With his songs, Bob Marley said he wanted to lead “a revolution that no weapon can stop“. He also said that his music would last forever. Fifty-two years after his death, in 1981, at the age of 36, it is clear that he was speaking the truth: his many hits, odes to peace and Emancipation, imbued with his belief in the Rastafari religion, are as fresh and relevant as when they were composed, and they continue to galvanize the crowds.
In this playlist, which serves as a reminder before the February 14 release of the biopic Bob Marley: One Love by Reinaldo Marcus Green, we find several tracks from the album Exodus (Jamming, Exodus, Natural Mystic And one Love), released in June 1977. Considered the creative peak of the king of reggae, this record which propelled Marley to the rank of superstar is in fact quite naturally at the heart of the biopic which focuses on the years 1976 to 1978.
Produced by Chris Blackwell, head of the Island label, Exodus was recorded in London where Marley and the Wailers had taken refuge, after he had miraculously escaped a murder attempt at his home in Kingston (Jamaica), at the end of 1976. Following this trauma, the record seems conceived as a spiritual survival manual for overcoming conflict and betrayal. It became a universal breviary for overcoming trials and moving forward, and it still is today, like many of Bob Marley’s classics.
“Get Up, Stand Up” (1973)
Co-written with Peter Tosh, this song is one of the most powerful in Marley’s repertoire: militant, vibrant with urgency, according to Chuck D of Public Enemy, it is, who takes it back to his own sauce, “a war cry against oppression”. Marley wrote it after returning from a trip to Haiti, where he was able to observe the immense deprivation of the populations. The lyrics invite the listener to stand up against injustice, for equality, and to fight for their ideals. A galvanizing anthem that transcends eras, countries and causes. In the biopic, it is one of the first hits we hear, while Marley tries to break through in a context of exacerbated political violence in Jamaica.
From the album Exodus, Jamming is one of Marley’s best-known songs, also one of the most pop, with an irresistible groove, which we owe to the remarkable rhythm section of the Wailers (Aston and Carlton Barrett) pestered by the solo guitar of Junior Marvin, recruited by the group at the time of this record. The joy of Jamming is contagious. The lyrics, underlined by the chorus of the I-Threes (which includes Rita Marley), speak of partying, convincing oneself of the confidence rediscovered after the trauma of the attempted murder of which Marley was the subject: “No bullet can stop us / We will neither beg nor bow / We cannot be bought or sold”he sings.
“Open your eyes. Are you satisfied with the life you lead?” asks Marley in this militant and energetic song with a strong rhythm. Equipped with a funky bass and almost disco drums, it gives its name to the album recorded in London, the development of which we glimpse in the studio in the biopic. Exodus, like the Exodus, this biblical episode in which Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, where they had been reduced to slavery. A story that he mixes with that of the marginalized Rastas whom he urges to set out far from Babylon, towards a promised land, that of Africa (which also serves as a spiritual metaphor). “We know where we are going / We know where we come from / We are leaving Babylon / We are returning to our motherland“. This single was Marley’s first to receive massive play on African-American radio stations in the United States, marking a new stage in his popularity.
“Natural Mystic” (1977)
In the biopic, this piece marks a turning point, when Bob Marley decides to address a wider audience and sets out in search of a new sound. Here comes “the time of Revelation“, he said. Natural Mystic is the opening track of the album Exodus. A melancholic and fatalistic meditation on the injustices and contradictions of life. At the beginning of the song, the sound rises imperceptibly, so that we have the unsettling impression that the musicians are getting closer to us, slowly, but surely. On the guitar, Junior Marvin works wonders with his little patterns that come in and out around the voice. In his words, Marley alludes to the book of Revelations, according to which the cycle of suffering to be endured is not over. Certainly, ““It breathes a natural mysticism into the air”, but “Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die, don’t ask me why”, he sings. However, as is often the case, his words are appreciated more by listening than by reading, as the inflections of his voice, which alone carries the melody, are full of meaning.
“Simmer Down” (1963)
As we see in a delightful flashback from the biopic, the young Wailing Wailers landed an audition in 1963 with producer Coxsone Dodd, head of the Studio One record label, opened a few months earlier in Kingston. But Coxsone is far from convinced by their performance. As he unceremoniously dismisses them, the group insists on playing him one last song, Simmer Down, an energetic ska whose lyrics ask violent Jamaican gangs to calm things down. Coxson would eventually record this track with the Wailers, to whom he added a few house musicians known as the Skatalites. The single will be number one in Jamaica in 1964. The first hit by Bob Marley and his Wailers.
“No Woman, No Cry” (1975)
In this song, the best and most famous version of which was recorded live in London in 1975 and can be found on the album Live! (the first version appearing on the album Natty Dread from 1974), Marley asks a woman, apparently his own, Rita Marley, not to cry about the past and to move forward. In doing so, he remembers their impoverished youth in the Trenchtown ghetto in Kingston, where they were happy to share a simple corn porridge. Although he wrote it himself, Marley credited the song to his childhood friend Vincent Ford, who ran a soup kitchen in Jamaica, so that he would receive the royalties and continue to feed the poor. Covered by countless artists, from Gilberto Gil to the Fugees and Joe Dassin, this song with its heady melody has become one of Marley’s many prayers starting from the intimate to reach the universal.
“One Love” (1977)
Inspired by the hit by Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions People Get Ready (1965), one Love was first a ska in the first album of the Wailing Wailers (1965), before becoming a classic in its version reworked for the album Exodus, about ten years later. one Love is a luminous and rousing prayer, a plea for brotherly love in which Marley calls for the unity of humanity and reaffirms his gratitude and his faith in Jah (God in the Rastafari religion). After the semi-darkness of the beginning comes the light, ideal to close the album Exodus.
“Redemption Song” (1980)
This classic appears on the very last studio album released during Marley’s lifetime, Uprising (1980). The king of reggae then knew that he had cancer and, according to Rita Marley, that he did not have long to live. This ultra-bare title, a folk song in which he is alone on dry guitar without accompaniment, closes the album and appears as a farewell, in which he summarizes one last time his message of freedom and self-determination, inspired by both biblical writings and one of its mentors, the black activist Marcus Garvey. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, no one but us can free our minds”he recommends, inviting the listener to “sing these songs of freedom, because I only know songs of Redemption”.