I’m sure it’s an honor for a singer to be referred to as an idol or an icon or a legend. Many deserve the labels, no doubt. Few, however, are more than brilliant artists well practiced at their craft; few come near the status of Bob Marley. A leader, a revolutionary, a voice for the masses, charismatic, educated politically and religiously, a soldier on the front lines of a spiritual war, Bob Marley along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, provided for the oppressed lower class something the executives at the resorts could just as easily enjoy. In these, Bob Marley’s 5 best albums, you will find the humanity, the rebellion, and the authority aimed at mental and spiritual liberation as well as the consistently flawless and hypnotic rhythms of roots-rock-reggae.
5 Catch a Fire
Personally, I might have liked to go further back than this for the list. A few problems arise however. A lot of the early hits were pressed as singles. They weren’t putting out albums, just one hopeful hit after another. Then you have the issue of quality. This, to some, might add value, but you youngens aren’t going to get it. Besides, those vinyl nuances don’t really compress so well. And, of course, there is the topic of stylistics. They grew, they matured, and they changed, musically at least. The message was always there, but here now, on this album, you have unbridled rebellion with a professional sound. “Concrete Jungle”, “Slave Driver”, and “400 Years” were obviously dealing with seriously heavy subject matter. “ Stir It Up” lightens the mood a bit and “Kinky Reggae” is like the cherry on some sexy reggae ice cream, but we’re back in with “No More Trouble”. Here’s one of those songs you should absolutely know, it’s vital to remaining a member of the world community.
4 Rastaman Vibration
The lyrics for “War” are taken from a speech given by Emperor Haile Selassie-I to the United Nations. This is a song that is captivating, moving, and enthralling, with a message to the world community and an uncanny air of urgency, and the driving force of the Wailing Wailers accompanies the lyrics exquisitely. This song translated extremely well to the live format, and was always warmly received by the audience. It’s unquestionably quintessential Bob Marley. And that’s just one song. The whole album is good, but especially the intense “Want More”, the encouraging “Crazy Baldheads”, and the ever so soulful “Rat Race.”
This album is just good fun. Lighthearted and up-tempo, the first half makes it easy to see Bob must’ve been in love at the time. The playful invitation to dance in the opening “Easy Skanking”, the sappy but enjoyable “Is This Love”, the enticing “Sun Is Shining” and the warming “Satisfy My Soul” make the majority of this album strictly holiday. This theme is quickly nullified however by the comically ironic “She’s Gone” and it’s back to the seriousness of the work at hand with “Crisis” and “Time Will Tell”.
If for no other reason than “So Much Trouble in the World”, this album would still be near the number one spot. There is no way around it; the lyrics are commanding and forceful. “Africa Unite”, “Ride Natty Ride’, and the suitably closing “Wake Up and Live” are anything but vague. Yet it is not as if the audience is being preached at. There is nothing off putting about it. Whatever religious, ethnic, or political background you are from, the words are moving. They are universal, and the music is smooth, satin cream, washing over the soul, driving and ceaseless, mesmerizing and seemingly sedative.
It is felt, undeniably so, no matter if as background ambience or cranked up and grooving; there is truly a “Natural Mystic” in the air whenever this album is on. “So Much Things to Say” may be a bit abstract in it’s lyrical content, but “The Heathen” certainly is not, nor is the popular “Exodus”. Now listen, spare yourself the shame. If you’ve not heard “Jammin” don’t tell anyone, just put it on… The effects are immediate. Even my niece was singing “Three Little Birds” when she was 4 or 5, so come on man.