Bob Marley accomplished a great deal in 36 years. He released a string of successful albums and lived to enjoy a small portion of his eventual fame. But he never forgot his roots, and he was outspoken about his political and religious beliefs until the day he died. His work lived on, of course, in its influences on music and culture. With this in mind, let’s look at five of our favorite Bob Marley and the Wailers albums, the stories behind them, and how they still affect us today.
1. The Wailing Wailers (1965)
The Wailing Wailers was the first LP-length album by the band, but it was more of a compilation of previously-recorded songs. It included the song “Rude Boy," which was about (and became iconic within) the burgeoning rude boy subculture in Jamaica. Rude boy spread from Jamaica to the United Kingdom, where it (as well as the Wailers) influenced a number of other subcultures, like mod, skinhead, and later punk! From there it spread through the music of bands like the Clash and the Specials. What we’re saying is that the Wailers weren’t just influential to reggae, but to pretty much all of modern music. If you listen to music at all, chances are it was affected in some small way by the Wailers.
Outside of its influences, what’s interesting about The Wailing Wailers is that it captured a time when the band wasn’t officially named “The Wailers” yet. Like many bands, they changed their name several times in their early years. Originally known as the Teenagers, they then became the Wailing Rudeboys and the Wailing Wailers before settling on the Wailers.
2. Catch a Fire (1973)
Catch a Fire was the band’s first appearance on Island Records. While moderately successful, the album gave the band a taste of international success. What we loved most about Catch a Fire, though, was that album cover. Artists Rod Dyer and Bob Weiner designed the ingenious album sleeve, which looked like a Zippo lighter but was hinged and also functioned like a lighter. Except there wasn’t any actual fire, which is probably good because it tends to ruin vinyl records. And, you know, everything else.
3. Burnin’ (1973)
Speaking of fire, let’s talk about Burnin’. Their follow-up to Catch a Fire, this was another moderate success for the Wailers, but it proved inspirational to a number of musicians. Marley was an influence on Lauryn Hill, who recorded her 1998 debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, at the studio he built. That album also featured a wood-burnt image of Hill similar to the portrait of the Wailers on Burnin’. Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974 not only became a #1 hit, but was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In fact, both “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Get Up, Stand Up” have been covered by a variety of bands in many different genres.
4. Natty Dread (1974)
People often consider Bob Marley as the front man and the Wailers as his backing band, but it wasn’t always this way. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer kept the Wailers, well, an actual band for a decade. It was only after they left that Bob Marley became a virtual “solo” artist with the replaceable Wailers behind him. Natty Dread was the first album to bear the name “Bob Marley & the Wailers," reflecting this change in focus. The artwork itself was a stylized image of Bob Marley, with no Wailers members in sight. The title itself comes from a shortened version of “Natty Dreadlocks," a character who epitomized the Rastafari movement. And that person was Bob Marley, who was increasingly viewed as the figurehead of Rastafari the world over. It wouldn’t be long before this intense focus became dangerous for Marley.
5. Exodus (1977)
By 1976, Bob Marley had become a one-man political force in Jamaica. He was scheduled to play Smile Jamaica, a free concert intended to bring warring political factions together, something that not everyone wanted. A gunman shot Marley in his home, along with both his wife and manager. Marley wasn’t seriously injured, but his wife and manager were. (They later made full recoveries.) Marley performed at the concert, but soon left Jamaica for England. The title of his 1977 album, Exodus, was a reference to this literal exodus from his homeland.
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Do you have any favorite Bob Marley stories? Do you prefer the early Wailers or later Bob Marley “solo” albums? Or do you love it all? Let us know in the comments below! And since we’re all friends here, we know you’re probably smoking while you look for Bob Marley shirts, but it’s really none of our business. Just be safe, okay? We would have liked someone from G.I. Joe to deliver this message, but it turns out they’re way too expensive for our budget. ALSO, if you liked these Marley facts, then you might like to learn 15 more things you didn't know about Bob Marley - we even made a video!