Sunday, 24 May 2020

Bob Marley & The Wailers






I was introduced to Bob Marley in October 1975, when, as a teenager, a friend of mine played me the No Woman No Cry single and I was blown away instantly. I immediately borrowed his Catch A Fire album and my lifelong love of Marley's music began. I had been a fan of classic, poppy reggae from the early seventies, but Marley was the ideal "serious" reggae artist for me to get into. I was never fortunate enough to have seen him live, as I thankfully was with so many other artists. However, I have visited his final resting place in Jamaica (I took the pic below while there) and quietly laid my hands on his tomb, whispering my thanks to him for so much good music. He was taken far too soon, of course, but his music and its rhythms and messages will live forever.



SOUL REVOLUTION (1971)


Keep On Moving/Don't Rock My Boat/Put It On/Fussing And Fighting/Duppy Conqueror/Memphis/Riding High/Kaya/African Herbsman/Stand Alone/Sun Is Shining/Brain Washing

Soul Revolution is an early Bob Marley & The Wailers album, dating from 1971, produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry. It is, confusingly, often referred to as Soul Revolution, Part II and the cover shows this. Part II was actually a dub version of the album that is now called Upsetter Revolution Rhythm - confusing, isn't it?

Anyway, it contains attractively rootsy, raw and sparse versions of several songs that appeared later, re-recorded and considerably enhanced, on subsequent albums. There is something appealing about the basicness of these versions, however and the sound quality is surprisingly good. Perry's production is, as always, excellent. Marley and his co-Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone are in fine harmonious vocal form throughout.

Put It On and Duppy Conqeuror appeared on 1973's Burnin'; Don't Rock My Boat re-appeared as Satisfy My Soul on Kaya, along with Kaya and Sun Is Shining while Keep On Moving was re-recorded around 1977 on the Exodus sessions.

Of the tracks that didn't re-surface, Brain Washing and the Richie Havens cover, African Herbsman are probably the stand-outs, although Stand Alone, Riding High, Fussing And Fighting and Peter Tosh's instrumental, Memphis are all enjoyable.

Many tracks also appeared on the album African Herbsman and subsequently appeared on the many compilations of early Marley tracks that exist. Taking its rudimentary nature into account, this is still an enjoyable album in its understated way. The dub version of the album is ok, but it is an example of early dub, where you can still hear the vocals that have been simply taken off echoing away quietly in the background.


CATCH A FIRE (1973)


Concrete Jungle/Slave Driver/400 Years/Stop That Train/Baby We've Got A Date/Stir It Up/Kinky Reggae/No More Trouble/Midnight Ravers            

It is impossible to understate the cultural importance of this album, particularly for reggae as a genre. It was, certainly, the first “serious” reggae album, marketed as an album, as opposed to a vehicle for hit singles.
                             
Tapping in to the burgeoning black consciousness vibe that soul artists such as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly & The Family Stone, Isaac Hayes and The O’Jays amongst others were expressing in the early 1970s, with songs that particularly concentrated on the slavery experience, such as Slave Driver and 400 Years with lyrics such as “I remember on the slave ship, they brutalised our very soul…”, this was very much a cutting edge album. Tracks like No More Trouble and Midnight Ravers related to contemporary Jamaican social problems - poverty and police/governmental oppression and, strangely, the latter appears to be about cross-dressing. The ostracisation from mainstream society of the Rastaman was also a readily expressed sentiment, although this would be a more stridently vocalised protest on later albums.

Despite its clear message contained in much of its material, there were also several simply gorgeous reggae “pop” songs - romantic seductions such as the beautiful Stir It Up, the catchy rocksteady of Baby We Got A Date and the easy skanking grooves of Peter Tosh’s addictive, smoothly energising Stop That Train. There was also the laid back rootsy rock of Kinky Reggae.

What was unique about this album was that some guitar parts played by mainstream rock guitarist Wayne Perkins (who had no idea what reggae was all about) were dubbed on to tracks like the powerful opener, Concrete Jungle, which saw a potent solo at the end and the distinctive wah-wah on Stir It Up. He also featured on Baby We Got A Date, with a country-style pedal steel slide guitar. These were touches applied by producer Chris Blackwell in order to aid with the crossover from cult backwoods Jamaican “yard” band to mainstream rock group, appearing on shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test. It worked. Rock music fans may not have “got” reggae in its essential forms (that would not come until the punk/rasta crossover in the years 1976-79), but they lapped up this album. A star was born. No, a great band were born. Although Peter Tosh would leave soon for solo success, The Wailers were one of the great, if not the greatest, reggae rhythm section.

