The Wailers | Catch A Fire – 1973

1973 -the number one song around the world was ‘Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree’ by Tony Orlando and Dawn. The top 25 for that year is depressing to read:

I was changing schools from Carlingford High, Sydney to Barker College, Sydney. I have very few school memories at the moment, I keep bumping into people I went to school with, but have no memories. I think my family had come into money and thought that private school would be better for me and my younger brother, Richard. I remember being consulted about it, the way you consult a child coming into year 9. A way of consulting without consulting.

1973, I was 14. I hadn’t bought an album with my own money yet, and would have thought The Wailers too odd. It would be three more years before I bought an album with my own money (to my endless shame, it was ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound’, not only a Wings album, but a bad Wings album).

1980 – I was sleeping in a mixed sex dorm in Balmers Youth Hostel, Interlaken, Switzerland. This place is the oldest privately owned Hostel in Switzerland, it was also the most American place I’d seen in Europe. A Bob Marley concert video was playing. The crowd had this concert on high rotation, to the young Americans at the hostel, Bob Marley was their spiritual leader, a hero. In the late 70’s and early 80’s Bob Marley was a name to conjure with, a touchstone for a generation. This was a time of post punk in Europe and Marley was still a god. Ten years later, I was in a club in Osaka, Japan watching a dread-locked Japanese Marley clone (I think it was Nahki). Reggae was everywhere.

This album is a revelation. I only bought it this year and had never heard it played through. The singles are familiar, Catch A Fire, Stir it Up, Kinky Reggae, but as an album it holds together with a rawness that is surprising. The copy of the album I bought has both the Island Records release and the Jamaican release. The Island Records version was produced for Western ears, unused to the sounds from Jamaica. My immediate reaction we can handle different music, but when ilisten to the guitar of Wayne Perkins on Concrete Jungle all is forgiven. This album passes the sway test. Put it on and look around the room and see who is swaying in time. The sound is sparse, plenty of room to appreciate the drums. Bob Marley’s voice is a real focus, and it’s absence is noticeable in the two Peter Tosh songs, ‘400 Years’ and ‘Stop that Train’.

The songs are about dating, slavery, trains, being trapped in an urban jungle, and then there is ‘Kinky Reggae’ which begins with the following lyrics:

“I went downtown,

I saw Miss Brown,

She had brown sugar,

All over her booga-wooga.”

Odd, from a guy who was seen as a leader, a lyricist, a revolutionary and reconciler. The was almost Dada-ish and silly.

Bob injured his toe on his right foot playing soccer in July, 1977. Because of his Rastafarian beliefs, he decided to forego any surgery and had his malignant melanoma treated through alternative medicines. The cancer continued through his body as he continued touring. In 1980 he released the track ‘Redemption Song’ about his coming to terms with his own upcoming death. He died in May 1981. His international career lasted 7 years.

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One Response to The Wailers | Catch A Fire – 1973

  1. Pingback: A life in albums | michaelsprott

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