Bob Marley And The Wailers Live!, the best live album of all time?

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! - Album cover print proof (ha.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live! – Album cover print proof

This, I wanna tell you, is a Trenchtown Experience.
All the way from Trenchtown, Jamaica, Bob Marley And The Wailers.
Come on!

Introduction

On December 5th, 1975, the classic Live! by Bob Marley And The Wailers was released. The world was (finally) introduced to Bob Marley, reggae, Jah Rastafari, ganja, No Woman, No Cry and one of the very best live albums of all time!

The Wailers

In 1972 The Wailers signed a record deal with Island Records, which in April 1973 led to their debut album on that label, Catch A Fire. Just six months later that album was followed by Burnin’. Soon after, both Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh left The Wailers (also see the story on Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights), which led to the debut album by Bob Marley And The Wailers in October of 1974: Natty Dread. The band went on tour for that album in June and July of 1975 (almost eight months after the album’s initial release).

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live Kingston 10/04/1975 (facebook.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live Kingston 10/04/1975

Natty Dread Tour

The tour took the band to the US, Canada and England:

Date City Country Venue
06/05/1975   Miami   United States   Diplomat Hotel
06/08/1975   Toronto   Canada   Massey Hall
06/09/1975   Chicago   United States   Quiet Knight Club
06/10/1975   Chicago   United States   Quiet Knight Club
06/14/1975   Detroit   United States   Showcase Theater
06/16/1975   Cleveland   United States   Agora Theater
06/18/1975   New York City   United States   Wollman Skating Rink
06/20/1975   Philadelphia   United States   The Spectrum Theater
06/21/1975   New York City   United States   Manhattan Center
06/22/1975   Hartford   United States   Bushnell Memorial Hall
06/23/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/24/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/25/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/26/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/27/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/28/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
06/29/1975 *   Boston   United States   Paul’s Mall
07/04/1975   San Francisco   United States   The Boarding House
07/05/1975   San Francisco   United States   The Boarding House
07/06/1975   San Francisco   United States   The Boarding House
07/07/1975   San Francisco   United States   The Boarding House
07/08/1975   Oakland   United States   Paramount Theatre
07/09/1975   Los Angeles   United States   Roxy Theatre
07/10/1975   Los Angeles   United States   Roxy Theatre
07/11/1975   Los Angeles   United States   Roxy Theatre
07/12/1975   Los Angeles   United States   Roxy Theatre
07/13/1975   Los Angeles   United States   Roxy Theatre
07/17/1975   London   England   Lyceum Theatre
07/18/1975   London   England   Lyceum Theatre
07/19/1975   Birmingham   England   The Odeon
07/20/1975   Manchester   England   The Hard Rock

* 2 shows per day

Prior to the tour the band played a show with the Jackson Five in March of 1975 and on October 4th, 1975, they played with Stevie Wonder. Both shows were held in Kingston, Jamaica. During the latter both Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh appeared on stage (marking the last time the original Wailers were together on the same stage).

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live at the Lyceum London 17th & 18th July 1975 (pinterest.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live at the Lyceum London 17th & 18th July 1975

July 17th and 18th, 1975, London, Lyceum Theatre

After the five prestigious shows at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles the band had three days off. Time for a bit of rest and the travel to England, where the Lyceum Theatre was booked. The theater had an approximate capacity of 2100 people. When tickets went up for sale they were gone in a few hours, which was quite a feat for an artist that didn’t have a large amount of record sales to his name. But, something was brewing, Bob Marley and reggae were en route to an unstoppable rise. During the concerts the police had their hands full with thousands of people that showed up without a ticket. What stood out was that the audience white-black mix was 50-50. Bob Marley’s crossover appeal was huge.

Both concerts were recorded with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, with the intent of putting together a live album.

Above you can see the tour programme for the July 17 and 18, 1975, concerts (3 pages are missing: ads and two pages about the support act Third World). Click on the pages to enlarge.

The July 17th setlist comprised:

  • Trenchtown Rock
  • Burnin’ And Lootin’
  • The Belly Full (But We Hungry)
  • Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)
  • Stir It Up
  • No Woman, No Cry
  • Natty Dread
  • Kinky Reggae
  • I Shot The Sheriff
  • Get Up, Stand Up
Bob Marley And The Wailers - July 18th, 1975 - concert ticket (apoplife.nl)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – July 18th, 1975 – concert ticket

The July 18th setlist comprised:

  • Trenchtown Rock
  • Slave Driver
  • Burnin’ And Lootin’
  • The Belly Full (But We Hungry)
  • Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)
  • No Woman, No Cry
  • Kinky Reggae
  • Natty Dread
  • Stir It Up
  • Lively Up Yourself
  • I Shot The Sheriff
  • Get Up, Stand Up
Bob Marley And The Wailers - English tour advert (facebook.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – English tour advert

Around this time, Bob Marley wasn’t very well-known yet, but in England he was somewhat famous. In part caused by the relatively big group of people who hailed from the Caribbean and partly because Island Records was an English record company who spent a lot of attention to marketing in England.

