Friday, February 5, 2016


A few days ago I picked up a Bob Marley CD, which is unusual for me. I love reggae, and I do recognize the quality of Bob Marley's work. He deserves the recognition, but the amount of praise his body of work receives is so out of whack compared to other reggae artists that are every bit as deserving, that it's always bugged me, to the point that I tend to hold it against him. That's a bit unfair, I know that. But knowing that his music will always be the go-to reggae for people with just a cursory interest in the music bugs nonetheless.

So why did I buy a Marley CD? It was in a record store bargain bin, marked down to a four bucks because it was without the cover and that's what got my interest. The artwork on the disc itself was a reproduction of the Upsetter record label. Some of you will know what that means. Yessiree, produced by Lee Perry. How could I not? Perry produced Marley for less than the price of lunch? 

Marley worked with several producers early in his career. Then, early in the seventies, Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, came knocking. He licensed Marley's material that would become his first Island LP. Catch A Fire. He had British session studio musicians record tasty licks over it, and then threw the bank at it, practically gambling his entire label on his hunch that he could market Marley to a rock audience. Obviously, that hunch paid dividends. But the rawness of Marley's early work would be forever lost. All Marley on Island would follow the same formula, not necessarily with session musicians, but in slickness and marketing intent.

When Marley became a global phenomenon, the older strictly Jamaican stuff started seeping out, including the Perry produced material. To hear the difference, here's a couple versions of "Sun Is Shining". The first is the Perry produced version, with some really nice melodica. It was released in 1973, but was likely recorded a few years earlier. Sparsely produced, it fits the song. The second version is from Kaya, his 1978 LP, all glossy 'n' shit. To mix things up, there's another no-so-reggae version by French singer Lizzy Mercier Descloux, a criminally under-appreciated artist, but I'll get into that at later date.

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Sun Is Shining mp3 at AADTCP (?) 1978
Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Sun Is Shining mp3 at Dusted

1 comment:

Peter Tibbles said...

I agree that Bob is a fine artist, but I actually prefer to listen to Jimmy Cliff and Toots Hibbert.