Opening Statement



Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bob Marley + The Wailers: Catching Fire! [1973]

More Bob Marley + The Wailer Reviews! Part 1 @ Here Part 2 Here! Part 3 @ Here! 


Catch a Fire: The Iconic Reefer Album Cover! OR Ummm ..... Excuse me, but do you a medical prescription for that joint?!? Eh? Only in Canada you say???

Bob Marley and the Wailers were stuck penniless in London England without a tour, a record deal or any revenue from their earlier releases, when they met Chris Blackwell, the Anglo Jamaican president of Island Records. Chris was well known and regarded for the roster of “Progressive” or as we’d say today “Alternative” groups he had bulleted into the then popular rock music charts, including such big name artists as Traffic, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, ELP, Uriah Heep, Free, Mott The Hoople, Mountain, War, etc. Later on U2 as well.

It was with some surprise and in trepidation that Bob, Peter + Bunny accepted an advance of 4000 British Pounds to return and record their next album in Kingston Jamaica, with a further 4000 to follow when they returned the completed tapes to Chris. As an added bonus, Bob Marley's independent Tuff Gong label also got the distribution rights to sell their own records in Jamaica. The Wailers had been burnt by musical producers before. Most recently, Lee “Scratch” Perry had reneged on their royalty payments for the “Soul Rebels” and “Soul Revolutionaries” tracks when they were released in the UK on Trojan records. [Here] Nor had they been happy with the polished “uptown” sound of Leslie Kong’s production of the “Best of the Wailers” album. [HereThey had felt uncomfortable with Coxsonne Dodd's lack of artistic vision for the band while he produced their string of early ska dance band hits before that. [Here] Moreover, after nearly a decade of superstar status in hometown Kingston Jamaica, they still remained largely unnoticed in the larger international record market beyond their own shores.



Island "A" Side Record Label

Chis Blackwell decided that the Wailer's rebel sound could be well suited, with exposure, to the best-selling rock album charts abroad, most notably in the US and UK. He felt the Wailer's “sufferah” themes had international appeal with the social justice themes of suffering and redemption. In addition he needed a modern day Jamaican "Rhyging" [1] to capitalize on the production of the hit underground movie “Harder They Come” after lead star and singer Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff left his label. Blackwell felt the theme of the bad boy with a heart of gold falling on principal in a hail of bullets would resonate just like the big shoot out spaghetti western movies of Clint Eastwood so popular at the time. In short Chris saw the Wailers as the first break through band of third world superstars. In so doing he produced what many still consider one of the top music albums of the 20th century with “Catch a Fire” since it was first released in 1973. [Hear Album]

Chris, working with Bob and to a lesser degree Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer decided to overdub rock guitar and keyboards over 3 of the album tracks he was given, including  “Stir It Up” , “Baby We’ve Got A Date” and the opening number “Concrete Jungle”. Wayne Perkins was the 20 year old Alabama born guitar session player. Keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick’s had played with international hit UK rockers Free [“All Right Now”]

In “Concrete Jungle” we are greeted with a short playful guitar intro overtop a set of bubbly keyboards. We seem headed for classic rock heaven but suddenly and unexpectedly they give way to the full blown modern Wailers roots reggae sound that we are so familiar with today! [Hear]



Original Concrete Jungle 45 Before it was "Redone" for the "Catch a Fire" album!

It’s debatable whether it was either Peter or Bob who came up with their new signature” chika chicka chicka” sounding reggae rhythm guitars. Regardless, with Bunny now on congas and bongos, all three Wailers are playing with the band. We also hear their rich, sweet, delicious three part harmonies and haunting, breathtaking calls and response wrapping themselves around the song lyrics. The powerhouse Upsetter bass and drum duo of Carlie and Family Man Barrett held down the steady dreamlike reggae beat. It is a true musical epiphany: the Wailers have arrived!

“Concrete Jungle” is an excellent example of the Wailers redoing and building upon a song that they had already previously recorded. It was a big hit in Jamaica when first released on 45 during 1971. “No sun will shine in my day to day … “ sings Bob Marley, in a direct reference to the desperate plight of the poor “sufferahs” in Kingston’s ghetto housing projects, firmly establishing the Wailers within their own milieu. Its poverty stricken imagery nonetheless focuses on the redeeming dignity and hope of the everyday people, who like the Wailers grew up crushed under the burden of social injustice through no fault of their own.

