Best of the Best: Bob Marley & the Wailers

Bob Marley & the Wailers, like many other bands, have evolved dramatically throughout their career—and they constantly churned out records, whether it was as The Wailing Wailers, The Wailers, or (most famously) Bob Marley & the Wailers.

Their albums give a snapshot of the changing lineup and production of the band, from the early ska years at Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s studio in 1965, to the band’s oftentimes most revered years working with the genius (and eccentric) producer Lee “Scratch” Perry in the early seventies, to the departure of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and the addition of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths, the I Threes, as backing vocalists. Today, the group tours as The Wailers band, with Aston “Family Man” Barrett as bassist and the only remaining member from the band’s earlier years.

Bob Marley & the Wailers have some incredible reggae albums, and a “Top 5” list is certainly debatable. Let me just say it took me quite a while to narrow these down, and I’m still feeling guilty about leaving some out. And no, Legend is not on this list—and if you think it should be, then get outta here! What do you think about these?


 5. Exodus (1977)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Exodus

Exodus is simply an incredible album from start to finish. Even the first song “Natural Mystic” begins quietly, and grows louder on just a pulsating groove. When full volume is reached, the groove is met with a bongo roll, and Marley starts his prophetic lyrics with “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air.” The first half of the album focuses on a huge and often-debated Rastafarian idea of leaving Jamaica and returning to the African homeland. Jamaica was in turbulent political times in 1977, and the band recently survived its own turbulence as well—an attempted assassination of Bob, Rita and other members in 1976, and a lineup change before that (Tosh and Wailer departing in 1974 for solo careers, and the I Threes and Wailers backing band arriving in their place). Exodus also brought the world-famous song “One Love/People Get Ready” to the masses, virally spreading a message of universal love and unity to people all over the planet. This album was recorded in both London and Jamaica and was originally released via the popular Island record label, bringing the band much success.

Album highlights: “Natural Mystic,” “Jamming,” “One Love/People Get Ready,” “Three Little Birds,” “Exodus” 

4. Kaya (1978)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Kaya

Interestingly, many songs on Kaya were recorded alongside tracks from Exodus the previous year at Island Studios in London. The main topics on this album are less political and more easygoing—themes of romance, nice weather, and herb or “Kaya” are prevalent. On the easygoing side of things, the song “Easy Skanking” is one of my all-time favorites—it has a nice, relaxed vibe, and it reminds us to “take it eeeeasy.” On the love side of things, the song “Is This Love” simply recognizes the growing feeling of caring for another, and it’s without a doubt one of Marley’s most popular tunes.

Album highlights: “Easy Skanking,” “Is This Love,” “Sun Is Shining,” “Time Will Tell”

3. Live at the Roxy (Recorded: 1976, Released: 2003)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Live at the Roxy

That’s right, I chose a live album as #3—and don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it! Live music has a magical, raw energy. This album genuinely captures that energy from one of the band’s prime years and keeps it alive for listeners today. Live at the Roxy is guaranteed to give you some shivers when you feel what I just described.

There are so many highlights from this album, both obvious and subtle—and they go way beyond what can happen in a studio. One example of this is how the audience cheers with delight after recognizing the opening notes of “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block).” In the same song, Bob strings together and slurs his plea to the arresting officer in an entertaining and animated way.

Something else I love about this album: The wonderful I Threes and their backing vocals, especially on “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”. Their na na na, na na na na na’s act as a kind of a melodic baseline. And a lot of the songs on this album are extended well beyond their studio counterparts time-wise, letting the listener enjoy the special instrumental grooves, periods of drum and bass, and more. The super-slowed-down, crawling skank on this version of “Burnin’ and Lootin'” is something worth hearing as well. Disc two of this album contains the awesome song “Positive Vibration” and a medley containing the songs “Get Up, Stand Up,” “No More Trouble,” and “War.”

Album highlights: “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block),” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Introduction + Trenchtown Rock,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Roots Rock Reggae”…basically every track on here. 