Check out that melodic bass on Stir It Up, the skanking rhythm and Perkins' wah-wah. Still my favourite Bob Marley track. 

On the “deluxe” version, the original, non-dubbed “Jamaican” versions of the songs are available. They are more “rootsy”, more obviously Jamaican and they have their appeal, but despite the “westernisation” of the eventually-released album, it still is the definitive version, in my opinion. The “western” parts never detract too much from what is an essential piece of ground-breaking reggae.

Non-album tracks that appeared on the Jamaican version were the melodic slow, organ-driven groove of High Tide Or Low Tide (check out the classically-influenced mid-song keyboard solo) and the delicious gentle skank of All Day And All Night. Either or both of these songs would have enhanced the eventual album, particularly the latter.



BURNIN' (1973)


Get Up, Stand Up/Hallelujah Time/I Shot The Sheriff/Burnin' And Lootin'/Put It On/Small Axe/Pass It On/Duppy Conqueror/One Foundation/Rastaman Chant    

Following on from the huge success of Catch A Fire, The Wailers returned at the end of the same year with another heady mix of politically conscious skanking reggae mixed with tuneful rocksteady precursors to what was known in the late 70s as “Lovers’ Rock”. Militancy was always going to play a part in Marley's output, however, whether the record company liked it or not. Even the cover made a statement, with its branding/slavery-inspired artwork and Marley's uncompromising expression. It is this that drives the album, despite its unquestionable loved-up moments. There is a convincing argument to be put forward that the militant numbers were almost entirely Peter Tosh's and that the love songs betrayed Bob as being an old softy at heart, still chasing girls when there were righteous battles to be fought.
                                    
The “message” songs were the sloganeering, now iconic Get Up, Stand Up, the implicit questioning of the police in I Shot The Sheriff, the bleak, self-explanatory Burnin' And Lootin' and the David vs Goliath rebellion of Small Axe, which was an older tack given a makeover. All these were militant, aware protest songs coming straight from the poverty of the tenement yards of Kingston, Jamaica. Apart from the melodic Rasta devotion of Hallelujah Time, the opening half of the album is an in-your-face attack of agitated consciousness. Incidentally, Get Up, Stand Up was posthumously remixed by Marley's son Damian into a slow, crackly dance groove entitled Stand Up Jamrock

The love and romance was to be found in the old Studio One single Put It On, the clavinet-driven, Rasta drum-powered One Foundation and the spiritual-themed Pass It On. There was also a reference to Jamaican backwoods superstition in the “ghostbusting” Duppy Conqueror. All these tracks underpinned by the wonderful rhythm section of The Wailers. This was reggae of the highest quality.

   

A notable first in this collection of songs was the first direct references to Rastafarianism and the Rasta religion. Hallelujah Time and the stark conga-based rhythm of Rasta Man Chant saw Marley “come out” as a Rasta for the first time, both lyrically and musically, particularly on the latter track. It began a loose tradition of ending albums with a devotional, Rasta-influenced, rhythmic track. Bunny "Wailer" Livingstone was the driving force behind this early Rasta-inspired material

The Wailers were now almost mainstream, even Eric Clapton had a big hit with his credible cover of I Shot The Sheriff. The original cannot really be beaten though. In many ways, these first two albums were the group’s finest. 1976’s Rastaman Vibration has a case to be put up there alongside them, but in my view, these two take 1977’s hugely popular and commercially far more successful Exodus to the cleaners. This was also the last album to feature Peter Tosh, and although he went on to produce some excellent solo material, this also could have been his finest year. The same applied to Bunny Wailer. The Wailers would now be Bob and his band, from now on.

Non-album tracks from the period include the deliciously funky and acoustic guitar-enhanced Reincarnated Souls, which really should have made the album; the steady beat of the mournful, soul-searching No Sympathy and the staccato, organ-driven The Oppressed Song, with its impressive acoustic/bass interplay. An alternate take on Get Up, Stand Up is superbly deep and funky too.



NATTY DREAD (1974)


Lively Up Yourself/No Woman No Cry/Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)/Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)/So Jah Seh/Natty Dread/Bend Down Low/Talkin' Blues/Revolution/Am-A-Do            

Now deprived of both Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, this was the first album credited to Bob Marley And The Wailers. It has to be said that it loses a little of the vibe of the first two albums, just slightly. Tosh’s ear for a melodic tune was a big miss.