Distinctly Jamaican in its reggae sounds and warm harmonies, “Concrete Jungle” has a spirit that is truly international in respect to anyone who has suffered or is concerned about the injustices throughout much of the developing world. Perhaps even in our own squalid first world ghettos. When Perkins reached the guitar solo, he was told to play on the drop beat, creating a perfect mix of rock guitar over top a reggae beat. It delivered a knockout punch, catching music lovers around the world with surprise, with its cool new hybrid sound. However, the musical action doesn’t stop there. To top it off, Marley then drives the message squarely back home to the Kingston ghetto as he wails, “No chains around my feet, but I’m not free, I know I am bound here in captivity”.



Jamaican Tuff Gong Album "B" Side

The next track, “Slave Driver” [Hearprovides the album with its name. Marley digs deep into his peoples troubled past, evoking the crack of a slave drivers whip in an overcrowded slave ship on its trip from Africa to the Americas. As he hears the crack of the whip he warns in no uncertain terms, “Slave Driver, now the tables are turned.”

It is a militant cry of hope, change and redemption driven home by his warning that now the tables are turned. The slave driver is the one who will “Catch a Fire” from the slash of the whip with the defiant warning that, “Now you are going to get burned.”

However, all is still not well. Marley realizes that slavery is now outlawed but it still exists in that his people are instead chained down by poverty. They are also too illiterate to even realize what is being done to them in the corporate quest for profits, for as Marley adds; “Today they say that we are free, only to be chained in poverty, Good God I think it’s all illiteracy , It’s only a machine that makes money”.

The Wailers trademark Rastafari faith makes its appearance on the Wailers world stage, in the most basic of spiritual terms as he lament’s, “Oh God have mercy on our souls.” 

It is a spiritual theme Peter Tosh takes over and builds upon in his next two songs that follow, “400 years” [Hear] and “Stop that Train” [Hear]. Like “Concrete Jungle” both are also “redo’s”, from the “Soul Rebels” and the “Best of the Wailers” albums respectively.
In "400 Years" we are given a history lesson about how after 400 years as slaves of one type or another the “sufferahs” only hope lies in the promise of its youth, to whom he calls out; “Come on, let’s make a move, I can see time…[the] time has come”.

Tosh’s militancy is nailed down even harder in “Stop that Train”, where his frustration that “All my life I been a lonely man, teaching people who don’t understand”, echoes “Slave Driver's” reference to “illiteracy”. Tosh realizes that the youth lack education. They don't have much understanding and appreciation of how they got to where they are today. In the face of exploitation by a “machine that’s “only concerned with making money”, judgment day has finally come. The bad rude boy with the heart of gold will go down fighting for his principles to claim the redemption inherent in Tosh’s militant call to arms as he announces, “It won’t be long, whether I am wrong or right.” Or as a Wild West gunman might say “Go ahead and make my day!”

Pretty intense! Bob Marley then ends side one of “Catch a Fire’s” heavy reggae rhythms and beats with a more tender love song, “Baby, We’ve got a date (Rock it Baby).” Here he finds his redemption in love, but it is not sufficient without the songs sexual overture. Quite simply, he is just pleading for a date. However the redemptive power of love is a very human and accessible antidote to whatever ails indeed, as he ends the song with an urgent cry to, “please don’t forget” to satisfy the urgency of his request. [Hear]




The Wailers Tuff Gong Label had Jamaican Distribution Rights for all their Island Recordings!

Side 2 of “Catch a Fire” opens with “Stir It Up’,[Hear] another “redo”. It was also an earlier hit in the US and UK for singer Johnny Nash, an instantly recognizable song, except this time it sizzles. The song’s lyrics are a seductive play on words again embodying Marley’s longing and hope for love and sexual satisfaction as he sings; “Oh will you quench me when I’m thirsty? Come and cool me down when I’m hot, your recipe darling is so tasty, and you sure can stir the pot”. 

“Kinky Reggae” [Hear] is rumoured to be a song about Bob trying to buy some marijuana in Trafalger Square, London. Then again, there is the sexual imagery of a “chocolate bar”, as well as a certain “Mrs. Brown” who “had brown sugar, all over her bugga-wugga”

I leave the “chocolate bar” reference for you to figure out. However, “Brown Sugar” might be a risqué reference to his black female lover. Then again all might still not be as it seems. Bob Marley’s songs often work on a number of levels.

