Bob Marley: Rock Hall’s reggae legend

Marley On Vinyl

BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS 1978 HOLLAND PHOTO BY LAURENS VAN HOUTEN/FRANK WHITE PHOTO AGENCY

“Best Of The Wailers” (Beverley’s – JA), 1971
Its ill-starred name, an uninspiring track listing and the redundant recycling of its contents over a thousand rip-off compilations have blackened this album’s reputation enough. In its original form, strong performances, some excellent songs and some genuinely unexpected arrangements (“Sugar Sugar”) conspire with a sparkling Leslie Kong production to all but vindicate the choice of title.

“Soul Rebels” (Trojan – UK), 1970
“Soul Revolution” (Upsetter – JA), 1972
“Soul Revolution Part 2” (Upsetter – JA), 1972
The band’s American influences shine vividly through both Lee Perry-produced albums, with “Soul Revolution” just shading its predecessor in terms of all round brilliance. Amazingly, Trojan originally passed on The Wailers’ second Perry album, ultimately picking it up in 1972 and retitling it “African Herbsman,” after the Ritchie Havens cover of the same name. Curtis Mayfield’s :Keep On Moving” was also a highlight. But it was also a distinctly Jamaican album, far more so than either of its predecessors, an hypnotic roar of ghetto belligerence that hypnotized everyone who heard it. Part Two offers dub versions of the album. Again, these albums’ contents have been recycled way too often. But in their original form, the future rings clear.

“Catch A Fire” (Island), 1973
The band’s habit of constantly revisiting its past sees “Stir It Up” make an unnecessary reappearance; the heart of the album lies in the songs which would remain in the Wailers’ live repertoire — “Concrete Jungle” and “Slave Driver.” The mix and production are unerringly aimed at a rock cross-over market; little about this album captures the sonic mood of its predecessors. However, a 2-CD “definitive edition” in 2001 adds the original Jamaican mix of the album alongside the familiar overdubbed version, and the progression (not to mention a number of very telling sonic variations) is evident to all.

“Burnin’” (Island), 1973
Again the chaff outweighs the classics, although with three undisputed gems on board, “Burnin’” is a difficult album to dismiss. “Burnin’ And Lootin’” and (over-rated though it may be) “I Shot The Sheriff” became band benchmarks, “Rastaman Chant” a symbol of their sincerity. “Get Up, Stand Up” stands so tall above the company. Excellent sounding 2001 remaster adds Bunny’s unreleased “Reincarnated Soul” (originally scheduled as the title track), Tosh’s “No Sympathy” and “The Oppressed Song.”

“Natty Dread” (Island), 1974
Hindsight, and Marley’s subsequent deification insist he never made a bad album, and that may be so. But over-produced and over-played, this was certainly a weak link in the chain, with only “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)” and the curiously understated “Talkin’ Blues” truly escaping the gloss. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

“Live!” (Island), 1975
The Wailers were best experienced live, and even in truncated form, their set that night in London remains magical. The definitive “No Woman No Cry,” of course, is a stand-out, but so are “Trenchtown Rock” and “Lively Up Yourself,” while “Get Up Stand Up” closes the set with Day of Judgment fervor. Reissued, remastered in 2001, with the U.K. B-side “Kinky Reggae” restored as a bonus track.

“Rastaman Vibration” (Island), 1976
The Wailers’ most deliberately rock album, a feature that cannot be placed at guitarist Kinsey’s door alone; nor can it be used to downplay the album’s strengths. “War,” “Johnny Was” and “Positive Vibration” epitomize everything Marley had been working toward; even the bad times are pretty damned good. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

“Exodus” (Island), 1977
If the CD age has one crime to answer for, it’s that albums can no longer be split into two sides, two moods, that exist absolutely independently of one another. “Exodus” is one of those albums that suffers immeasurably from its translation to CD, its natural divisions of (natural) mystic night and (one) love-soaked day utterly lost by the seamless transition between the eight minute grind of “Exodus,” closing Side One, and the jaunty groove of “Jamming” kicking in at the start of Side Two. (Or maybe that’s what the pause button’s for?) Reissued, remastered in 2001 with a second disc of alternate/unissued material.

“Kaya” (Island), 1978
Enough of the songs on this album had previously appeared in the pre-Island days that, within weeks of its release, utterly spurious “greatest hits” albums were appearing, each boasting the international smashes “Easy Skanking,” “Sun Is Shining” and “Satisfy My Soul.” Few of the reworked versions actually improve on the originals, and the flashy mix and production lessened their power even further. It’s a nice album, but nice isn’t necessarily a compliment. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

“Babylon By Bus” [live] (Island), 1978
First off, don’t listen to popular wisdom’s insistence that the first live album is the only one you need. The mood here may be more celebratory, the tension among artist, song and audience distilled by the band’s worldwide emergence. But the singalongs are just as lusty, the pace is just as hot (too hot, sometimes; “Exodus” races by like a Ferrari), and, even if none of the songs improve on their studio counterparts, this was the only CD source for “Punky Reggae Party” for years. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

“Survival” (Island) 1979
The most heartfelt of Marley’s later albums, but a very transitional one, as he tried to adjust himself to his fame, without losing sight of his own goals. “So Much Trouble In The World” is the catchiest number; others, even the hits “Zimbabwe” and “Africa Unite,” take a little longer to absorb. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

“Uprising” (Island) 1980
Little about this album provoked a ticker-tape parade at the time — despite the fact its truly contagious hook, “Could You Be Loved” was Marley-by-numbers, while both “Pimper’s Paradise” and “Work” could have done with a longer gestation. But then you hit “Redemption Song” … and even before Marley died, before the truth of his illness even became that well known, the song struck a chord of such immeasurable sadness that all was readily forgiven. Reissued, remastered in 2001.

 


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