2. Soul Rebels (1970)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Soul Rebels

I’m taking it way back to the early years of the band here with Soul Rebels, recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, and produced by none other than the highly acclaimed, slightly mad, Lee “Scratch” Perry. This album is more “simple-sounding” to me than the others. It has more of a basic instrumental setup, with less of a dubby sound than the later bass-heavy versions of songs emphasized. The reason I love this album so much is it captures most of the original band in their early form, before signing on to major labels. Bob’s youthful voice fittingly asks listeners to “Try Me” on track two. Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh lend their backing vocals throughout the album, and the trio sound wonderful singing together (Peter Tosh on the lower vocal range and Bunny Wailer on the higher side. Funny note: I used to think Bunny Wailer’s vocals were that of a female until I learned more about the band). Tosh sings main vocals on the songs “No Sympathy” and “400 Years,” showcasing his militant demeanor and knack for pointing out injustices. I also love the song “It’s Alright” a lot, it’s one of my favorites, actually—and when you first hear it, the exciting thing is you don’t know that it’s a reggae song right away. In fact, it could be considered a rockers jam.

Another thing worth noting: I never liked the cover art on this album. It has no connection to the subject matter whatsoever. Apparently, the band felt the same as I, and they weren’t consulted about it before the album was released.

Album highlights: “Try Me”, “It’s Alright”, “No Sympathy,” “400 Years” 

1. Burnin’ (1973)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Burnin'

And here it is, arguably the best Bob Marley & the Wailers album, Burnin’. Why is it #1, you ask? Well first of all, it contains an awesome version of “Duppy Conqueror,” a song that stands out to me for its melody and message.

“Yes me friend, me good friend / Dem set me free again… / The bars could not hold me / Force could not control me / They tried to keep me down / But Jah put I around…”

It’s the kind of song that empowers you to overcome oppression of any kind, whether it’s a prison cell in Kingston or any kind of government institution. Connection to and acknowledgement of a greater positive force will always help you overcome injustice, physically and mentally, whether you believe that force is Jah, the universe, or what-have-you.

More songs of empowerment are “Small Axe” (“If you are the big tree / We are the small axe / Ready to cut you down (well sharp) / To cut you down”) and “Get Up, Stand Up” (…stand up for your right!). With these examples, I mean to say that it’s the feeling of empowerment and hope, and the strength in unity, that makes this album so special, historically valuable, and important for future generations.

Album highlights: “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Small Axe,” “Duppy Conqueror,” “One Foundation”


To cover my @$$, here are my notable album mentions, each of them close to making the Top 5:

  • Uprising (1980): “Coming in from the Cold,” “Redemption Song,” “Work,” “Could You Be Loved”
  • Rastaman Vibration (1976): “Positive Vibration,” “Roots Rock Reggae,” “War”
  • Catch a Fire (1973): “No More Trouble,” “Stop That Train,” “Rock It Baby,” “Stir it Up”
  • The Best of the Wailers (1971): “Soul Shakedown Party,” “Soon Come,” “Cheer Up,” “Back Out,” “Do It Twice”
  • Natty Dread (1974): “No Woman, No Cry,” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block),” “Talkin’ Blues,” “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”

If you agree or disagree with my Top 5 albums, let me know in the comments! And, of course, check out the Bob Marley & the Wailers discography on Murfie.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Interview with Slightly Stoopid [Podcast]

Outside of Murfie, I host a weekly radio show on 91.7fm WSUM-Madison called U DUB. Recently on my show, I got to interview one of my favorite bands of all time—Slightly Stoopid!

Slightly Stoopid is a reggae-ska-rock-punk-crossover band from California that has been going strong for over 17 years. Originally signed by Bradley Nowell of Sublime, the group has carved out their spot as one of the most influential reggae-rock bands in America. Their most recent studio album, Top of the World, stays true to their unique style and features reggae greats like Barrington Levy and Don Carlos. In this interview, I chatted with long-time band member and drummer Ryan Moran (a.k.a. “RyMo”) about tons of cool stuff—including the band’s history, songwriting, tour, favorite music, and favorite drink!

Thanks to Slightly Stoopid and Silverback Artist Management for letting me share this awesome interview with Murfie! Check out their tour schedule and see when they’re coming to your town!

