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.



Contributions

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.

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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.

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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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