Unlike Peter or Bunny, Bob still sang and talked in his native Jamaican patois even when abroad. As such Mrs. Brown’s “bugga wugga” could also be a pair of canvas slippers worn by the poor hardworking woman during the sugarcane harvest. Tut tut! I bet you were thinking something dirty eh? Perhaps it’s a sly joke on the uninitiated and curious outsider as they catch a first taste of Jamaican reggae music. When “Catch a Fire” was released, reggae was still very new, novel or even “kinky”. Otherwise, Bob’s “kinky” sexual inclinations, besides being quite prodigious [he had 11 children with 7 women at least. Bassist "Family Man" Barrett had over 50!] would by most reports seem rather parochial by today’s sexual standards in the media.

Bob’s courting songs, if you will provide the lighter, satisfying and hopeful possibility of love, sex and escape for both the sufferah and the Wailer’s new target audience. He might also simply be more cautious and willing to bide his time than Tosh, as he was with the Wailer’s politically tinged 1965 hit “Simmer Down”. However, they don’t seem to aim to negate the strong and more militant urgency and stance of Peter Tosh’s “400 Years” and, “Stop That Train”. Nor will they provide complete relief from the otherwise heavy messaging over the course of albums still to come. They instead provide at least some relief. Having safely “caught fire” with their new audience, the Wailers will return to develop Tosh’s brand of black militancy more head on in their next album, the quite aptly titled “Burnin’”. Maybe Bob understood best that love and sex can sell more records by making the Wailers radicalism more palatable to the new mainstream and predominantly white and mixed music buying public.

“No More Troubles” [Hear] again rings with a “make love not war” sentiment, for indeed as Marley notes, love can “guide and protect us”. However, he is not going to just “hope God [will] come down from above”. 

The radical change the world needs, as we shall later see, must come from within oneself. It will not come strictly in the form of an external savior for as Bob notes, “God helps those who help themselves” 

We grasp that it must also be a shared responsibility in which we help the other less fortunate as well,  as he urges his reinvigorated audience to, “help the weak if you are strong now.”



Wailers look worried they are about to get ripped off again on the Reefer back cover!

"Midnight Ravers", [Hear] the final track on side 2 of Catch a Fire might be about a midnight sexual encounter with a female stranger. Be that as it may [BTAIM] Bob Marley also uses it to lament the human condition. He describes how we are all dressed in the same “pollution” such that “the mind is filled with confusion” and “problems” since we think there is “no solution”. There is a doubtful side to his idyllic escape. Perhaps also a sense of shame in light of his recent conversion to the Rastafari religion. Bob quotes Old Testament biblical references from the Book of Revelations, as he sings that; “I see ten thousand chariots, coming without horses …. The riders they cover their faces”.

Bob Marley will not abandon hiding or seeking escape through his earthly pleasures in the great blockbuster albums that follow “Catch a Fire”. He knows that a good love song always goes over well. However, he will grow in his Rastafari spiritual belief in a greater, deeper redemption through Jah [Yaweh or God]. In retrospect, it will make “Midnight Ravers” sheer joy in purely sexual delights increasingly unique within his musical canon

Unfortunately, in my opinion, he will also become more didactic and pedantic with his use of words, themes and imagery. With “Catch a Fire” we are left on a happy uplifting note with all concerns duly noted. It is a worldlier album that balances the joy of love and sex with a need for revolutionary change to a reggae beat. It remains a very potent first introduction to the Wailers opening the door for them to now take their “sufferah’s” message to an eager and receptive world audience.

Chris Blackwell fittingly packaged the initial release of “Catch a Fire” in a zippo lighter shaped record jacket that opened to reveal the disc and a flame, further nailing home the imagery of “Catch A Fire” for the Wailers new record buying public. Unfortunately, it tended to tear and fall apart easily, so these covers are quite rare today. Further releases instead feature the now iconic image of Bob smoking a big, fat marijuana spliff which also proved useful in affirming the Wailers great rebel, outlaw appeal to his new rockers audience.



Autographed Back Cover of the Zippo Lighter Album!

Blackwell's marketing plan for the Wailers included introducing them to the hip underground college scene. Also the US + UK music industry movers, and shakers. The Wailers were booked for a grueling tour schedule of club and concert hall dates. [Live Leeds 73 Audio] [Live London 73 Video] By introducing Bob, Peter and Bunny as a very cool, integral part of a new music scene, he helped light the spark allowing the group to finally catch everyone’s attention with their very unique Jamaican sound and universal suffrage message. [Concrete Jungle: Live BBC!] [Ditto: Stir It Up!]