Want a free copy of Top of the World? Comment below and let us know your favorite Slightly Stoopid song (and tell us why!)—two lucky winners will get a copy for their Murfie collection!

Who: RyMo; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
What: Everything you’d want to know about Slightly Stoopid—the early days, how songs come together, favorite albums, upcoming plans, and their love for Bruce Springsteen and vodka.
Where: via Skype
When: Friday, March 7th, 2014
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach
File: mp3 version

Find music by Slightly Stoopid in our shop.

Check out more of the band at slightlystoopid.com.

Into RSS? Follow our podcast feed via https://blog.murfie.com/category/podcasts/feed.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Sounds Like California: The Best of the Golden State

Last week, we brought you the best music that Murfie’s lovely home state has to offer. As in love as we are with the Wisconsin music scene, it’s time to take this nationwide. This week, check out reviews of three of the best albums by California bands!

Red Hot Chili Peppers
By the Way

In a blog post all about music from California, it was tempting to review RHCP’s Californication. I finally decided, though, that By the Way is just too good to miss; it’s like an answer to Californication’s question.

This is the first RHCP album that fully moves away from its ‘80s funk/rap/rock sound and pioneers a fresh new rock-pop sound. And what a successful move it was—along the way, the Peppers’ songs became more intricate, with guitar and string riffs and hooks for days. This album does the seemingly impossible: it creates music that sounds right at home on your radio, but that you’re not the least bit embarrassed to declare your love for.

This album was a big undertaking, chasing that pop-rock bliss that only masters like The Beatles have previously captured. It succeeds with catchy song after catchy song, complete with powerful melodic punches and existential lyrics galore. This is the band’s most consistent album to date, and it shows: this album is a timeless example of an already much-loved band evolving and expanding upon its sound to keep creating an even better album, without losing its signature touch.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Universally Speaking”, “The Zephyr Song”

Queens of the Stone Age
Rated R

If you’re a hard rock fan still mourning the loss of decades past, Rated R is likely the answer. It’s been hard to make a hard rock album in the last 20 years, but this 2000 album is one of the greatest of them all. Furthermore, this is a true California album, written in the desert of Joshua Tree.

Josh Homme and company have used this album to firmly establish their place as the reigning kings of the riff-heavy rock album in this new millennium. Full of low-guitar-string riffs and the band’s signature category-evading sound, this album is hard to pin down. Rather than being a weakness, however, that evasiveness turns this album into an experimental, instrumental album full of unique arrangements and unusual sounds, most notably electric piano and steel guitar.

What really makes this album fantastic, though, is that it’s totally fearless. There’s so many different styles and sounds represented here, each one cooler and more original than the last. Queens of the Stone Age is definitely made up of a bunch of weirdos, but here’s the thing: they figured out how to do whatever they want, all at the same time, and still make it sound pretty fantastic.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Better Living Through Chemistry”, “Auto Pilot”

No Doubt
Tragic Kingdom

I should preface this with my undying love for Gwen Stefani. Regardless of that fact, however, Anaheim, California-based No Doubt knocked this one of the park with an unbeatable combination of fantastic beats and one of the few female lead singers in alt-rock.

This album is at heart the most fun thing you’ll listen to all week, or maybe even all year. It’s on a whole new playing field from No Doubt’s previous albums, with hard-hitting rhythms and great instrumentation. Most importantly, though, is the ear candy factor: it’s an exuberant genre-bending collection of tracks, covering ground from punk to pop to ska and back again.

All the fun is backed up with some real musical achievements. The horn sections are killer, and Stefani’s vocals have several true shining moments. The combination of power ballads and poppy tracks with a bit of punk mixed in are a don’t-miss combo for when you’re just looking for a little sunshine.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak”

Vote! Which Decades Would You Flash Back To?

We invented a time machine here at Murfie! (Okay, this is not 100% true—but stay with me here!)

This time machine lets you re-visit any decade you want (back to the 1940s—it’s our beta version), and it’ll take you on a tour of the best, most ground-breaking concerts ever to happen. If you got the chance, what decades would you re-visit? You can choose more than one!