As would be the case for the remainder of his career,  Marley’s material could be broadly categorised as “rebellion, Rasta and romance”. Songs would fall mainly into one of the three categories (including “roots” in with “Rasta”).
                                                 
On this album, Lively Up YourselfSo Jah Seh and Natty Dread express a now fully-dreadlocked Marley’s growing Rasta consciousness, as his dreads grew longer, album cover by album cover. Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Road Block) with its excellent harmonica parts, RevolutionTalkin' Blues, with its acoustic guitar intro, and the hard-hitting Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) pull no punches in confronting social problems head on.

   

The romance/seduction is found in the rocksteady beat of Bend Down Low, with its “I-Threes” backing vocals heralding something Marley would use a lot from now on, and the somewhat low-key undercooked original version of the later to become iconic No Woman No Cry.

Just as on Catch A Fire, other instruments are used to augment the traditional reggae of drums, bass and keyboards - acoustic guitar, lead rock guitar, saxophones, horns (such as on Lively Up Yourself) and the increasing use of multiple female backing vocals. It was something that worked well then and Marley continued it throughout his career.

After the seismic blast of the first two albums and the success that would follow with LiveRastaman VibrationExodus and Kaya, this always had the feel of a “treading water” album, which is a bit of a shame, as it contains some good material. Lively Up Yourself is a Marley classic, full of laid-back skanking rhythm and an enthusiastic invocation to the faithful. Them Belly Full and Rebel Music show his indignant fire burning at its brightest.

The non-album track from the sessions was Am-A-Do, an appealing, call-and-response skank with a strong Marley vocal and equally confident female backing vocals. Some fine wah-wah guitar arrives near the end. There doesn't seem any real reason for it not having been included on the album. Also from the same period, probably comes the unfinished-sounding but potentially good Bend Down Low (which also has a rootsier, flute-enhanced version) and the eventual posthumous hit, the dubby Iron, Lion, Zion. The latter is an appealing workout with an infectious rhyming chorus. 



LIVE! (1975)


Trenchtown Rock/Burnin' And Lootin'/Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)/Lively Up Yourself/No Woman No Cry/I Shot The Sheriff/Get Up, Stand Up              

Like Catch A Fire in 1973, this album was one that brought Bob Marley’s music to the attention of the “rock” mainstream. Everybody seemed to accept that it was a quality album, whether they liked reggae or not. 
               
I like the album, but I always felt it was a few tracks short and that it concentrated on “message” songs - Burnin' And Lootin'Lively Up YourselfI Shot The SheriffThem Belly Full and the rousing Get Up, Stand Up - to the possible omission of some of Marley’s excellent, rocksteady-style romantic groovers, such as Stop That Train, the wonderful Stir It Up and Put It On all of which appears on 1973’s truly excellent Live At Leeds University. That is the finer Bob Marley & The Wailers live product, in my opinion, being a full concert set, as opposed the eight tracks we get here (only seven on the original release).

That said, this is an immaculately played, totally atmospheric live album, with the Wailers on top form, instrumentally. Just listen to the feedback from the crowd on the intro, the upbeat, pulsating Trenchtown Rock. It makes you wish you had been there at London’s Lyceum. Add to that the audible excitement that swells up from the crowd as the first organ bars of No Woman No Cry are played. One of the great moments in music.

Of course, the live performance here of No Woman No Cry has gone down in history as the definitive rendering of the song. It will never be bettered, let's be honest. It is the version everyone knows, as opposed to the comparatively thin and reedy studio original from 1974’s Natty Dread album. The bonus track now available on most formats of the album, Kinky Reggae, is a great version too, extended to include the band introductions.

Now available is the extended, two gig version, with extra tracks and the following night's set. It has become the definitive edition of the album, but I will always have an affection for this due to the original track listing that I am so familiar with. 



LIVE! DELUXE EDITION

I agree with others who have commented on various media on the remastering of this edition, in comparison to other releases of Live!, to a certain extent. There certainly are differences. Personally, I don’t mind it, however, it is quite a subtle remaster, to my uneducated, sonically insensitive ears anyway. The bass is not thumping, it is melodic and understated. Yes, I know it is reggae and the bass should be powerful, and it still is but in a less wall-shaking way. There is also a raw, unpolished feel to the sound that sounds extremely authentic, heightening the feeling that you are there, for me. I agree that the existing remaster of Live! in its original album format is far more resonant and powerful and is the “go-to” remaster. However, in order to get the two full concerts and the few new, different tracks I can live with its lesser amount of “punch”.

