Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bob Marley is Overrated?

There are times when you come across a review of music that is so wrong that you have absolutely no choice but to disagree in the strongest terms.


“When the calendar hits April 20, thoughts turn to man's other best friend: the marijuana plant. Yes, along with copious amounts of Reese's Pieces and trips to the nearest Jack in the Box drive-thru, almost everyone agrees nothing goes better with the reefer than reggae. (Personally, give us Sleep's Dopesmoker, Adult Swim on the TiVo and some chicken strips.)”

4-20, for those not in the know, has become a pothead holiday. Reportedly, this came about after some high school marijuana enthusiasts agreed to meet to smoke pot at 4:20 every day after school. Reggae is often associated with marijuana because of reggae’s association with Rastafarianism and the Rastas who smoke marijuana as a sacrament. Despite this association, there are plenty of reggae artists who do not use marijuana, and those reggae artists who do use it would argue that there is a lot more to their music than ganja.

“Invariably, when most people think about reggae, Bob Marley comes to mind.”


“No doubt he was one of the best ambassadors of the genre to a world that was unfamiliar with the island rhythms and relaxed lifestyle. Possessing Marley's greatest-hits compilation Legend is actually required for admission to the University of Texas.”

I think it’s important to take note that, in this particular section, you (the author) imply that you are familiar with the island rhythms and relaxed lifestyle.

“But there is an entire universe of reggae out there, and as with the sticky icky icky, there are vast and varied strains of it floating around, including many that make fuller and stronger alternatives to Marley's work.”

There is a whole universe of reggae out there, but considering the strength and fullness of Marley’s catalogue it is incredible to claim that there are many artists whose work is stronger and fuller.

“We love Marley on sunny afternoons in the backyard or chillaxing by a pool, but quite frankly, he's vastly overrated.”

Woah. Extraordinary claims must be backed up by extraordinary evidence. I’m ready.

“To people with tapestries of Bob in their dorm windows, those are fighting words.”

I don’t have a dorm or a Bob Marley tapestry but, you’re right, them’s fighting words.

“ But to fully grasp the scope of such a thing as reggae, one must branch out from Marley's warm and fuzzy cocoon. Legend has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, yet it's often criticized for only leaning on Brother Bob's later popular work and not his early stuff with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer).”

The warm and fuzzy cocoon, if I’m following correctly, is Marley’s Legend album. The Legend album does indeed use a lot of Marley’s later work. I have never heard the accusation that Legend relied too much on Marley’s later work. After all, 3 out of 14 of the tracks are from when Tosh and Livingston were still part of the band (Get Up, Stand Up, I Shot the Sheriff, and Stir It Up). As for the work that the Wailers did with Lee “Scratch” Perry on production, those tracks are not owned by the Marley estate and they were not hugely popular.

Of course, Legend is a compilation album of Marley’s greatest hits so it should not be unexpected for it to contain Marley’s greatest hits, right? I mean, it's a greatest hits album.

“Tosh was an early Marley associate; in our minds he was vastly more groundbreaking than his more popular onetime Wailers bandmate. Pick up his menacing LPs Legalize It and Equal Rights for an introduction; the snarl in Tosh's voice and guitar that is infinitely more interesting than Marley's good-time croon. Tosh wasn't as commercial as Marley proved to be, but he surpassed him when it came to attitude and pain.”

I’m a big Peter Tosh fan, but he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, vastly more groundbreaking than Marley. Tosh was good, and his abrasive personality, soaring voice, and revolutionary lyrics are interesting. And, yes, Tosh had quite an attitude and underwent a lot of pain. Nevertheless, he did not possess Marley’s hoarse croon, lyrical acumen, or musical perfectionism.

“Many people fail to realize that as sunny as Marley's songs were, his homeland of Jamaica was the exact opposite. While it's a beautiful and exotic locale, the country was rife with cutthroat politics and virulent criminals, so much so that when white artists like the Rolling Stones would head to Jamaica to record in the mid-'70s, they would have to hire street toughs as security muscle and pay out protection bribes just to be able to safely walk the streets.”

Jamaica has often been quite violent, but this does not somehow mean that the positive does or did not exist in this country. Marley was painfully aware of this dichotomy. He had grown up in poverty, had witnessed the crime, and had been shot in his shoulder during an assassination attempt. Really, the Rolling Stones’ experience in Jamaica pales in comparison to this.

I believe that if you had indeed gone beyond the cocoon, which we agree is the Legend compilation, you would have known that not all Marley's songs are sunny. Still, even on the Legend album, we are treated to one of music’s greatest tributes to the dignified, yet painful, reality of poverty: No Woman No Cry. There is also a song relating the modern black experience with that of black American cavalry soldiers (Buffalo Soldier), a song advocating repatriation to Africa (Exodus), and a monumental song dedicated to the pain and uplifting of the oppressed (Redemption Song). I mean, were you even listening to the lyrics “on sunny afternoons or while chillaxing by the pool”? There are numerous other examples of less-than-sunny song throughout Marley’s catalogue: Concrete Jungle, Midnight Ravers, Slave Driver, No More Trouble, Burnin’ and Lootin’, Dem Belly Full, Rebel Music, Talkin Blues, Revolution, Johnny Was, Cry to Me, Crazy Baldhead, War, Rat Race, Guiltiness, the Heathen, Time Will Tell, So Much Trouble in the World, Zimbabwe, Top Rankin’, Babylon System, Survival, and Ambush in the Night among others.

“Also, for anyone looking to see exactly what sort of world bore reggae, look no further than Perry Henzell's 1972 epic The Harder They Come. Starring another underrated reggae giant, Jimmy Cliff, it's an unflinching account of criminal life in the Jamaican capital of Kingston.
The soundtrack is a period gem and both the film and the music hold up incredibly well.”

Yes, this is a good movie for reggae fans to watch, although it’s a bit choppy at times. The soundtrack is amazing and Jimmy Cliff is definitely underrated.

In conclusion, while it is unfortunate that his popularity outshines that of his talented counterparts, Marley is not overrated. In fact, I'm still waiting for one piece of evidence, really, any evidence at all, for this extraordinary claim.


Erich Hicks said...

Keep telling that history:

Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", where Buffalo Bill Cody meets a Buffalo Soldier. A great story of black military history...the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.

How do you keep a people down? ‘Never' let them 'know' their history.

The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial...and visit the website

I hope you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote it from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn't like telling our stories...its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore Jr. and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with…see at;

When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for Wells Fargo in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.


Suzanne said...

John obviously I've heard a lot of Bob Marley songs. My favourite is "Redemption Song". Also I love "No Woman No Cry" and I enjoy "I Shot the Sheriff." Is it true he wrote and played "Redemption Song" song shortly before he was killed/murdered/assassinated? That's what I am curious about Bob Marley and also who is was who wanted him dead enough to kill him. And I think a lot of people probably wanted him gone.

John den Boer said...

He wrote Redemption Song after the assassination attempt, but during his struggle with the cancer he died from.

The people who tried to assassinate him were probably affiliated with the Jamaican Labour Party because Marley was set to perform at an event billed as being organized by the People's National Party.

Suzanne said...

Thanks John. I do appreciate his music and I didn't know much about his life. Thanks for explaining.

Who deh?