It’s the 40th anniversary of the reggae king’s passing. Here are the 40 songs that turned him from a Kingston raggamuffin to a global icon (Part II)

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By Patricia Meschino

#21) “Night Shift”

From 1976’s Rastaman Vibration, the song was written by Marley about his job driving a forklift in a Delaware Chrysler parts warehouse in the late ’60s. Marley is also said to have worked as a DuPont Co. lab assistant, using the pseudonym Donald Marley.

22) “Roots Rock Reggae”

Marley was courting an African American audience, as he commands here, “play I on the R&B, I want all my people to see.” Marley also projected “we bubblin on the top 100, just like a mighty dread,” an ambition that was realised shortly after the song’s release in 1976 when “Roots Rock Reggae” became the only Bob Marley single to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 51.

23) “Crazy Baldhead”

Marley’s rebel yell opens the track, decrying the presence of the military on Jamaica’s streets but also attacking the island’s oppressive class system. As Marley so compellingly sings, “build your penitentiary, we build your schools, brainwash education to make us your fools / hate is your reward for our love, telling us of your God above / we gonna chase those crazy baldheads out of town.”

24) “Smile Jamaica”

Written and released in 1976, Marley’s lyrics encourage healing at a time of violent political fractiousness on the island. Bob bravely, defiantly headlined a concert of the same name on December 5 that year with a 90-minute set. It was just two days after gunmen burst into his Kingston home and sprayed bullets in an attempt to kill him. A bullet grazed Bob’s chest and remained lodged in his arm for the rest of his life; his wife Rita, manager Don Taylor, and friend Lewis Griffith were also shot in the melee. Prime Minister Michael Manley, the head of the People’s National Party, called for an election a few days after the concert was announced so Marley appeared to have a partisan bias. In many interviews, Marley has emphatically stated that he was apolitical and he only supported Rastafari.

25) “Punky Reggae Party”

Following the assassination attempt at his Kingston home, Bob went into exile in London, his 18-month sojourn coinciding with the height of the British punk rock explosion. Reportedly, after hearing punk superstar band The Clash cover reggae singer Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves,” he and Lee Perry cut this song. English punk bands The Damned, The Clash, The Jam, and punk precursors Dr. Feelgood are all mentioned, as are the commonalities then experienced by punks and Rastas: “Rejected by society, treated with impunity.” “Punky Reggae Party” is a significant reciprocation of the adoration punk bands including The Clash, The Slits, and The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten had shown reggae.

26) “Exodus”

Marley recorded the EXODUS album (named the album of the century by the BBC) in London, its title track inciting the “movement of Jah people,” towards spiritual salvation. From the opening wah-wah guitar effects, robust keyboards, and stately horns to the fade-out reverberated chant of “move,” throughout its 7:42 minute duration “Exodus” is as epic as its biblical namesake suggests.

27) “Jammin”

Bob’s performance of this exquisite song in his headlining set at 1978’s One Love Peace concert, his triumphant return to Jamaica, is not only his defining moment onstage as an influential artist and peacemaking emissary, but it also stands as one of the most affecting moments in all of popular music. Seemingly channeling divinely inspired energy, Bob steps to the microphone, his eyes closed. “I’m not so good at talking but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say; could we have up here onstage Prime Minister Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga. We just want to shake hands and show the people we’re gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite, gonna make it right, we’ve got to unite.” Lightning strikes in the background as Marley clasps his hand in the hands of Jamaica’s warring political party leaders and raises them overhead, as the I-Threes intone, “I wanna jam it with you.”

28) “Waiting in Vain”

An often talked about aspect of Bob Marley’s life was the many women with whom he was involved; he had 11 legally recognised children with seven women, despite being married to Rita until his death. The achingly expressed longing in “Waiting in Vain” was reportedly written about the many times Bob approached Cindy Breakspeare (a former Miss World, Bob’s girlfriend for several years, and Damian Marley’s mom) before she yielded to his advances. It’s also worth noting that Rita once said in an interview that she didn’t want to sing backup on the sultry R&B jam “Turn Your Lights Down Low” because she believed Bob also wrote that for Cindy.

29) “Running Away”

Many of the songs from Bob’s 1978 album Kaya were recorded at the same sessions that yielded its predecessor, Exodus. From Kaya, the haunting “Running Away” addresses the criticisms Bob faced when he moved to London following the shooting at his Kingston home. “You must have done something wrong,” sings Bob in the voice of an accuser.

As the song fades, Bob’s spoken-word delivery explains it all: “I’m not running away, I’ve got to protect my life and I don’t want to live with no strife / it’s better to live on the housetop than to live in a house full of confusion so I made my decision and I left ya.”

30) “Rastaman Live Up”

Co-written with Lee Perry, featuring remarkable backing vocals by The Meditations, and anchored in Family Man’s rugged bass line, Bob implores his Rasta brethren and sistren to steadfastly embrace their faith, “grow your dreadlocks, don’t be afraid of the wolfpack.” The song also has wider implications to stand against the political corruption and violence that gripped Jamaica at the time and nearly cost Marley his life.