SET 1/Trenchtown Rock/Burnin' And Lootin'/Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)/Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)/Stir It Up/No Woman No Cry/Natty Dread/Kinky Reggae/I Shot The Sheriff/Get Up, Stand Up                                   

SET 2/Trenchtown Rock/Slave Driver/Burnin' And Lootin'/Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)/Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)/No Woman No Cry/Kinky Reggae/Natty Dread/Stir It Up/Lively Up Yourself/I Shot The Sheriff/Get Up, Stand Up

Where it has its additional attractions for me, having lived with the original since 1975 is in that it gives you two sets, from consecutive nights at London’s Lyceum. Stir It UpRebel Music and Natty Dread are added to the material we already had from the original album and on the second gig we get Natty Dread and Slave DriverLively Up Yourself is also considerably extended compared to the one on the original Live!, by about three minutes. For those reasons, and others, I am more than happy to include it in my collection. Natty Dread is just superb. Hearing Marley and The I-Threes grooving it up on Stir It Up is just life-affirming.

The audience from the night that the original recording was taken from would seem to have been slightly more enthusiastic, given that the spine-tingling roar that accompanied the beginning of No Woman No Cry doesn’t happen on the next night. Marley’s vocal is looser, though, more relaxed. Well, it sounds it to me anyway, and as I knew the first night’s rendition note and nuance perfect it is really interesting and enjoyable to hear it done slightly differently (albeit in tiny places). The band introductions on Kinky Reggae are slightly different too, expectedly so.

So, personally, I do not have any sound problems with this and have thoroughly enjoyed hearing more cuts from these classic two nights in London back in July 1975.

RASTAMAN VIBRATION (1976)


Positive Vibration/Roots, Rock, Reggae/Johnny Was/Cry To Me/Want More/Crazy Baldhead/Who The Cap Fit/Night Shift/War/Rat Race                           

The previous year’s live album had put Bob Marley fully into the “mainstream” and his releases now catered for not only a Jamaican audience, but a predominantly white “rock” group of followers in the UK, the USA and Europe. He was now on the way to becoming a global music figure.
                       
Rastaman Vibration, however, is a surprisingly uncommercial, often low-key album. It is fervent in its roots approach and is still pretty credible in its roots authenticity. Indeed, the album’s opener, the laid-back rasta exhortation to be positive in the name of Jah, Positive Vibration, is hardly the commercial lead-off many were expecting. It was a call-out to the faithful, a call to prayer. Roots. Rock, Reggae continued this theme, this time bringing reggae music into the mix, Marley asking the radio stations in the USA to “play I on the r’n’b”Johnny Was, later covered successfully by Northern Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers is far less anthemic than that version, here it is a justifiable sad lament.


Cry To Me is another of Marley’s regular re-recordings of some of his earlier material, this one dating from 1966. Also an old song is Who The Cap Fit, a re-working of 1971’s Man To Man. The versions here are the better ones, to be honest. Recording technology and a more confident band ensure that. Want More had an air of the dubby sound that was used on the earlier Soul Rebels album, showing Marley had not left dub stylings behind. It also had some excellent rock guitar from guest guitarist Donald Kinsey or was it Al Anderson? Either way, the way Marley integrated Western rock guitar into his reggae was always an impressive embellishment that made The Wailers' sound a unique one. 

The album’s militant songs - the pro-Rasta, anti-military Crazy Baldhead (using some verses from 1967’s Freedom Time), Night Shift, the anti-arms race Rat Race and the obviously-themed War are the cornerstones of the album, showing once again that alongside the Rasta devotional material, a fighting soul healthily co-exists. This would never change, despite the commercial, more poppy success that some later songs would bring.

The sessions for the album's non-album tracks include one of my all-time favourite Marley tracks in the sumptuous, moving Jah Live. It has a mid-pace, attractive skank, a sad Marley vocal and some fine backing vocals. The guitar solo from Al Anderson is great too. The song has a nice, rhythmic dub version entitled Concrete. The dub version of Roots, Rock, Reggae is a killer as well, just check out that rubbery bass line and groovy saxophone. Smile Jamaica, which was also included on re-releases of 1978's Kaya album dates from this period too. Here is is presented in its original acoustic, folky groove, together with a melodic dub version, which again, unsurprisingly, features some sumptuous bass.



EXODUS (1977)


Natural Mystic/So Much Things To Say/Guiltiness/The Heathen/Exodus/Jamming/Waiting In Vain/Turns Your Lights Down Low/Three Little Birds/One Love/People Get Ready   

This was Bob Marley’s big one - his Thriller, Born In The USA and Brothers In Arms - the one that made him a massive chart and album selling act and saw this album being bought by all sorts of people, not just reggae fans. Marley was now “mainstream”, which was a bit of a shame in some ways. Like those other albums, I find I don’t listen to it as much as I do Marley’s earlier output, or indeed the ones he released after this. It cannot be ignored, nevertheless, that this album put reggae in many suburban living rooms. It is still undeniably a great album.
                        
