Opening Statement



Friday, 5 September 2014

Bob Marley 2: "Best of the Wailers" [1970]

 Bob Marley Discography Part 1 is Here! Part 3 is There! Part 4 is Here!

“The Wailers is the best focken harmony band in Kingston!” [sic] –Bob Marley



Wailers 1970: Check out the soul brother garb!

“Best of the Wailers” [1970]: The name of the Wailers second long player [LP] album is a misnomer. The title was from producer Leslie Kong to whom they had turned for help in finally recording the follow up to their 1965 “Wailing Wailers” album [Link]. They didn’t intend to include or release any dance floor or radio hit 45 singles. Rather the album was to be a stand alone album based upon its own musical merits. Albums were now increasingly the trend in the larger international markets, most notably in the US and UK, where the Wailers desperately wanted to score a breakthrough hit.

Leslie Kong had the prerequisite UK connections. He’d produced international hits, though singles for Jamaica’s Millie Small [“My Boy Lollipop”], Desmond  [Dekker [“007”, "Israelites"] + Jimmy Cliff ["Beautiful World"] The Wailers were also impressed by his studio band the Beverley All Stars. Most were leading + seasoned  Jamaican jazz musicians on the lam. They’d bring a smoother more polished and sophisticated instrumental backing to the Wailer’s famous three part harmonies. On “Wailing Wailers”, the back up group at producer Dodd Coxsonne’s studio, largely consisted of quite competent musicians from the early to mid sixties hit Jamaican band the Skatellites. However now the Wailers had a more “Uptown Sound”. Hopefully the group could now become more than just Kingston Jamaica’s leading harmony group and go international.



And so the album starts with "Soul Shake Down Party" [Hear]. Bob’s vocal style and inflections reference James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Edwin Star in this contemporary US soul style Wailers dance number. Unlike on their earlier ska hits the musicians now establish a groove based upon the now more popular Rocksteady sound [Link] with a slowed down less frantic rhythm with a heavier emphasis on the base and drum beat. Bob’s tenor along with Peter and Bunny’s baritone accompaniment is much more fluid with some tasty Motown style harmonies on the “Ooo Oooo” chorus. Unfortunately “Soul Shake Down Party” sounded too international for most Jamaicans, while sounding too Jamaican for an international audience. The result? A largely ignored but fine album opener and introduction to the Wailer’s refreshingly new and inventive Jamaican “revolutionary soul” sound.

The Wailers newly minted “revolutionary soul” is also more lyrically evolved in its international scope. Rather than Jamaican rude boy protest anthems we are treated to broader black power and social justice themes [Audio Video Link] atypical of the worldwide civil rights protest movement at the time. “Black Progress” [Heara new single released independently of the album was basically a rewrite of James Brown’s evocative US Black Power anthem “I’m Black + I’m proud hit”. Peter Tosh also released "Arise Black Man" [Hear] a hit solo 45 with a black power theme. [More on this later]. 



Bob Marley’s Marley’s “Soul Captives” [Hear] and “Cheer It Up” likewise have a broad appeal within a racial equality framework.  Peter Tosh’s spiritual “Stop That Train” [Hear] evokes a moving heartfelt sense of anger and hurt as race riots rocked Kingston Jamaica’s Trenchtown ghettos, US cities burned following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination and fierce international protests denounced the new racial segregation laws following British independence in Rhodesia [later Zimbabwe] Africa. Ditto Tosh’s “Can’t You See?” [HearHis take on “Go Tell It on the Mountain” [Hear] provides a terrific rock steady take on this gospel styled US folk + spiritual protest standard.



Peter Tosh [w/ M16 Guitar]: his militancy continued throughout the 70's

Marley’s “Caution”, [Hear] drives the message home with a hard, descending, staccato guitar riff. His Jamaican patois take on US style slang is a fiery invective against the “crazy muthafunkin” treatment he and his fellow Wailers were receiving in Kingston. Word was out that the police were after all three Wailers. An anti-police tirade by Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh’s lead role in a Rhodesian anti segregation protest had added fire to the group’s already rebellious “rude boy” reputation. All three ended up with jail time, Bunny and Tosh on trumped up possession of marijuana charges, while Bob received a police beating and overnighter in jail for letting a local Rastafari leader drive his car without a license. Potent stuff, for as Bob rails back in angry, no uncertain terms, “Caution the road is wet, black soul is black as jet, [I] said you gotta do better than that.”

Finally, “The Best of the Wailers” is rounded with a handful of the groups typically risque sexual lyrics in Marley’s “Back Out”, and “Do It Twice” [Hear]. Also perhaps Tosh’s lament over a perpetually late girlfriend in “Soon Come.” [Hear]



Final verdict? Despite four great songs by Tosh, two often overlooked early Marley classics and a mixed bag of other Wailer delights, “Best of the Wailers” is a very interesting and catchy transitional album that failed to get released outside of Jamaica. Uncertain about Leslie Kong’s “Uptown” take on their new “revolutionary soul” sound, the album wasn’t even released there until 1972, following the next 2 harder edged albums, “Rebel Soul” and “Soul Revolutionaries”. Kong’s arbitrary decision to release three 45’s from the album [“Soul Dance Party”, “Soon Come” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”] resulted in lukewarm local hits, while also angering the Wailers over his violation of trust. Moreover, his decision to name the album “Best of” royally p.o’ed all three Wailers, for as Bunny adamantly insisted the best was yet to come. However not for Kong! Within two days of its release he died unexpectedly at age 36 of a heart attack verifying one thing for sure, it was the best Wailer’s album he himself would ever hear!

Only recently has the album been widely released on CD with all tracks intact by both the UM/ JAD and Trojan labels. The first has a very clear, clean if not rather digitally sterile sound. The second sounds murkier, perhaps a more natural sound considering its recording date. I am not aware of a vinyl re-release. Too bad! The Trojan CD is restored as a standalone album, without bonus tracks and any other additional distractions or dilutions of its original content. Big marks in my books for authenticity! Moreover the mini LP cardboard cover faithfully reproduces the original vintage cover artwork. It’s a part of a nifty “Soul Revolutionary" box set that also includes the next three albums; reviews to follow! It’s highly recommended, but if you can’t find a reasonably priced copy be sure to grab the UM/ JAD release!



Back cover + later UK alt



Note: Non album 45 a + b sides, outtakes and alternate versions for all three of the Wailers “soul” albums and the period from 1968 to 1972 abound, for better or worse. I’ll provide a guide in another blog to follow!

Also Note: Peter Tosh would redo some of his songs again later on the Wailer's + his solo albums; "Stop that train" ["Catch a Fire"], "Soon Come" [Bush Doctor] + "Can't You See" ["Mystic Man"]. More on this later too.

Further Links: You'll find a BBC "Rocksteady: Roots of Reggae" documentary HERE!

See my Bob Marley Discography #1: Wailing Wailers [1965] @ Here!

More Reading:

Smile Jamaica: my visit to Bob Marley's birth + burial place in the mountain town of 9 Miles @ Hi! Hi! Hi!

On The Beach: Everyone knows the rastaman's got the best ganga @ Yah/ Jah!

Next: Soul Rebels + Revolutionaries!

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