthem of the millennium for the BBC TV, which once played it for 24 hours as each time zone celebrated “One Love.”
“Junior Marvin told me this story that Chris (Blackwell) decided to start the album with ‘Natural Mystic,’ just kind of fading up and so people would think it wasn’t loud enough, and turn the stereo up, so that when the music really punched in, it would hit them so hard they’d be taken aback. That was a conscious decision,” suggests Roger Steffens, curator of the world’s largest collection of Wailers memorabilia and recordings, which is in the process of becoming the founding collection of the National Museum of Jamaican Music.
Steffens is chairman of the reggae Grammy committee and founding editor of “The Beat.”
“’Natural Mystic’ is Bob’s way of saying we can’t really know what is going on in the world, but it protected him from dying,” says Steffens. “All these tracks were made two or three months after he was shot. ‘Waiting In Vain’ poet/performer Lynton Kwesi Johnson says this is the most beautiful love song ever written. This is my all-time favorite Bob Marley song, because it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”
Upon its initial retail release, the LP stayed on the U.K. music sales chart for 56 consecutive weeks. Exodus generated four Top 10 hits.
The November 2007 expanded version of Exodus in a special 30th Anniversary edition will be packaged for the first time in a “hardback” case. This format includes the album as well as a separate DVD with 12 tracks from Marley’s stellar Rainbow Theatre concerts in July and August of 1977. Selections include “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Exodus,” “Jamming” and “Get Up, Stand Up.”
The “Rainbow” DVD offers up one of Marley’s greatest shows, and he was lucky to have it photographed so well. Marley as proxy warrior and messenger sang and debuted the whole first side of the Exodus album, which had only been available for a few days, so the excited throng had never heard any of these tunes before.
Crucial to the overall impact of the Wailers’ 1977 concerts was the presence of I Three, according to Steffens. One or another would sometimes miss tours because of pregnancies.
“But at the Rainbow, Jamaica’s female version of The Three Tenors — the magnificent trio of Jamaica’s most precious songstresses, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Marley’s wife, Rita — added an elegant visual and aural element,” says Steffens. “And when they sang, ‘One day the bottom will drop out,’ they bent their knees and shook their bottoms in girlish abandon.”
The inspiring Rainbow shows, held over three nights in Finsbury Park, one of the most racially mixed neighborhoods of London, were the hottest ticket in town. They benefitted from the imaginative lighting of Wailers’ art director Neville Garrick, who also designed many of Marley’s most famous album covers.
Steffens and Peter Simon have co-authored the mind-twisting “Roger Steffens and Peter Simon’s Reggae Scrapbook,” now available on Palace Press.
The volume spotlights an eye-catching, four-page gatefold timeline of Marley’s whole career and a plethora of artifacts, including Exodus period items, rare photos, off-beat graphics — including the UPI bulletin of the assassination of Peter Tosh and the bulletin of his killer’s conviction — alongside an anti-apartheid benefit Peter did in Holland, a ticket to that benefit, and a backstage pass in the form of Peter’s sunglasses to a concert in Paris. It’s also got a huge reproduction ticket stub, photos, post cards, stickers and autographed play lists.
This past June, the “Exodus: Bob Marley & The Wailers 30th Anniversary Edition” 144-page hardback book was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. It contains more than 200 images and is introduced by Chris Blackwell.
The special-edition, 144-page hardback book is lavishly illustrated with many previously unpublished pictures. The volume was edited by the esteemed music commentator/author and critic Richard Williams and includes contributions from writers Lloyd Bradley, Robert Christgau, Neil Spencer and Linton Kwesi Johnson, among others.
In 2006 broadcaster/author Vivien Goldman wrote the exceptional “The Book Of Exodus” about the making and meaning of the album.
It was published by Three Rivers Press. The sacred journey behind Exodus is told by Goldman, currently an adjunct professor of punk and reggae at NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music.