Unsurprisingly, the album is jam-packed full of hits - the potent, melodic Stevie Wonder-inspiring Jamming, the rumbling, rootsy extended groove of Exodus, the inspirational, singalong One Love, the catchy Three Little Birds and the laid back, intuitive smooch of Waiting In Vain. It is the more “roots” cuts that I prefer, however - the intense, militant stepper The Heathen, the Lee Perry-influenced Guiltiness, the mellow So Much Things To Say and the intoxicating Natural Mystic

Turn Your Lights Down Low is a beautiful love song too, and is rarely mentioned when people assess this album. In many ways, it is the best track on it. Or perhaps that honour should go to the rootsiest thing Marley had done thus far in the faded-in groove of Natural Mystic. Another thing that is often forgotten is that in amongst the commercially catchy hits there were several crucial roots numbers. Indeed, the first half is all roots, the lighter stuff all arrives in the second half, beginning with Jamming. I have to admit that that song has never been one of my favourites. Many love it, though, and if it opens doors to reggae for them, then fair enough. It has a nice dub version, however. 

The non-album material from the period include the excellent rootsy groove of Roots, which would have fitted nicely on the album and the crowd-pleasing crossover anthem of Punky Reggae Party in its full nine-minute thumping glory. Marley name-checks Dr. FeelgoodThe Damned, The Jam and The Clash as the rocker and the ras began to get along. Marley saw in the punks an oppressed, marginalised group similar to the Rastas, both fighting a "world of hypocrisy". The roots/reggae crossover of 1977-1980 was one of the unique things of the UK music scene at the time. There is also an extended re-recording of an old Studio One song in the catchy "London Mix" of Keep On Moving, a song that would be covered by UB40 on their 1983 Labour Of Love album. For some reason, it comes to an abrupt end.

Exodus 40 sees Ziggy Marley remixing his father’s album and coming up with an enjoyable listen. The title track is shortened but made a slightly punchier, funkier creation, while Natural Mystic and The Heathen have some new guitar parts added to great effect, particularly on the latter.

Exodus/Natural Mystic/The Heathen/Guiltiness/Jamming/One Love/People Get Ready/Turn Your Lights Down Low/Waiting In Vain/Three Little Birds/So Much Things To Say

Guiltiness has a crisp, cymbal-dominated percussion mix. Jamming sounds more rootsy, heavier, less commercial, but obviously it will always retain its catchy refrain. Some great new guitar skanking at the end too. In many ways, a lot of the guitar parts added to the tracks on this remix are similar in feeling and sound to those dubbed on to the Catch A Fire recordings back in 1973.Turn Your Lights Down Low and Waiting In Vain have actually been substantially remixed, using new musicians, apparently. The former is almost radio-friendly country soul-like in its new incarnation. The latter is given an almost funkier feel with a sumptuous bass line. Interesting interpretations both.



KAYA (1978)


Easy Skanking/Kaya/Is This Love/Sun Is Shining/Satisfy My Soul/She's Gone/Misty Morning/Crisis/Running Away/Time Will Tell     
                                           
This is Bob Marley & The Wailers’ most laid-back, easy going album, lacking the militancy that would be present on several songs on all the previous albums. The songs on here are about chilling out in the sun, letting in love, feeling romantic and smoking large quantities of marijuana (“kaya”). Marley admitted to be just a country boy at heart and this was his most relaxed, rural-inspired album that brings to mind vistas of the green hillsides of Nine Mile, Jamaica, where he grew up.

The album begins with the catchy, melodic Easy Skanking with its “excuse me while I light my spliff...” exhortation, and continues in the same vein, so to speak, with a hymn to the qualities of the said herb in Kaya. This is a track resurrected from the old early 70s pre-fame days.

The sound quality and instrumental delivery from The Wailers is excellent on the album - crystal clear percussion and some deep, bassy semi-dub parts. The instantly recognisable hit single, Is This Love is up next and is the standout track, for reasons that don’t really need explaining. It has a great melody and hook, together with a singalong chorus. It is impossible to play this on a summer’s day and not feel lifted. Similarly, Sun Is Shining just has that relaxing 80 degrees plus shuffling, real hot summer groove. These tracks just don’t have the same effect on a cold day in January. This is also a track from days gone by.