31) “War”

Performed at Harvard Stadium, July 21, 1979.

The Amandla Festival of Unity, held at Harvard Stadium outside of Boston, was a world music festival that Marley headlined in support of the liberation of South Africa from its oppressive apartheid regime and to raise consciousness about racism in America, specifically in the greater Boston area. Festival organisers sought out Marley as “a black international superstar with progressive politics.” Marley’s performance here is considered one of the finest of his entire career and it is crowned by his spellbinding rendition of “War,” based on a 1963 speech against racial discrimination by Emperor Haile Selassie I to the United Nations General Assembly and summed up by the lyric, “until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, mi say war.”

32) “Ambush In The Night”

If Legend was intended to soften Marley’s image, then 1979’s Survival is its antithesis as his most overtly socio-political work. Bob wrote “Ambush In The Night” about the assassination attempt on his life: “This ambush in the night all guns are aiming at me/they opened fire on me/Ambush in the night, planned by society/ambush in the night, they tryin’ to conquer me.” Over an indestructible one drop groove, Bob attributes his survival of that harrowing incident to “powers of the Most-High.”

33) “Top Rankin”

A blast of majestic horns opens this strongly articulated call to unity and indictment on corrupt leaders and their divisive tactics: “They don’t want to see us unite, all they want us to do is keep on fussing and fighting / they don’t want to see us live together, all they want us to do is keep on killing one another, top rankin’ are you skanking?” The song’s plea for harmony resonates just as powerfully today.

34) “Zimbabwe”

Bob not only wrote this song in solidarity with the freedom fighters in the southern African nation (formerly the white minority-ruled British colony, Rhodesia), he paid for all the necessary equipment sent to Zimbabwe from London so he and The Wailers could perform the song at independence celebrations there in April 1980. That performance was intended for invited guests only, but when Marley and The Wailers started playing, thousands broke down the gates. Police let off teargas and most of the band exited the stage, but Bob remained. When they returned, according to I-Three Marcia Griffiths, Bob commented with a lyric from the song, “now we find out who are the real revolutionaries.”

35) “Trench Town”

Released in 1982 as a 12” single with an extended dub mix and included on the posthumous Confrontation album, Bob revisits Kingston 12 where “they say we’re the underprivileged people so they keep us in chains” but “we free the people with music.” As the song winds down, Bob rhetorically asks “can anything good come out of Trench Town?” As the birthplace of reggae and the community where Bob and Bunny met Peter, the answer is a resounding yes!

36) “Could You Be Loved?”

Bob’s ambition to reach an African American audience was fulfilled with this funky, disco-tinged 1980 hit that advocated love of self, love of one’s people, and love of Jah. Thanks to influential program director Frankie Crocker, “Could You Be Loved” received regular rotation on New York City’s popular urban station WBLS FM. Representing a full circle moment in Bob’s career, “Could You Be Loved” incorporates lines from Bob’s very first single, “Judge Not,” sung by the I-Threes: “the road of life is rocky and you may stumble too / so while you point a finger someone else is judging you.”

37 & 38) “Coming In From The Cold,” “Redemption Song”

According to Timothy White’s celebrated 1983 Bob Marley biography, Catch A Fire, when Chris Blackwell initially heard the songs that Bob submitted as the Uprising album (the final album released in Marley’s lifetime), he told Marley he had something more to give to the project. Marley returned the next day with two additional compositions, “Coming in From The Cold” and “Redemption Song,” which provide Uprising’s dramatic opening track and its haunting conclusion.

“Coming In From The Cold” proves that despite having achieved global superstar status Marley remained a credible, deeply insightful voice for the sufferers, wherever they might be.

On the acoustic “Redemption Song,” Marley alternates between plaintively addressing his audience about his imminent departure and reflecting on how his time on earth was spent. “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” he asks the listener, while the contemplative “all I ever had redemption songs, these songs of freedom,” sums up the greatest wealth he had always possessed.

39) “I’m Hurting Inside”

Following his collapse while jogging in Central Park, the subsequent diagnosis of cancer, and the decision to end the Uprising tour, Bob chose this reflective song for a three-hour sound check in Pittsburgh, ahead of the final concert of his career. Initially released by The Wailers’ on their Wail N Soul M imprint in 1968 (with Rita and Peter Tosh on background vocals), the song addresses fleeting joy in younger years: “When I was just a little child/happiness was there a while/then from me, yeah, it slipped one day/happiness, come back, I say.” It is absolutely heartbreaking in this context.

40) “Get Up, Stand Up”

From the 2010 Live Forever album, which captures Bob’s final concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre on September 23, 1980. This enduring anthem, co-written by Marley and Peter Tosh and first recorded by The Wailers in 1973, encourages staying resolute in claiming one’s rights and has fittingly been adapted as a struggler’s anthem throughout the world. There are many versions of this song by Marley and Tosh that are worth hearing, but the historical significance of this haunting rendition—as the last song Bob ever performed—provides the proper finale for an artist who never gave up the fight and continues to inspire so many to do the same. (Courtesy The Daily Beast)

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