Bob Marley and the Wailers - Rastaman Vibration

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Rastaman Vibration cover I have many Bob Marley albums, and could have chosen nearly any of them (particularly Natty Dread or Exodus) to fill the reggae spot on my desert island 10, but for some reason I just groove the most to Rastaman Vibration. When this disk goes into my cd changer, it usually stays in there for a while. :-)

Bob Marley didn't invent Reggae, in fact one of his main teachers was Joe Higgs, who I'm also a big fan of. What Marley did was bring Reggae into the mainstream in the United States. He did this to such an extent that even now, after his death, his work still overshadows most artists in his genre. Several of his songs have been covered by Rock & Roll artists (e.g. Eric Clapton - I Shot the Sherrif, ). This may have opened the door to the mainstream market just a crack, but when they saw the breadth and quality of the work that Marley had to offer, there was no stopping him.

Whenever I hear the opening track on this album, Positive Vibration, it brings to mind the epigrams from the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure; "Party on dudes" and "Be excellent to each other".

If you get down and quarrel every day
You're saying prayers to the devil, I say
Why not help one another on the way
Make it much easier

One thing about Marley is that his lyrics are loaded with Rastafarianisms. Once you get the dialect, the lyrics are a bit easier to understand. For example, here are a few common Rastafarian expressions and their meanings:

the corrupt establishment, the "system", Church and State
a straight person; one without dreadlocks; one who works for babylon
I, me, mine
1. a greeting 2. excellent, cool, highest
replaces "me", "you", "my"
I and I, I&I
I, me, you and me, we
Rastafari speech eliminates you, me we, they, etc., as divisive and replaces same with communal I and I. I and I embraces the congregation in unity with the Most I (high) in an endless circle of inity (unity).
1. the heights; 2. a greeting; 3. the color red
Ja, Jam-down
God; possibly derived as a shortened form of Jahweh or Jehovah
to be having a good time, to be dancing calypso/soca
rude boy
a criminal, a hard hearted person, a tough guy

For example, in the chorus of Crazy Baldhead when Marley sings

We gonna chase those crazy
baldheads out of town

He's really talking about getting rid of the people who work for the system (presumably the remnants of the British colonists and anyone who sides with them). There's a fairly large Rasta dictionary online if you want to read some more on it. Crazy Baldhead is one of the typical themes of Bob Marley's music, that of political upheaval to take the country back for the native people of Jamaica.

I and I build the cabin
I and I plant the corn
Didn't my people before me
slave for this country
Now you look at me with a scorn
Then you eat up all my corn

There are several other political songs on Rastaman Vibration, notably War and Rat Race. I love the lyrics for War, which is a polemic on slavery and racism:

Until the philosophy which holds
one race superior and another inferior
is finally and permanently discredited
and abandoned

Everywhere is war

That until there are no longer
first and second class citizen
of any nation
Until the colour of a man skin
is of no more significance than
the colour of his eyes

Everywhere is war

Actually, this song wasn't written by Bob Marley, but by one of the Wailers (Carlton Barrett) and someone else (A. Cole). This brings up an interesting point. Bob Marley wrote most of the songs on most of his albums, but Rastaman Vibration is an exception. Carly Barrett also co-wrote Who the Cap Fit with Aston "Family Man" Barrett (brothers?) and Aston also wrote Want More. Bob's wife Rita Marley wrote two of the songs, Johnny Was and Rat Race. She also co-wrote Crazy Baldhead with V. Ford, who wrote the remaining two songs Positive Vibration and Roots, Rock, Reggae. I'm not sure who V. Ford or A. Cole are, but they weren't listed elsewhere on the album. If you know who they are, let me know.

Bob Marley's two songs are a love song (Cry to Me) and a song about working the night shift (appropriately titled Night Shift :-). Cry to Me is a retort to a cheating lover:

Cry to me
Cry to me yeah!
You're gonna walk back through the heartaches
You're gonna walk back through the pain
You're gonna shed those lonely teardrops
The reaction of your cheating game

If you're interested, you can listen to samples of some of the songs here. If you really like it, you can even buy it there.

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