Satisfy My Soul, another resurrection, is a jolly number about Bob feeling good, like a sweepstakes winner, because he is so “loved-up”. It has a great horns introduction and a sweet skanking rhythm. So ends the old “side one”. The old “side two” sees a drop in quality, in my opinion. I know the tracks were not recorded in any sort of order, but it genuinely seems as if Marley’s voice is deteriorating as the album progresses. Maybe it is just that the last crop of songs are somewhat mournful - the yearning, sad She's Gone, and the chunky rhythms of the aptly-titled Misty Morning, which is something of a foggily-rendered song. Apparently this batch of songs were indeed recorded at the same session, however, almost as “live” ganja-fuelled jams. Maybe the distracted nature of the vocals is no coincidence. Crisis is a heavy-ish rootsy skank, probably the rootsiest cut on the album.

Running Away is a comparatively stark recording, a bit like Sun Is Shining in that respect. "Running Away" is repeated, mantra-like throughout most of the song and Marley’s voice, by the end, sounds like he is about to expire. He sounds completely out of it by now, to be honest. There are nice female backing vocals and horn backing on this one and the song is enhanced by a deep, rootsy beat, however. Indeed, the more I listen to it, the more intoxicating it sounds.

As on Burnin’ and Natty Dread, the album ends with a bongo-driven rastaman chant-like number in Time Will Tell. Some nice wah-wah guitar on it too. It is a bit of an underrated one. 

Less instant than Exodus, this album is, in some ways, more interesting because of it.

There is a 40th Anniversary remix of the album that utilises a bit more echo and percussion here and there, but doesn't really differ radically from the original. The bonus track available from this album's sessions is the "flying cymbals" backed dubby groove of Smile Jamaica. Its catchy female backing vocals render it more than just a riddim, however, as does the great wah-wah-ish guitar. It ends with some fine dub bass. It was a re-recording of a 1975-76 song that originally dated from the Rastaman Vibration sessions in a more acoustic form. 



BABYLON BY BUS (1978)


Positive Vibration/Punky Reggae Party/Exodus/Stir It Up/Rat Race/Concrete Jungle/Kinky Reggae/Lively Up Yourself/Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)/War/No More Trouble/Is This Love/The Heathen/Jamming 
                                 
Recorded live at The Pavilion de Paris, June 1978

This was Bob Marley & The Wailers' second official live album, after the seminal, now iconic Live! from 1975 and it features a band now at the peak of their popularity. It is recorded in Paris and that shows just how reggae had spread around the globe by 1978. Associated as a sibling of punk, Marley and his wonderful band had their biggest hit with their Exodus album in the previous year and this was a tour of a triumphant, commercial band aiming to please. They were no longer a cult group.

              
For me, this leads to a slight loss of that raw edginess that 1973's Live From Leeds University that comes as part of the Burnin' Deluxe Edition and it certainly lacks the crucial rootsiness of the Live! material. There are rootsy cuts, despite that, however - Kinky Reggae and Positive Vibration  - but I feel some of the numbers, such as ExodusPunky Reggae Party and even Stir It Up are given a bit of a crowd-pleasing makeover. Both Punky Reggae Party and Exodus, while thumping and powerful, lose a bit of that essential Marley dubbiness, keyboards taking over a bit.

Lively Up Yourself, although infectious as always, does not come over as authentic as it did on Live!. This is very harsh, actually, because this is still a very impressive, vibrant and enjoyable live album.

 

For some reason, though, I find the real essence of Marley live is to be found on LeedsLive!, the live tracks from Rastaman Vibration's Deluxe Edition and the live cuts from the Exodus 40 release. Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Road Block) sounds great, however, nice and bassy, as is War/No More Trouble.

Guitarist Al Anderson is really making his presence felt by now and Carlton Barrett is excellent, as always, on drums. The group now have hits to offer, and the crowd duly respond to Is This Love and Jamming. In between those two, pleasingly, for me, is the rootsy The Heathen. Look, I still enjoy this album a lot, my comments are tiny, nit-picking ones. It is still highly recommended.




SURVIVAL (1979)


So Much Trouble In The World/Zimbabwe/Top Rankin'/Babylon System/Survival/Africa Unite/One Drop/Ride Natty Ride/Ambush In The Night/Wake Up And Live      

After the laid-back, chilled-out and romantic ambience, both musically and lyrically, of the previous year's Kaya album, Bob Marley went back to a more roots approach with this potent, politically-motivated album. After Kaya and the blatant commercial feel of much of ExodusSurvival would be Marley's most "roots" and "Conscious" album since 1976's Rastaman Vibration.
                  
