Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
I previously discussed my introduction to the music of Bob Marley & The Wailers, via the essential Legend collection, in the 2014 post about Gateway Compilations, where I suggested that “there’s so much diversity in his discography that he almost transcends reggae.” That’s especially true on Exodus, his fifth studio album for Island Records, where reggae is merely the foundation on which his other influences take flight. Note that, although they were a band, I will refer to them in singular form throughout this post because Marley was the focal point & he wrote all the songs. That doesn’t detract from the incredible musicians he surrounded himself, who were much more than just Marley’s backing band: the longtime rhythm section of brothers Aston “Family Man” Barrett (bass) & Carlton Barrett (drums), keyboardist Tyrone Downie, backing vocalists The I Threes (Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths & Judy Mowatt) and new guys Julian “Junior” Marvin (lead guitar) and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson (percussion). Although I rank several Marley albums higher than this one, it’s hard to dispute its importance in his career, with five of its ten tracks appearing on the aforementioned Legend. Ironically, most of those appear on the second half of the album, leaving some lesser-known songs up front at a time when record companies & radio stations still expected the hits to appear first.
Even the most casual Bob Marley fan will be familiar with those five songs: the biblical epic “Exodus” with its repeated “Movement of Jah people” refrain, the bouncy pop of “Jammin’,” the whimsical, childlike “Three Little Birds” (“This is my message to you-oo-oo”), the gorgeous shuffle-reggae ballad “Waiting In Vain” and album closer “One Love/People Get Ready,” which combines an updated version of an old Wailers song from the ‘60s with Curtis Mayfield’s socio-political classic, eventually becoming the tourism anthem of Jamaica. Exodus would be rightly celebrated even if the remainder of the album was forgettable, but that’s certainly not the case. “Natural Mystic” and “So Much Things To Say” are straightforward reggae in the best possible way. No new musical ground is broken but the rhythms & melodies are excellent. The defiant “Heathen” captures the spirit of the earlier Wailers lineup that included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, especially at “De heathen back dey ‘pon de wall.” Hidden among the better-known songs in the second half of the album is the meditative “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” which has elements of West Coast smooth jazz and mid-’70s soft rock. This is not what most people would expect from Bob Marley but it’s further evidence of the panoramic scope of his musical genius (a word I don’t throw around often). His discography is worth exploring beyond a best-of collection, and Exodus is one of five or six albums that I consider essential. It also sounds timeless even after four decades.