Bob Marley’s been gone a long time; longer than most people reading this have lived, I bet. But more than most deceased musicians, it feels to me like he’s still out there; a quiet dub track woven into the universal quantum background hum. Try to prove me wrong. No Woman, No Cry is a good first entry for reggae in Song of the Day; Warm-sounding warm-heartedness; what could be better in a Northern-hemisphere winter?
Reggae, it’s got this dark sweet warm pulse like molasses for the brain, but it’s not simple at all. I saw a documentary once about Marley and the Wailers’ breaking into mainstream music. Island Records’ Chris Blackwell (someone all us mainstreamers owe an immense debt of gratitude to, for making the big bet on Caribbean slum music) decided to hire a couple of big-name US session players to make Bob’s tapes sound a little less foreign. They interviewed one of them for the documentary and he said, laughing, “I eventually got the track down, but I sat there listening to it for twenty minutes first, trying to find the One” (he meant the “one” in one-two-three-four). These rhythms, there’s nothing straightforward about them.
Having said all that, No Woman, No Cry is about as straightforward as reggae gets; one of the few songs that I always sing along with when it comes on in the car. The lyrics are interesting, too; nostalgia for a simpler time, some poor-man’s anger, and then: No more tears. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and the band’s playing is divine.
A lot of people have covered this song; Joan Baez sings it regularly (and beautifully) and even released a record using it as a title.
There’ll be more island music in this series. On those rare occasions when I get a few consecutive hours free to code or work on a doc, if you come into my office you’ll usually hear a soft low Dub pulse keeping me company. Because of what Dub is, I’m not I’ll ever be able to use any for Song of the Day, but I sure love it. If you’re not real familiar with dub and would like to be, you could do worse than buying anything by Israel Vibration.