For reggae fans and all Rastafarians, May 11, 1981, was a dreadful day. Their god, Bob Marley, passed away at the age of 36. In barely ten years, from 1973 to his death, he and his group, “The Wailers” revolutionized music. The intoxicating rhythm of his songs reached all the corners of the planet. During his concerts, the spectators were in a trance. Bob Marley sang of love, redemption, the liberation of African people. On stage, the artist was loved. The public too danced to the point of intoxication and of the professions of his faith.
Bob Marley’s art specialists will insist that his immense talent was not born in the mid-1970s. He too, like Picasso, had his blue period: Ska in the early sixties, then rocksteady soon after, he had an already swaying rhythm.
He sold over 20 million records in less than a decade. Musical records, especially when they are from legendary artists, tend to outlast their originators. Bob Marley is gone, but his works and legacy continue to live. The king of reggae continues to spread his message of love, unity, and human right to this day. In commemoration, we, therefore, invite you to listen to what we consider are his 10 best songs.
1. Get Up, Stand Up
“Get Up, Stand Up” is the unofficial anthem from Amnesty International and reflects Marley’s relentless struggle for human rights. It contains the following strong lines:
“You can fool some people sometimes, But you can’t fool all the people all the time,”
Which is a variation on the famous words of Abraham Lincoln:
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
2. One Love/People Get Ready
Bob Marley recently converted to the Rastafarian movement when he composed the song “One Love” in 1965. Not having always been able to fully understand his crossbreeding, he found an important balance in Rastafarianism. The singer begins to make dreadlocks and therefore composes “One Love” which conveys values of tolerance and uniqueness. The best-known version of the hit, however, is that of 1977, at a slower pace.
The song contains parts of the famous song “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield: Since there was no credit for the song, it was initially only called “One Love”. In 1984, a posthumous video appeared in which there were cameo appearances by Paul McCartney and Bananarama.
3. Three Little Birds
This incredibly often-covered song comes from the album “Exodus” from 1977: The lines “Don’t Worry About a Thing” and “Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright” became almost household name in the pop world. In 1980, it reached the peak at No.17 in the UK.
Although the source of inspiration for the song remains in dispute, it is reportedly inspired by birds that used to fly around and sit next to Marley’s home.
4. Could You Be Loved
Bob Marley continues to work and produce success despite his illness. In 1980, the album “Uprising” was released, and “Could You Be Loved” was its flagship song. It was created in a plane the previous year, while Marley and the Wailers were having fun on the guitar.
This love song was a huge success and has helped Legend sell 28 million copies around the world. The same year he released the song (September 23, 1980) happened to be the last year Bob Marley will have his last concert.
The track is one of Marley’s most successful and it spreads the message of hope. The melody is unusually poppy and contains only subtle reggae elements.
5. I Shot The Sheriff
The 1973 song was the final single Bob Marley released with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh before they left the band to pursue their solo careers. It was supposed to be called “I Shot The Police”, but that was too hot for the band.
In the song, a narrator admits to having shot a corrupt sheriff in self-defense and has now been falsely charged with killing the deputy sheriff as well. The successful cover version by Eric Clapton in 1974 gave Marley an additional boost in popularity.
6. No Woman, No Cry
Bob Marley released a new album in 1974, “Natty Dread” and the single “No Woman No Cry”, live in London. This absolute hit is credited to Vincent Ford, a friend childhood of the artist, even if rumor has it that it was the latter who wrote it.
This reggae ballad became famous through the seven-minute concert recording on the “Live” album released in 1975. Contrary to what many people thought at the time, the song is not misogynistic. The title is in Jamaican Creole and does not mean “No woman, no crying”, but rather the comforting words: “No.” “Woman, don’t cry”.
7. Buffalo Soldier
This song was released posthumously in 1983 and became one of Marley’s greatest hits. Buffalo Soldier referred to the soldiers of the Afro-American units that the Union Army of the US Northern States at the end of the US Civil War (1861-1865) set up. In the lyrics, Marley emphasizes the absurd fact that the former slaves just freed were used to kill and drive away Indians.
8. Is This Love
The King of Reggae escapes death in December 1976, when armed men burst into his home in Jamaica. Hit by a bullet in the arm, he left for England where the following month, at the beginning of 1977, he wrote 20 songs. Ten of them made it to the album “Exodus” (1977) and the other ten “Kaya” (1978), an album of love songs.
We find there the hit song, “Is This Love”, in homage to his love of the time, Cindy Breakspeare, Miss World 1976. “Kaya” means something like “weed” or “hemp.” And also, the love song is a homage to the power of marijuana.
The video was filmed at the Keskidee Arts Center in London and shows the then seven-year-old Naomi Campbell, who made her first public appearance in it.
