Bob Marley and The Wailers
Tuff Gong (1974)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
Bob Marley stands for a lot of things; just ask the typical college student. People see him as icon of Jamaican heritage, peace, drug legalization, and otherwise just relaxing. He wouldn’t be known for any of these things and his face wouldn’t be plastered on dorm walls everywhere if not for the album “Natty Dread.”
It’s interesting that the album doesn’t feature any of the abovementioned except for Jamaican heritage, in the form of his Rastafarian beliefs. Marley was not actively pro-marijuana in any of his music, but the image of him enjoying a joint has persevered. The most interesting contradiction on “Natty Dread” to the modern understanding of Marley is his peaceful demeanor.
Marley was a tremendously influential political figure by way of his music. He never forgot the mean streets of Kingston in which he grew up, and he frequently reminds the listener of how ardent his beliefs are. “Rebel Music” and “Revolution” call for active change, while “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry” ominously reminds governments that “a hungry mob is an angry mob.” Marley veered away from openly suggesting violence, but he lapses in “Talkin’ Blues,” saying that “Cause I feel like bombing a church now, now that you know that the preacher is lying.” Any suggestion that he wasn’t politically influential dries up after learning he survived an assassination attempt (widely believed to be government-organized).
It’s easy to lose the urgency of Marley’s message, considering the musical approach of the Wailers is prototypical reggae: slow ska-style riffs, gentle percussion and Marley’s unhurried voice. Even when Marley urges the listener to get excited on the opening track, “Lively Up Yourself” (as he did when opening concerts with the song), it’s tough to do anything more than sway. Yes, Marley was laid back, but not necessarily because he was trying to be.
References to Rastafarianism come out in the title track, the title a characterization of the religion’s belief system and favorite hairstyle. But the whole album stands as a tribute to Jamaica in one way or another, whether it be a remembrance of youth in its capital (“No Woman No Cry”) or a commentary on the government.
INTERESTING FACT: Many of Marley’s hits are listed as having been penned by Marley’s friends and relatives, such as “No Woman No Cry,” supposedly by soup kitchen operator Vincent Ford. Marley’s wife Rita claims that Marley himself had written the songs but filed them under others’ names because of a contractual dispute with Cayman Records, thereby keeping the label from getting part of Marley’s royalties.