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What I’m listening to this week: Bob Marley

June 14, 2009

Rastaman Vibration – 1976

Okay, so I lied.  I said there probably wouldn’t be many Bob reviews on my blog, but here’s one already.  Well, what would you listen to on a very hot summer day in Austin, Texas?  So, let’s just jump right in.

Rastaman Vibration has some of Bob Marley’s most recognizable songs on it, including the absolute classic reggae track, “War”.  This excerpt of one of Haile Selassie‘s speeches, which Bob phrases strategically into a powerful, almost spoken-word soundtrack, has been covered numerous times (and was also the song that Sinead O’Connor was singing when she ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live).  Bob’s understated, simmering performance is just as intense and insightful 30 years later.

“Crazy Baldhead”, “Johnny Was”, “Who The Cap Fit”, and “Rat Race” are all politically motivated tracks, continuing in the tradition that Bob had already established on earlier albums; biting commentary and realistic portrayals of urban life, pointing fingers in the direction of social oppressors while simultaneously aiming to motivate listeners.  Of these, “Crazy Baldhead” is the angriest, while “Johnny Was” is the poignant counterpart.  Bob also famously balanced his albums with more lighthearted reggae fare, and on Rastaman Vibration, that takes the form of “Positive Vibration” and “Roots, Rock, Reggae”.  Both songs rely heavily on chiming, upbeat backing vocals from the I Threes, one of the most influential girl groups in reggae music history (which included Bob Marley’s wife Rita), and are pretty much textbook definitions of reggae made for pure musical celebration.

Rastaman Vibration may not have the same firepower as some of the albums that preceded it, like Catch a Fire (1973) or Natty Dread (1974), but it was paving the way for what would be the highest point in Bob Marley’s career: the release of Exodus in 1977 (which Time Magazine would later name the greatest album of the 20th century).  Rastaman Vibration is sort of the center point of Bob’s career, between the blazing passion of his youth and the mellow wisdom that would be to come.

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