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Sunday Night Journal — November 18, 2007

Music of the Week — November 18, 2007

Bob Marley & The Wailers: The Complete Upsetter Singles 1970-1972

I’m actually talking about the first volume of this two-disk set here; the second disk seems to be dub versions—mostly-instrumental “remixes,” as they would be called today—of some of the songs on the first disk. (Since eMusic charges per song, I’ve downloaded only the first disk.)

This material pre-dates the Island records heyday of Marley and the Wailers. In fact, as best I can tell from a little bit of reading on AMG and Wikipedia, it was probably originally credited only to The Wailers. It’s simpler and cruder and not as well recorded as the Island stuff, but in some ways I like it better. The Island sound is slicker, thicker, more complex, maybe overall a bit slower, with more varied instrumentation. I’ve read that it was consciously aimed at the rock audience in England and the U.S. But although albums like Natty Dread are indisputable classics, I miss in them a certain lilt and lightness. And besides, I tend to like music that’s a little rough around the edges. These tracks are definitely that. This is reggae of the sort produced by artists who did not, at least at the time, become big stars outside Jamaica; it’s the sound you hear on much of the classic reggae anthology, The Harder They Come. In other words, it’s about as irresistible as pop music gets, if you ask me. Of course it has the weird mixture of hedonism, eccentric religion, and politics that characterized reggae at the time. Watch out—when you listen to the music, it can all begin to seem plausible.

Check out the samples at eMusic. Or this complete song on YouTube (I think this is the same take), “Small Axe.”.



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