The result was that the concerts were covered quite extensively in the English press. With remarks ranging from “There was a curious odour in the foetid air which I could not identify” to “But if it [superstardom] has anything to do with that over-worked word, charisma, with knowing what you are doing and not being diverted from the main object in view, with a burning conviction and a dazzling talent united to communicate, then Marley is possibly the greatest superstar to visit these shores since the days when Dylan conquered the concert halls of Britain, never looking back” and “The Wailers are not simply the most outstanding band in reggae; but one of the premier bands of the moment”, it was clear the English press couldn’t quite place it, but it was glaringly obvious that Bob Marley was something special and that this was only the beginning.

For those who want to read the full reviews, click below to see the original texts from The Times (July 18th, 1975), Melody Maker and NME (both July 26th, 1975).

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! (bobmarley.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live!

Live!

On December 5th, 1975, the live album Live! by Bob Marley And The Wailers was released. It’s a recap of the London concerts, of which six songs stem from the July 17th and one song (Lively Up Yourself, which wasn’t played on the 17th) stems from the July 18th, 1975, concert.

The songs haven’t been re worked in the studio. Errors, like the microphone feedback during No Woman, No Cry have not been cleaned up, which only enhances the listening experience. However, Lively Up Yourself and Get Up, Stand Up have been shortened (like the ‘fade-out’ in Get Up, Stand Up).

One good thing about music
When it hits you feel no pain

© Bob Marley – Trenchtown Rock

The first words Bob Marley sings on Live! are the ones mentioned above. So “Hit me with music” and even “Brutalize me with music”. Trenchtown Rock sets the tone for an irresistible album which hasn’t just survived the ravages of time, but still gives the idea that this particular concert was taped only yesterday. The political messages are still relevant and inspire up to this very day.

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975 (bobmarley.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975

This morning I woke up in a curfew
O God, I was a prisoner, too – yeah
Could not recognize the faces standing over me
They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality

© Bob Marley – Burnin’ And Lootin’

The second song is about mistreatment and injustice of the (Jamaican) population by the authorities. The message is a universal one though. As the year 2020 has clearly shown, it’s still very accurate, unfortunately. Marley is capable of combining social economic subjects with ecological idealism and catchy rhythms and lyrics.

Cost of livin’ gets so high
Rich and poor they start to cry
Now the weak must get strong
They say oh, what a tribulation
Them belly full but we hungry
A hungry mob is an angry mob

© Bob Marley – Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)

At the time Jamaica was on the brink of civil war, with gangs ruling the poorer parts of Kingston who exercised a huge attraction on the youths living in hopeless circumstances. Poverty and hunger were everyday’s business. “A hungry mob is an angry mob” can be interpreted as a warning to the Jamaican rulers. But, there’s always a solution: “We’re gonna dance to Jah music”, forget your (daily) troubles and dance, for dancing is a way of meditation and celebrating God.

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975 (bobmarley.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975

Lively up yourself and don’t be no drag
Lively up yourself, oh, Reggae is another bag
Lively up yourself and don’t say no
Lively up yourself, ’cause I said so

© Bob Marley – Lively Up Yourself

Marley has a solution: reggae. Of course, in combination with everything that entails, like the Rastafari philosophy of life. Rasta’s believe the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was the reincarnation of Christ, fulfilling the prophecy made by Marcus Garvey in 1914. Ethiopia is the promised land (Zion). The western world (Babylon) shall fall eventually. Many rasta’s are vegetarian/vegan. One of the external characteristics is wearing dreadlocks. The smoking of marijuana (ganja) is regarded as a means to reach the origin of things and help with meditation. The Bible and the belief in (the Christian) God (Jah) are inseparably linked to the Rastafari philosophy of life.

Said I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown, yeah
And then Georgie would make the fire light
A log wood burnin’ through the night
Then we would cook corn meal porridge
Of which I’ll share with you, yeah
My feet is my only carriage
And so I’ve got to push on through
But while I’m gone

Everything’s gonna be alright

So No woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Oh little, oh little darling, don’t shed no tears

© Bob Marley – No Woman, No Cry

The prized song on the Live! album and the first Bob Marley hit in the West. The song is about togetherness, sharing, pride and trust. The phrase “no woman, no cry” is aimed at the woman in Bob’s life (Rita Marley?), meaning to lift her spirit and not focus on bad times, but rather to see and feel the beauty in life, even when circumstances are hard.