In focusing his attention on Bob as the charismatic, light skinned front man who could best help popularize the Wailers, Blackwell would also unfortunately push the highly prolific Peter Tosh into the background. Indeed, Peter was only allowed two songs on “Catch a Fire”, while Bunny had none. Bunny for his part was more worried about the increasing contradictions between the corrupt and abusive outside world of the commercial music industry “Babylon” they were entering and the devout principles of his growing Rastafari faith. To Blackwell’s credit, the album was originally accredited to just the Wailers, ostensibly with a long range goal of developing the band as a group force. Unfortunately the seeds for the group’s dissolution were also spread by placing so much emphasis on Bob Marley at a cost to the others, as we shall see in our next review, of the Wailers “Burnin’” album

Conclusion:

Give this album a two thumbs up, or A+++ for finally introducing the Wailers and indeed reggae music to the world. Its themes would continue to be developed throughout the rest of the Wailers musical careers. The political ones would grow stronger, as would the religious overtones, to create a much, more holistic, Rastafari vision of redemption. However, nowhere are they as simple and earthly as here on "Catch a Fire". The Wailer’s musically and lyrically flow in unison without the heavier concerns that would remain to be addressed in greater detail later. However incomplete it might be, "Catch a Fire" remains a thoroughly enjoyable album in every respect.

Buyer's Guide:



The Zippo Lighter Cover: Rarer than Eye Brows on Eggs!

Good luck finding an original record release of “Catch a Fire” in the zippo lighter jacket, at least at a reasonable cost. It has become a collector’s item supreme. Island UM recently reissued the album on 180 gram vinyl. It now only comes in the 12 inch reefer cover. It is big, sturdy and really cool to behold. There are distinct A and B sides over which the mood and themes of the album are developed as noted, the songs each placed just so. Moreover it sounds warm and inviting. The reggae guitars and overdubs float effortlessly back and forth between your stereo speakers as the Wailers wrap their luscious vocal harmonies around them. Absolutely breathtaking!

Numerous CD reissues with the same reefer artwork but in a smaller jewel case are usually readily available for quite cheap online at Amazon or at the big name music stores. The sound is good even though they are a rather glossy digital remaster of the original analog recording. Most listeners today probably won’t notice or miss the difference. 

UM Island has released a deluxe 2 cd version of "Catch a Fire" with a reproduction of the zippo lighter cover, but it does not open like the original. Still, disc 1 contains the original Jamaican recordings of the album without overdubs, but possibly with some edits in their length. Disc 2 contains the finished album. It is very insightful and pleasurable to listen to and compare both. Grab a copy if you see it!



Japan Zippo Mini Lp CD Cover!

 A similar 2 cd Japanese SHM CD release also come with a lighter cover. It opens like the original. The mini LP cover format is made of stock cardboard and carefully replicates in great detail the albums original artwork and layout. SHM is supposed to be a new softer and warmer sounding digital technology. The discs can sound relatively good compared to the regular cods marketed elsewhere, but a cd is still a cd, so perhaps we are grasping for straws



Bonus Japan Mini Lp CD Reefer Cover!

A reefer cover is also included with the set. You can find a copy online at EBay but it won’t be cheap. Also beware of counterfeits! A nice complete set of all 11 Island Marley discs is available in either a “Catch a Fire” or “Burnin’” pull out drawer box. They can be purchased or won by auction from between $550 to $850 US each depending on the condition and demand. If you can afford it, this is definitely the way to go for CDs, but make sure you get the record rerelease too: vinyl rules!



Japan Mini Lp Cd Wailers Drawer Box Set!

Footnotes:

[1] Rhyging was a legendary Jamaican outlaw and |Rude Boy" style folk hero who was gunned down by police. Jimmy Cliff's character is based on Rhyging in the popular underground Jamaican police + thieves film "Harder They Come".

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: The Wailer's "Burnin'" album!

3 comments:

MY's said...

Best collection of information and it is so useful for bob marley loves and bob marley quotes are inspirational to every one.

MY's said...

is there any information regarding the bob marley quotes and his children in detailed.

David Chiarelli said...

Sorry for the delay! Yes! A book called "Catch a Fire" follows the family since his death in the final few chapters. Seems good! Hope this helps!

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