Bob Marley - Exodus
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
So what are we gonna do with Bob Marley? Singer, activist, icon, Rastafarian, killed by football, lionised by everyone. In the legend stakes, only John Lennon is on a par with Bob Marley. And we all know what a wife-beating, cantankerous, smackhead wanker Lennon was...
Exodus came eight years into Marley’s career, the year Elvis died, three years before Mark David Chapman got carried away with JD Salinger, the year when punk was breaking and The Clash et al were seeing common ground in reggae’s politically aware outsider stance and uplifting grooves. 1977. Exodus. Marley’s masterpiece. His biggest record apart from the ubiquitous coffee-table favourite that is Legend. 21 years after he died, cancer in his brain, his liver, his lungs, what are we gonna do with Bob Marley?
Three massive world-wide hits came straight off Exodus, namely "Jamming", "Waiting In Vain" and "One Love / People Get Ready". If you take into account "Three Little Birds" then Exodus probably has four of the six most well-known tunes Bob ever graced us with (the other two being, of course, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’).
Everyone loves Bob Marley. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t. Legions of buskers mumbling ‘No Woman No Cry’ can’t be wrong, can they? Bob was fond of many things. Bob was fond of God, of truth, of raising the profile of the racial tensions and social impoverishment which both bound and separated Jamaican culture. This year marks 40 years of Jamaican Independence. It also marks 25 yeas since Exodus was released. Marley the poet, Marley the prophet, Marley the hero of his people, Marley the mystic, Marley the songwriter. Amazingly, Bob Marley never had a US Top 40 hit. Fond of many things. Fond of marijuana. Fond of football. Fond of guns. Fond of peace. Fond of women. Fond of music.
Exodus is a compromise. It shows a man whose fire is dimming, a man less given to the role of righteous social/spiritual demagogue and more given to the role of feel-good balladeer and pop star. Only the title track, the opener and "The Heathen" really show the transcendent soul of the outsider, the peoples’ hero, the leader, the visionary.
Cynics might say that Bob Marley only ever had three tunes. The short, uplifting, politically driven pop song. The short, tender, ruminative love song. The drawn out, hypnotic reggae groove. Cynics might be right, cynics might be wrong. Bob Marley has no truck with cynics. Look at the cover. It’s gold. Look at the title. Exodus. If we can’t stay here, we shall move. Movement of Jah people. People get ready, there’s a train coming. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the lord.
Bob Marley, young man, standing on a mountain top, guitar in one hand, gun in the other, the weight of an entire people on his shoulders. Bob Marley, not so young man, standing on a mountain top. Lain his gun down. Places his hand on his heart and says “one love” loud and clear and true and free and it carries on the breeze across continents, across generations, across time and cultures and grievances and violence and war and we can hear it in Kandahar as well as we can in Princetown, in Barbados, in Belfast, in LA, in Cape Town, Beirut, Bangladesh, Liverpool. Bob Marley. Died at 36.
Maybe Catch A Fire, or Burnin’, or Uprising are better albums. Maybe Babylon doesn’t exist. Maybe Exodus isn’t a classic. MOVE! What are we gonna do with Bob Marley? Are we here to bury him or to praise him? MOVE! Holy Mount Zion. Jah. Simple songs and simple truths. A cliché is only a truism that has become horribly apparent. MOVE!
Exodus. Movement of Jah people. Bob Marley. Banish your clouds, doubters, turn your lights down low. Put on side one. What’s wrong with this? Nothing.