So Much Trouble In The World is a full, bassy mid-paced song reminiscent of the early 1971-72 Soul Rebel days, but with a soulful, catchy chorus. The roots on this album is dished up with a sensitive ear for a killer hook. The same applies to Zimbabwe, a solid, grinding number with another fine hook. Blatantly political in its concerns about the former Rhodesia, it finds Marley taking on global issues as opposed to those of his own backyard, which is a notable shift in emphasis. He is now finding he has responsibilities to sing and speak for the wider "bredren", not just the Jamaican, or the Rasta. This is is further evinced by the multiple flags of African/ethnically black nations on the cover. Top Rankin', though, returns to Jamaican political turmoil with a melodic skank, lots of backing vocals, horns and a lilting aah-wah guitar. A bit like some of the rootsier material on Exodus. There were, however, far more "black consciousness" themes on this album than "Rasta devotional" ones.

 

The old Rasta chanting rhythms are back for Babylon System - thumping, heavy drum sounds, female backing vocals and a "call to arms" chant-inflected vocal over the strong, slow and solid beat. an intoxicating number. Survival is a tuneful, upbeat black consciousness track in the vein of Exodus (particularly in the vocal stylings) that sees the black diaspora as "black survivors" on a seemingly never-ending, tortuous journey. Another song with an irresistible hook.  The catchy hook (again) of Africa Unite has Marley addressing the African continent again, using a plaintive, Kaya style vocal, while the likeable, rhythmic One Drop, with its unique drum sound, would have made a good single. It is my favourite track on the album. Marley's vocal on this is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

Ride Natty Ride is a horn riff-driven laid back, bassy groove that is extremely alluring. Bob's understated, quiet vocal is almost drowned out by the vigour of the I-Threes, but to good effect. Bob is playing the quiet, wise Rasta here. I love this one too. Yet again, a drop dead hook and overall rhythmic appeal. While I like Kaya as an album, there is so much more punch, attack and mission on this album. "Natty Dread rise again..." Indeed. Again, there is a sadness to Bob's vocal delivery, however.

Ambush In The Night is a heavy, roots song relating to his experience with an armed intruder that almost cost him his live. There is a heavy clavinet driving the song along and again, although it has a deep roots groove, there is an easily identifiable chorus part. Some nice wah-wah guitar on it as well. Strong, vibrant kicking horns introduce the exhortation to Wake Up And Live, which also has vibes of the track Exodus, even more so than Survival - an insistent, urgent beat, prominent I-Threes backing vocals, some excellent horn solo pieces and a general anthemic, rousing feel to end the album on. One of the best tracks from an impressive collection. Whereas the message in Kaya had been to take it easy, here it was to get up and stand up once again and make your feelings known.

A quality album. No question.


The non-album track around from the time is a 12" version of Ride Natty Ride. It is pretty much just a longer version of the original track. 



Marley with Ronnie Wood in 1979.


UPRISING (1980)


Coming In From The Cold/Real Situation/Bad Card/We And Them/Work/Zion Train/Pimper's Paradise/Could You Be Loved/Forever Loving Jah/Redemption Song                         
Bob Marley's last studio album before his tragic demise is a melodic merging of aware, political material with a lighter skanking beat as opposed to the traditional roots, Rasta heavier beat. Al Anderson's electric guitar is used a lot too, emphasising the close relationship Marley always had with the electric guitar and how he was prepared to use it in a situation very different from its usual rock setting. Marley's reggae was often considerably enhanced by his use of electric guitar.

Coming In From The Cold has a slightly wheezing, croaky Marley singing over a very catchy, shuffling, strummed electric guitar rhythm. The instant appeal continues on the equally singalong and endearing, almost commercial Real SituationBad Card is a shortish but addictive groove that grows on you. There is a real energetic tunefulness and harmony about the material on here. It is light but carrying a real sad tone to Marley's voice. We And Them deals with social inequality, over a gentle shuffle with some lilting wah-wah guitar. "We no have no friends inna high society..." bemoans Marley. I wouldn't worry about it, Bob. Did you really want their friendship? Work is a bluesy, militant skank, a condemnation of anyone idling away their time, or Jah's time, no doubt. Marley has become a spokesman for the sensible, older generation, all of a sudden, intolerant of laziness. A bit like The Rolling Stones on Hang Fire. It is longer than the lighter tracks that came before it, and that seems quite suitable for such a solemn declaration. "If you ain't got nothing to do - work". sings Marley, as if hectoring some surly kids in the tenement yard. How things change.