In true spirit of the song, Marley named Vincent Ford as the song’s composer. Ford was a friend who ran a soup kitchen, feeding the poor. With the proceeds of the song, Ford was able to continue his soup kitchen.

Freedom came my way one day
And I started out of town, yeah
All of a sudden I saw Sheriff John Brown
Aiming to shoot me down
So I shot, I shot, I shot him down and I say
If I am guilty I will pay

I shot the sheriff
But I say, but I didn’t shoot no deputy

© Bob Marley – I Shot The Sheriff

The song tells the tale of a man who shoots the sheriff in self defense. He is on the run and hears he also charged with killing the deputy. However, that’s not true, the deputy wasn’t present at the shooting. Marley: “I want to say ‘I shot the police’ but the government would have made a fuss so I said ‘I shot the sheriff’ instead… but it’s the same idea: justice”.

The original stems from the second Wailers album for Island Records, the 1973 Burnin’ album. In 1974 Eric Clapton covered the song, which became a huge hit in the US and Europe. It helped Marley gain some ‘brand awareness’ in the West.

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975 (bobmarley.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers London 1975

Most people think great God will come from the sky
Take away everything, and make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your right, yeah

Get Up, Stand Up
Stand up for your right

© Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up

The ultimate protest song. The title says it all, really. Rebel. Rebel against oppression, (organized) religions or -isms, aimed at creating division. Don’t aim your life to the afterlife, making one fall victim to apathy, but, rebel, rise up, now. Up to this very day Get Up, Stand Up is an anthem for the oppressed.

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! - Ad (collectors.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live! – Ad

Review

What is left to say about Live!? It’s one of the best (if not the very best) live albums of all time. It established the breakthrough of Bob Marley And The Wailers in Europe. After England the mainland of Europe followed very quickly. One year later the US also fell for the music, charisma and message of Bob Marley.

The overall atmosphere of the album, the audience’s enthusiasm, the sublime rhythm section and the fantastic ‘riddim’ all provided a sense of excitement and a new experience. Music not coming from the US or England could be great. At the time that was a huge revelation to my 10 year old self. The sunny music with serious undertone spoke to me enormously.

I don’t remember exactly how the album came into my life, but it was well before the single Stir It Up became a hit in the Spring of 1979 in The Netherlands. Later, at the time I was in high school, after Bob Marley’s untimely passing, I heard the Babylon By Bus album through my friend at the time, Jimmy, who was a big admirer of Marley. My love for everything Marley was started then. I’m eternally grateful for the true initiation into Bob Marley And The Wailers’ music.

Live! was as live as live can be and serves as an everlasting monument to Bob Marley’s immense charisma on stage, that even found its way into the album’s grooves. When Bob Marley sings the words “Everything’s gonna be alright” in No Woman, No Cry, you fullheartedly believe him, he manages to convince even the most cynical listener. Live! comes not only highly recommended, it is a mandatory and essential part of every music collection!

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! - Ad NME 12/06/1975 (collectors.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live! – Ad NME 12/06/1975

Press

As mentioned above, Bob Marley was gaining momentum in England. The review in Sounds spoke volumes:

Bob Marley And The Wailers: Live!

By Vivien Goldman

Sounds - Logo (soundsmagazine.co.uk)

In these troubled times of ours there’s very few things you can be sure of.

One thing I’d have been prepared to stake my autographed copy of Burnin’ on is that the Wailers’ live album, probably the most eagerly-awaited album of the year, would be a truly wonderful and genuinely five-star experience with bells on. Well, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to tell you that I was 100 per cent accurate in my estimation.

Live At The Lyceum swells the ranks of my favourite live albums to three (others: Beach Boys Live and Live At Max’s by the Velvets) as in general live albums tend to be flaccid compared to studio takes. For any Wailers fan, the mere fact of reliving the gigs with better sound than you got there is enough to induce paroxysms of bliss. As a bonus, Steve Smith and Chris (God) Blackwell have done an amazingly good job with the sound quality, enabling Bob’s wailing of ‘How Many Rivers…’ on ‘Burnin’ And Lootin” to hit you right in the solar plexus.

The I Three (Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley, the back-up singers) suddenly gain a stature of their own, their incantatory voices winding round and about in glorious texture contrast to Bob’s soulful notes. The Barrett Brothers are a joy throughout; in fact that’s exactly what this album is, a joy throughout.

If I sound uncriticial that’s because there are few enough albums that have Live At The Lyceum’s freshness, authority and out and out music. It would be wise of you to grab hold of it at once, and listen long and hard. Hit me with music!

