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.

Do you have a baby? · If so, you should def­i­nite­ly read this par­ent­ing tip on how to use Nat­ty Dread, the record that No Wo­man, No Cry first ap­peared on, for help­ing put a frac­tious in­fant to sleep.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy, iTunes, live video - there are lots out there, but I think this 1980 per­for­mance from Ger­many best capture’s the song’s es­sen­tial warmth.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Dan (Jan 18 2018, at 09:55)

Thanks for this writing. I've never heard of reggae for calming down a fussy baby but I'll try anything.


From: Rob (Jan 18 2018, at 20:33)

Fractious babies just like a good heavy bass beat, and the drone of bad parental singing. I was horrified to discover that they actually responded best to good old fashioned 70s style disco. But as any pediatrician will tell you, the best way to soothe a baby is to sooth its parent, and I can testify that Natty Dread (and the White Album, in my experience) can supply both the parental and baby soothing required.


From: Larry Reid (Jan 18 2018, at 22:10)

This is a great choice. The live version from London is absolutely electrifying.

I got into reggae via Clapton's cover of "I Shot the Sherrif". It took me a while, but I now prefer the original Marley version by a country kilometre.


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