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‘Exodus’: Behind The Bob Marley Classic That Still Inspires Movements

Bob Marley And The Wailers Exodus album cover web optimised 820

If any album could be declared Bob Marley’s masterpiece, it was Exodus. Recorded during a period of exile in London in the aftermath of a gun attack on Marley’s home in Jamaica, it was a musical statement of towering authority which combined visions of Biblical drama with profound expressions of solidarity and tender personal feelings. Released on 3 June 1977, it housed a string of Marley’s biggest and best-loved hits: ‘Jamming’, ‘Waiting In Vain’, ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘One Love/People Get Ready’ and, of course, the title track. Time magazine pronounced it “the best album of the 20th century”.

Listen to the deluxe edition of Exodus right now.

Even before Exodus, Marley had become one of the best known figures in the Third World. As Timothy White noted in Catch A Fire: The Life Of Bob Marley, the reggae star was “quoted as a poet, heralded as the West Indian Bob Dylan, even the Jamaican Jomo Kenyatta [Prime Minister and founding father of post-colonial Kenya].” This made Marley a key figure of power and political influence, whether he liked it or not and, on returning to Jamaica after the Rastaman Vibration tour in 1976, he soon found himself caught up in events leading up to the general election of 15 December.

The standing Prime Minister Michael Manley cajoled Marley into agreeing to perform at a free concert called Smile Jamaica, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, to be staged ten days before the election. Manley reasoned that this “Jamaican Woodstock” would help to defuse tensions on the street before the election, while no doubt hoping it would deliver him a significant propaganda coup into the bargain. Tensions, however, remained anything but defused when, just after sunset on 3 December, two cars drove through the front gate of Marley’s home at 56 Hope Road and unloaded several armed men who attacked the house where the Wailers were rehearsing. Marley was hit by a bullet which creased his breast below his heart and lodged in his left arm. His wife Rita’s skull was grazed by a bullet that left her miraculously unharmed, while Marley’s manager, Don Taylor, was hit by five bullets in his lower body, which also somehow failed to kill him. The Smile Jamaica Concert went ahead at the National Heroes Park, Kingston two days later on 5 December. With the bullet still lodged his arm, Marley demonstrated exactly why his street name was Tuff Gong, as he and the Wailers courageously put on a 90-minute performance in front of an audience of 80,000 fans, which mercifully passed off without incident. The next morning, Marley flew out of Jamaica and would not return for more than a year.

After a period of convalescence in America, Marley and the Wailers convened in London to start work on Exodus in February 1977. Marley lived at various addresses in the capital which was in the middle of a musical and cultural upheaval caused by the upsurge of punk. The Notting Hill Carnival riots of the preceding year had left a legacy of unease and unrest on the streets of West London where Marley and the Wailers were based for much of the time recording in Island’s Basing Street Studios. Marley played football in Hyde Park and hung out with musicians including Levi Roots and filmmaker Don Letts, who was closely associated with the Clash.

While his music had little in common with the abrasive, adrenaline-rush sound of punk rock, Marley shared punk’s outsider perspective of society as part of an established order that needed to change. After the Clash included Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’ on their first album, Marley wrote ‘Punky Reggae Party’, a song with a guest list which made his own allegiances abundantly clear. “New wave, new craze/The Jam, the Damned, the Clash/Wailers still be there/Dr Feelgood too,” he sang. The number was released as the B-side to ‘Jamming’, which reached No.9 in the UK singles chart, confirming Marley as a key figure in forging the unlikely but enduring alliance between UK punk and reggae.

The brush with death in Jamaica and the ensuing change of scene seemed to galvanise Marley creatively. “After the shooting, me never want to just think about shooting,” Marley told Vivien Goldman of Sounds. “So me just ease up me mind and go in a different bag. What me stand for me always stand for. Jah [God] is my strength.” The “different bag” was, in truth, not so different from previous albums, but Marley was now tapping into the motherlode with new confidence and urgency. There were two distinct sides to Exodus – literally so in its original vinyl format. On Side One the fire and brimstone was brought from simmering to boiling point as Marley offered a fiercely religious and politicised prescription for solving the ills of the world in a series of songs – ‘Natural Mystic’, ‘So Much Things To Say’, ‘Guiltiness’, ‘The Heathen’ – each more messianic than the last. The side closed with the title track, a rippling, surging, seven-minute call to arms for a nation of displaced souls on the march to a new spiritual homeland. “We know where we’re going/We know where we’re from/We’re leaving Babylon,” Marley sang against a cyclical riff that was turned, like clay on a potter’s wheel, to perfection.

Sermon over, the party kicked off on Side Two with ‘Jamming’, the song which would later inspire Stevie Wonder’s ode to Marley ‘Masterblaster’. ‘Waiting In Vain’ was a yearning expression of unrequited love that emphasized Marley’s often-overlooked skill and sense of humour as a lyric writer: “It’s been three years since I’m knocking on your door/And I still can knock some more/Ooh girl, is it feasible?” he pleaded. After the simple expression of optimism encapsulated in ‘Three Little Birds’ (“Every little thing gonna be all right”), the album ended with a reprise of the Wailers 1965 single ‘One Love’ an inspirational message of faith, harmony and solidarity now spliced to the Curtis Mayfield tune of ‘People Get Ready’.

Exodus was a major hit in the UK where it reached No.8 and stayed on the chart for 56 consecutive weeks. In America, despite an enthusiastic reception from press and radio, the album only reached No.20. It would probably have done better if the band had not been forced to cancel their tour of America, due to an injury to Marley’s toe sustained while playing football with some journalists in Paris in May. Two shows (out of six) at the Rainbow Theatre in London at the end of the European tour were also cancelled because of the injury. It was the one troubling note at the moment of Marley’s greatest triumph.

David Sinclair

Bob Marley And The Wailers
Kaya 40

New Full-Album Mix By Stephen Marley Is Paired With Original 1978 Mix In A Stunning Anniversary Edition.

Buy the Double Vinyl LP here:
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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.

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