Sounds, 11/29/1975

But, Bob Marley was noticed in the US as well. Rolling Stone wrote:

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live!

By Ed Ward

Rolling Stone - Logo (logodownload.org)

Island is moving back into reggae […] The only question is, who in America knows enough to really appreciate it? Whom does Island expect to buy records like this?

[…]

Still, as little sense as releasing [Burning Spear’s] Marcus Garvey in America seems to make, not releasing Live! makes less. Ostensibly, the reasons are that Live! is not a top-notch Wailers set and that the album would hurt sales of the rest of the group’s catalog. The two lines of thinking are obviously contradictory. While Live! may not be as good as the set I saw at the 30,000-seat National Stadium in Kingston, it’s a tossup whether this record or Natty Dread is better. The audience response is electrifying and both the Wailers and the I Threes vocalists are in top form. All of these songs are available elsewhere but Live! is essential listening for the growing Wailers cult. As one of the best live albums ever, it should at least have been released on the Antilles budget series.

Summary from Rolling Stone, 04/09/1980 (according to the website, probably early 1976)

By and large, the press lauded the album. Within a year Marley would appear on the front page of Rolling Stone, at the time a leading magazine. The next album Rastaman Vibration would mean the definite breakthrough in the US.

Bob Marley And The Wailers - No Woman, No Cry - Single (45cat.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – No Woman, No Cry – Single

Singles

Only one single was culled from the album: No Woman, No Cry. It was Bob Marley’s first hit. The B-side contained a live recording of Kinky Reggae, which was added to the original album on the 2001 cd re-release.

Songs

All songs written by Bob Marley, unless stated otherwise.

  • Trenchtown Rock
  • Burnin’ And Lootin’
  • Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
  • Lively Up Yourself
  • No Woman, No Cry
  • I Shot the Sheriff
  • Get Up, Stand Up (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh)

In 1974 Bob Marley had a contract dispute with his former publishing company. In combination with his desire to help his loved ones Marley gave away song credits to others, resulting in Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) being credited to Leon Cogill and Carlton Barrett and No Woman, No Cry to Vincent Ford.

Bob Marley & I-Threes (facebook.com)

Bob Marley & I-Threes

Musicians

Bob Marley And The Wailers

  • Bob Marley – vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Carlton Barrett – drums
  • Aston “Family Man” Barrett – bass
  • Tyrone Downie – keyboards
  • Al Anderson – guitar
  • Alvin “Seeco” Patterson – percussion

I Threes

  • Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt – background vocals
    (Marcia Griffiths was lacking due to pregnancy)

Further releases

Three extra songs of the concerts were released:

  • Kinky Reggae
    Recording of July 17th, 1975. Originally released as the B-side to the single No Woman, No Cry, later also on the re-release of Live! (see below)
  • Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)
    Recording of July 18th, 1975, released on Babylon By Bus in 1978
  • I Shot The Sheriff
    Recording of July 18th, 1975, released on Talkin’ Blues in 1991

Listening to the Live! Deluxe Edition (see below) I suspect that the July 17th, 1975, recording of Stir It Up is the one that ended up on Babylon By Bus.

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! Deluxe Edition (7digital.com)

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Live! Deluxe Edition

Re-releases

In 2001 all (Bob Marley And) The Wailers albums were re-released, oftentimes as expanded editions. At the time Live! was the remarkable exception with only one extra song: Kinky Reggae, originally released as B-side to the No Woman, No Cry single.

On October 13th, 2017, Live! Deluxe Edition was released, containing the complete recordings of the both London shows of July 17th and 18th, 1975. A beautiful document.

Bob Marley - The Phonograph October 1975 - The King Of Reggae (issuu.com)

Bob Marley – The Phonograph October 1975 – The King Of Reggae

After Live!

In 1976 Bob Marley followed up the Live! album with Rastaman Vibration, resulting in the breakthrough in the US (even though an article titled King Of Reggae was already released in October 1975, see above). Following an assassination attempt Marley left for London recorded the classic Exodus (see the story on Exodus). Kaya, Babylon By Bus, Survival and Uprising would follow. Bob Marley was no one hit wonder, his music and attraction remained phenomenal.

Unfortunately, an aggressive skin melanoma was discovered in 1977, which resulted in his passing on May 11th, 1981. In 1984 the compilation album Legend was released, which is still the best sold reggae album of all time. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In closing

Bob Marley And The Wailers - Live! lettering (pinterest.com)

More Bob Marley stories will undoubtedly be published on this blog. For now: what do you think of Bob Marley and Live! in particular?

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Bob Marley And The Wailers Live!, the best live album of all time?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!