Zion Train is the now ubiquitous Rasta devotional song. There is a cool rhythm on it, though, and some killer guitar. There is just a great feel to this, as indeed there is to the whole album. It has a real "breath of fresh air" feel about it. Pimpers' Paradise has Marley sadly telling the tale of a fallen woman over some harmonious I-Threes backing vocals. It is a most agreeable, engaging song yet it tells such a forlorn story. It was unusual to hear Marley crticising a woman so blatantly, but he was also condemning the men who exploited her. "I'm sorry for the victim..." he sings.


Could You Be Loved was the big hit single from the album - shuffling and catchy, almost dance/disco-ish in its cross-over appeal. It doesn't really fit in with the ambience and musical theme of the rest of the album. Forever Loving Jah sees a return to the slower-paced skanking that populates the album overall. It has vibes of the Kaya album in its sleepy, laconic mood, as if the ganja is kicking in.

Redemption Song is a magnificent oddity. Not reggae at all in this form. It is a haunting, emotive, heartbreaking ballad sung out against a lightly strummed, folky acoustic guitar. Along with Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers To Cross, it is a non-reggae reggae classic. The full band version, played as a proper reggae song, is included as a bonus track, and, while truly excellent too, with some Rasta drumming and dub undertones, nothing quite matches the evocative, raw feel of this. It was the last track on Bob Marley's last "living" studio album. A fitting epitaph.


Also dating from 1980 is Slogans, an underrated little gem of a track originally recorded by just Marley and an acoustic guitar with bass, drums and guitar parts (Eric Clapton, no less) added posthumously to great effect. It is, along with Jah Live, one of the great Marley non-album tracks.

Many years later, I visited Bob Marley's mausoleum in Jamaica (pictured below). It was a touching moment for me to lay my hands on his sarcophagus and say a quiet "thank you". RIP.




CONFRONTATION (1983)


Chant Down Babylon/Buffalo Soldier/Jump Nyabinghi/Mix Up, Mix Up/Give Thanks & Praises/Blackman Redemption/Trench Town/Stiff Necked Fools/I Know/Rastaman Live Up    

Confrontation was released in 1983, posthumously, made up of session material left off the previous two or three albums. There is an understandable patchiness to it, but it still functions as a perfectly credible album. It is not just a collection of demos. It is much better than that. 

Chant Down Babylon was based on the Rasta chanting tradition, but it is not a chant, like Rasta Man Chant from Burnin'. It is a lilting, energetic, skanking workout - lively and catchy. Its message is one of rejecting the evils of Babylon and the oppressor. Buffalo Soldier is a horn-driven, bassy and melodic singalong number that became a huge hit, with its "woy-yo-yo" chorus. Its history lesson is interesting too, the I firs heard it, I had no idea that Jamaicans had been taken to fight in the US army in the early/mid nineteenth century, before emancipation. Jump Nyabingi apparently dates from the session for Kaya, although, to be honest, it sounds far too lively to have sat well among the laid back grooves of that album, which is probably why it stayed on the cutting room floor. There are some strident I-Threes backing vocals and those"one-drop" drum sounds and rimshot that characterised the reggae sound of 77-78, from Kaya through to SurvivalMix Up, Mix Up is also from the same period, and his lots of clarinet and synthesised sounds. It sounds a bit incomplete to me, as if the final few touches had never been put on it. Bob's vocal probably needed a re-take, to be honest, but it probably got forgotten about.

 

Give Thanks And Praises is a horn-driven, pumping but slow-paced skank from the Uprising sessions. It is a Rasta devotional, and its easy roots groove makes it feel one of the most complete and fulfilled songs on the album. Blackman Redemption is another lively corker, with the "cool runnings" line that was used as a film title several years later. Trench Town is a comparatively laid-back number that sees Marley singing about washing his hair in the river and "freeing the people with music" (echoing the earlier Trenchtown Rock iconic song). Despite is relaxing groove, it still has a big thumping bass and punchy horns. 

Stiff Necked Fools is a bassy, potent rant from Bob about whoever the stiff-necked fools are against a superb guitar and keyboards backing. The drums on here are awesome too. I Know sounds almost like a soul/funk number, with some sweeping synthesised string passages replicating a soul orchestra. It almost sounds like a conscious effort to produce a funky soul single. There are snatches of the I Shot The Sheriff riff in there in places, too. As with many previous Marley albums, a "chant" style Rasta song in Rasta Man Live Up ends proceedings. The chant here is backed by an infectious skank and some great guitar.

"Rastaman live up - kinky man don't give up...". You said it Bob.





                                  BOB MARLEY

                                       1945-1981