Bob Marley and the Wailers – Exodus
Released June, 1977
Guys, Bob Marley is rad. This album is on the iPod at work, and I hear it every day. After nearly three years in the same job, you think hearing one album everyday would make you hate it. No sir, not this one. (though there are many, many others.) The first incarnation of The Wailers came about in Jamaica in 1963, when Peter Tosh met Marley and Bunny Wailer and taught them how to play guitar, drums and keys. (By the way, the list of members of the Wailers is as long as your arm. Do your best to keep up.) Later that year, Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith joined the band, but they were gone by 66. As a vocal group, the band used Lee “Scratch” Perry’s studio band The Upsetters to record, until Aston and Carlton Barrett (bass and drums respectively) formed the Wailers band. (Incidentally, google Aston “Family Man” Barrett. Is he the coolest guy you’ve ever seen?)
In 1974, The Wailers broke up due to Tosh and Bunny Wailer’s unwillingness to tour, so they continued as Bob Marley and the Wailers, featuring the Barrett brothers, Junior Marvin and Al Anderson playing lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl “Wya” Lindo playing keyboards, and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson playing percussion. “The I Threes” were the backing vocalists, and consisted of Marley’s wife Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths. The Wailers toured the world for many a year, until Marley’s health deteriorated due to cancer. Doctors found a cancerous melanoma in one of Marley’s toes, but he ejected not to have it removed due to his Rastafarian beliefs. The cancer spread to his brain and lungs, taking his life in 1981.
“Exodus” was inspired by political events occurring in Jamaica in 1976. Marley wrote the title track as a response to a politician using the campaign slogan “We know where we’re going”. “Exodus” was a number one hit in Jamaica, where I imagine all his songs were huge. On December 3, 1976, someone tried to assassinate Marley in his home, for playing a concert that was supposed to eased tension between two rival political parties. The shooter thought the concert was to support one side, and also shot Marley’s wife Rita and his manager Don Taylor. Rita and Taylor both sustained serious injuries, but recovered. Marley only received minor chest and arm wounds, and played the scheduled concert two days later. It was this attempt on his life that saw Marley leave Jamaica and move to England, where he spent two years in a self imposed exile. It was there he recorded the album “Exodus”, and it enjoyed much success, spending 56 consecutive weeks in the charts.
“Exodus” is an album chock full of hits. ‘Jamming’, ‘One Love’ (which was Marley’s interpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’) and ‘Three Little Birds’ are tracks most people should’ve heard (and if not, well, that’s why we’re here!), and even the lesser known tracks like ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’ and the questionably titled ‘So Much Things To Say’ are great listens. Even after a week, I’m still struggling to pick a favourite track, though I’m probably leaning towards ‘Three Little Birds’. The repetition of the mantra “Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be alright” is quite relaxing and reassuring. As much as I had trouble picking a favourite, I straight up couldn’t pick a song I did not like. Every track is easy to listen to, and more than that, every song is enjoyable to listen to.
I’m fairly unfamiliar with reggae in general, and this is in some part due to my frustration with my inability to play it. Playing on the offbeat is endlessly confusing for me, but luckily, “Exodus” is a perfect example of reggae bass. Sadly, “Exodus” only got as high [heh] as #20 on the Billboard Pop Album charts, but I’m sure it has more than made up for that since then, as Rolling Stone numbered it 169 in their 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. Even to this day, The Wailers are touring, albeit without their original front man. The ultimate in chillout music, “Exodus” is timeless.
Anyone who has ever worked on a tropical island or even in a resort in the tropics, will most likely have a love-hate relationship with Bob Marley. I fall into both of the above categories. At the time, I was so sick of hearing ‘Buffalo Soldier’ and ‘Is This Love’ played almost daily in the open air bar, that I wanted to shove the CD fair up the barman’s backside . But these days, with island life a distant (and idyllic) memory, I hear the reggae rhythm and I instantly recall lazy afternoons of hanging lazily under a palm tree in a hammock, or nights spent drinking cheap fruit cocktails with my work mates as the resident muso pumped out another Marley classic for the tourists. To this day, I can’t drive into North Queensland’s Mission Beach (my previous locale) without whacking my Bob Marley and the Wailers ‘Best of’ album in the CD player. It’s a little ironic that although Bob Marley and the Wailers’ music was quite political, it can be synonymous with such peaceful moments for so many people. For me, I don’t respect Bob Marley’s music so much for its technical nuances or it’s melodic perfection, but for its unique and honest sound, and the way in which it brought reggae into the popular music fore. Not only that, but Marley’s music also brought with it many political messages and inspired many people from troubled backgrounds. The musical legacy that Marley left behind is obvious; without his influence we wouldn’t have had bands like Sublime, or Australian artists like John Butler, Blue King Brown, or Nicky Bomba. I also believe that Bob Marley’s political activism and musical style has inevitably – albeit indirectly – influenced the development of the hip hop scene.
As a teenager, Bob Marley & The Wailers helped create my sounds of summer. Many an evening with family and/or friends at that time of year would commence with the “Legend” compilation. For a long time that fab collection was all that I knew of Marley & Co.’s music, so I was looking forward to delving into “Exodus”. Being familiar with half of an album is bizarre – as the unheard tracks fill in the gaps of the running order, the songs you knew get given a new context. This record also has two differently themed sides, which would have worked brilliantly in the vinyl era. The opening track, ‘Natural Mystic’ plays out like a mission statement from Marley inciting those around him to pay attention to the changes that are coming: “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air/If you listen carefully now you will hear”. A little Dylanesque, no? The title track, also the group’s first international hit, likens the story of Moses and the Israelites to the modern day struggle of the Rastas; hoping they will be lead by Jah to freedom. The album’s second side is much mellower, and contains some of the band’s best known songs. The wonderful ballads ‘Waiting In Vain’ and ‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’ come as a welcome reprieve after the fire of the first side. There is an optimism in ‘Three Little Birds’, that could be seen as the 1970’s reggae equivalent of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. I can’t go past ‘Jamming’ as my favourite from the album. Never mind the fact that I also talk/sing like Chief Wiggum whenever it comes on. I love the percussion and the track’s groove seems to infect my inner rhythm factory with ease. While I can’t tolerate reggae for an extended period, I really enjoyed this little taste.
Ask anyone to name three Bob Marley songs and I bet they’ll easily give you more than three. I also bet that at least one of those songs will be from this week’s album “Exodus”. There’s a good chance that they will also have a copy of Marley’s greatest hits compilation “Legend”. If they don’t own it they will surely recount some friend from their past who played it on repeat. This is the legacy Bob Marley leaves behind. The ever charismatic front man with the honey smooth vocals, it’s hard not to fall in love with the man. There is something very honest and reassuring about Marley’s voice and there is definitely something soothing about a reggae beat. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t subconsciously start bobbing their head and get a bit of a groove on whilst it’s playing. Despite the many line-up changes over the years with The Wailers, it’s Bob Marley that we remember most. There were several songs here I wasn’t familiar with so it was nice to hear them sandwiched between old favourites. Previously I had never really paid much attention to Marley’s lyrics so it was interesting to discover how politically motivated some of them were. As a sentimental sucker I can’t help but be drawn to the less political songs. In fact the last five songs on this album are pretty close to perfection. Whilst I enjoyed this week’s offering I’ll probably go back to listening to “Legend” when the mood for a little reggae strikes me.