Things moved fast in the music business of 1973. Less than six months after the Wailers released their first international album, Catch A Fire on 4 May, the conflagration continued with the release of Burnin’ on 19 October. Still billed only as the Wailers, and still led by the three-man vocal front line of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, the band was now moving through the gears with an increasing sense of mission.
Although Catch A Fire had not been a hit, the response to it among tastemakers and early adopters had been overwhelming. Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell, who had begun his career selling records by Jamaican acts from the boot of his car to the expatriate community in Britain, knew a thing or two about this particular market and now scented something spectacular in the air.
Catch A Fire had not only introduced the sinuous rhythmic charms of reggae music, it had also alerted the world to the cry for justice of a poor and historically dispossessed people. Burnin’ upped the ante in all departments. The album’s almost-title track ‘Burnin’ And Lootin’’ promised a full-scale riot. Powered by Aston “Family Man” Barrett’s supremely melodic bass line and brother Carlton Barrett’s one-drop drum beat, the song had a groove that hovered somewhere between a funeral march and an all-night shebeen. The melody was mournful, the tone full of anger and regret as Marley pondered his people’s predicament: “All that we got, it seems we have lost.”
Meanwhile, the album’s most celebrated song, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ was a precursor of the murderous street stories that would later come to define American gangsta rap. “If I am guilty I will pay,” Marley sang, but the story left little room for doubt that this was a righteous killing provoked by a history of grievous mistreatment by the lawman in question. It would be another year before Eric Clapton took his version of the song to No.1 in the US (No.9 in the UK), a game-changing hit which would transform the worldwide perception and fortunes of reggae music at a stroke.
These two songs alone marked out Burnin’ as an album that gave serious voice to some heavy social and cultural concerns. For most of its history, Jamaica had been a rural economy. The rapid post-war influx of people from the land into Kingston had triggered an era of haphazard growth and wildly uneven wealth distribution in and around the capital. Large swathes of the city had become urban ghettoes where the key players in a rudely vibrant music scene rubbed shoulders both with the victims of abject poverty and the trigger-happy “posses” (gangs) of loosely-organised criminals. This harsh, edgy yet spiritually rich environment provided an immensely powerful backdrop to the songwriting of Marley, Tosh and, Wailer, and never more so than on Burnin’.
The album’s opening track ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ became an enduring anthem of people power, adopted by civil rights activists the world over. Marley and Tosh are said to have co-written the song while touring Haiti, where they encountered extremes of poverty that were the equal of anything in Jamaica. Interestingly, the lyric specifically criticised religious teachers for creating a smokescreen with promises of a paradise to come, thereby distracting people from claiming their rights as human beings here on this world. “Preacherman don’t tell me heaven is under earth,” Marley sang with evident disdain. The song would be re-recorded on subsequent solo albums by both Tosh and Wailer and would remain a key number in Marley’s repertoire to the end of his career; indeed it would be the last song he ever performed on stage (in Pittsburgh in September 1980).
With the encouragement of Blackwell, Marley emerged once again as the primary singing and songwriting voice of the Wailers on Burnin’. As with Catch A Fire, his songs accounted for the great majority of tracks, which may have been why Burnin’ was the last album before both Tosh and Wailer left the group. Dissatisfactions among the founders built up during a schedule which took them to America for the first time. Wailer found the touring onerous and once the band had returned to Jamaica, he was reluctant to leave again.
Although a “new” act in Britain and America, the Wailers had been singing and recording together since 1963, and could boast a plentiful catalogue of songs which were largely unknown outside Jamaica. Several of the tracks on Burnin’ were re-recordings of songs that had been released before. ‘Put It On’, a gentle, spiritual groove with the more emollient chant of “Lord I Thank You”, had been released as a single on the Studio One label in Jamaica in 1965, when it was one of the first songs to coin the word “toasting” to refer to the lyrical style of chanting by the dancehall DJs. Likewise ‘Duppy Conqueror’ and ‘Small Axe’ were both new recordings of songs that were old favourites in the Wailers’ story. (Songs which did not make it on to the final album included ‘Reincarnated Souls’, ‘No Sympathy’ and ‘The Oppressed Song’; these would eventually surface as bonus tracks on the “Definitive Remastered” edition released in 2001).
In this sense, Burnin’ was, to some degree, a summary of the Wailers’ progress to this point. An album full of revolutionary fire and fervour, it was also the last, heroic distillation of a line-up that had taken the teenaged Wailer, Tosh and Marley on a journey from the streets of Trenchtown to the brink of global stardom. Henceforth it would be Marley who was very much the man in charge.
Bob Marley And The Wailers
New Full-Album Mix By Stephen Marley Is Paired With Original 1978 Mix In A Stunning Anniversary Edition.Buy the Double Vinyl LP here:
Recorded in London concurrently with the material that ultimately comprised 1977’s Exodus — a record proclaimed by Time Magazine in 1999 to be the Best Album of the 20th Century — Kaya is the perfect sonic-sibling bookend that shares all the joy, spirit, and literal DNA of some of Marley’s most groundbreaking material. Kaya contains a number of the most enduring, heartfelt songs in the entire Marley canon, including “Is This Love,” “Easy Skanking,” and “Sun Is Shining.”
Kaya was initially released just one month ahead of Bob Marley & The Wailers headlining the legendary One Love Peace Concert at The National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on April 22, 1978, an event that featured 16 of reggae’s biggest acts. One Love Peace was heralded as Marley’s triumphant return to his native soil, following his long exile in London after having fled the country as a result of a December 1976 assassination attempt at his Kingston homestead.
The album was recorded with the then-new configuration of The Wailers that comprised brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett on drums and bass, Tyrone Downie on keyboards, Alvin “Seeco” Patterson on percussion, and the I Threes — Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt — on backing vocals, along with newest member Julian (Junior) Marvin on guitar. Two of Kaya’s songs had previously appeared in different arrangements on 1971’s Soul Revolution — the title track, and “Sun Is Shining.”
Stephen's goal in mixing Kaya 40 was to create a balance that drew heavily from the original versions. Using Bob’s vocals from demos from original Kaya sessions that were recorded at different tempos, Stephen synched the vocals with alternate takes and layered it over different instrumental arrangements. Stephen tried to keep the flavour as authentic as possible. To mix the album, he used a similarly minimal approach, basing his version heavily off the classic analogue concepts they used in the 1970s.