9. Redemption Song
This quiet song about liberation from spiritual slavery was declared the most important in Jamaican music history by the Jamaican poet Mutabaruka. Redemption Song is the last track on his ninth and final album “Uprising” and he wrote it when he was diagnosed with cancer and suffered from severe pain.
Jamming, sometimes spelled as “Jammin'” (with an apostrophe at the end), is a song released in 1977. The song which was included in the Exodus album rose to fame in 1977. It was in the British top among the ten most played songs that year. In the chorus of the song participated Rita Marley. The song also appears on the Legend compilation, and also in the live version in the 1978 Babylon by Bus album.
“Jamming” is arguably one of the most popular songs by Marley and The Wailers. 10 years after his death, the song was released again in commentation and it was a success once again. In the Netherlands, it ranked on the sales charts for 4 weeks.
In Jamaican patois, “jamming” means something like coming together and partying and of course, everyone thinks of musical jamming with the term. And also (mainly from the cultural aspect), the song centered on marijuana. Jammin is traditionally a name for smoking marijuana. So this light-footed, springy song from 1977 forms a nice synthesis of Marley’s spirit.
Bob Marley’s wife, Rita, has performed the song during the “Marley Magic: Live In Central Park At Summerstage” tribute concert. Marley’s sons, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers have performed it throughout their concerts.
A few things you didn’t know about The King of Reggae
At the beginning of May 1981, Bob Marley fought against cancer which had been eating away at him for several months. The 36-year-old singer then drew up a will that divided his property between his long-standing group – The Wailers – and his family. At least that’s what Al Anderson, his guitarist, present during his last days says.
This document was never found, however, with Al going so far as to claim that one of the Marley family destroyed it. Aston Barrett, the bassist, and frontman of the group, nicknamed Family Man (because he would be the father of more than 50 children!), even gives details on its contents:
“This will stipulated that I was to be in charge of the pressing plant, the record stores, and the studio. 60% of the total assets were to go to me as administrator and the remaining 40% was to go to the family.
Not only to Rita Marley and her children but also to Bob’s other children and their respective mothers.”
According to the same Aston Barrett, Rita and Bob’s mother would have taken a very bad view of him getting all that money back. They would therefore have arranged for this will to disappear. “I know that until the end, Bob asked to see me. I was even told that he burst into tears several times because he no longer trusted those around him.”
Anyway, on May 11, 1981, Bob Marley died in Miami without leaving any official testamentary will. It is true that from an early age, the singer has always preferred to settle his affairs with a handshake rather than with the intervention of “Western justice”.
“I am appalled by the fabrications”
In Jamaica, until recently, there was no copyright management society. The artist was paid for each of his recordings or paid per working day. Most of these musicians were also totally ignorant of their rights. No contract was signed between the different parties. Whoever financed the productions collected most of the profits. During his lifetime, the distribution of rights to songs recorded by the King of Reggae with The Wailers was always the same.
“As Bob wrote all the lyrics, he got all the money for the editions and the recording rights, and everything was split in two, between us, the musicians, and him. We hoped it would continue like this after his death, but unfortunately it didn’t.”
When the prince of reggae passed away, Rita Marley was to get 55% of her husband’s roughly $30 million, with the rest to go to all her children, even those born out of wedlock. It is Don Taylor, his manager, who will take care of the various formalities.
“I am appalled by the stories about this legacy. Bob died in full possession of his mental faculties, if he had no longer trusted me, he would have sent me away,” he always defended himself.
3 more things you didn’t know about Bob Marley after his death
- The official Anglican Church of Jamaica has incorporated in the hymns played in its services a title by Bob Marley (One Love) and another by Peter Tosh (Psalm 27).
- In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of Bob’s birth, Rita Marley put forward the idea of exhuming her husband’s body to go and bury him in Ethiopia. “Bob’s life is dedicated to Ethiopia, not Jamaica,” she said. Faced with the general outcry, she abandoned her project.
- Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road, turned into a museum, has been declared a National Protected Site by the Jamaican government. Since its opening in 1986, it has been the most visited tourist site on the island with more than 20,000 visitors per year.
Marley’s life is still glorified today and conspiracy theories have grown up around it. For some, he is a smoking Rasta messiah, for others a musical social revolutionary and for some a victim of a CIA conspiracy. His private life is still enough for speculation and, for example, the question of whether he now had 22 or even 46 children with eight or 18 wives.
Bob Marley’, the eternal King of Reggae legacy in the world is not only about his immortal songs but also messages of charity and human rights struggles. Thanks to him, reggae has reached the pop world and the musician, who died much too early, left numerous timeless hits behind.