Bob Marley & The Wailers: Rastaman Vibration

April 30, 1976 – Bob Marley & The Wailers: Rastaman Vibration is released.
# allmusic 4/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Rastaman Vibration is an album by Bob Marley & The Wailers released on this date in April, 1976. The album was a great success in the USA, becoming the first (and only) Bob Marley release to reach the top ten on the Billboard 200 charts (peaking at No. 8), in addition to releasing Marley’s most popular US single (“Roots, Rock, Reggae” was the only Bob Marley single to reach the Billboard Hot 100 charts, peaking at No. 51).
Rastaman Vibration’s burlap-esque jacket design couldn’t be more appropriate packaging-this is a load of Natty knowledge delivered in simple, raw fashion. And there’s a real beauty in the weave. This 1976 release finds Bob dropping ever more lyrics on human entanglements both local and global, his transcendent voice threading wisdom through it all.
“Positive Vibration” and “Roots, Rock, Reggae” are anthemic in character, inviting all listeners to quit their negativity and start a-dancin’. “Want More” is a promise of bad karma for back-biters everywhere, leadened fearfully by solemn bass lines and seamless production. Perhaps most compelling here is “War,” a musical setting of a 1968 speech on global justice by the Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Bob’s echoing fade with the words, “Good Over Evil” is positively haunting. While Peter Tosh’s voice is absent, the classic exchange between Marley and the I-Threes (backing vocal divas, for those not in the know) shines all the more brightly in the spotlight. Funky organs are everywhere. Every track on Rastaman Vibration is an excellent piece of vintage roots reggae, proving just how powerful and tight Bob’s studio sessions could be.
On the inside of the original album jacket, to the right, is a message stating “This album jacket is great for cleaning herb.”
“It’s not music right now, we’re dealing with a message. Right now the music not important, we’re dealing with a message. Rastaman Vibration is more like a dub kinda album and it’s come without tampering y’know. Like ‘War’ or ‘Rat Race’, the music don’t take you away, it’s more to listen to.” –Bob Marley, June 1976
Bob Marley has been writing moving songs, making vital and innovative music, struggling to the top in the anarchic Jamaican record business and slowly building an international following for almost ten years. Island Records has been trying to break him in the U.S. since the release of Catch a Fire, four albums ago, and the rock press has been pushing the albums, Marley and reggae music with a unanimous enthusiasm that makes even their efforts in Bruce Springsteen’s behalf seem equivocal. It’s working. Marley’s latest tour has been selling out almost everywhere and Rastaman Vibration is probably going to be his first gold album.
Marley is a political as well as a musical force in Jamaica, and not just because he is calling the national elections a rat race and telling the people they can’t trust conventional politicians, something they already know. If Bob Marley, with his dreadlocks and funky clothes and deliberately exaggerated patois, can be an international pop hero, then the life of the Jamaican dread-in-the-street has, in a sense, been validated. Average dread may not be able to share Marley’s earnings—People predicts they could add up to a million by the end of the year—but he can share Marley’s purpose and pride.
The mushrooming Wailers cult in the States is easier and harder to figure, easier because the publicity surrounding Marley has focused on such exotic items as Rastafarianism and conspicuous herb consumption, harder if you assume that the fans are listening to the words of his songs. “Slave Driver,” “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Burnin’ and Lootin'” and several other earlier Marley works are among the most powerful songs of black rage and politicized exasperation ever written, and the new tunes are only slightly less effective. But for the most part, Marley’s fans in the U.S. are either middleclass whites or blacks who want into the capitalist system, not out of it. Do they really enjoy getting high and grooving on images of slave ships, starvation and riots, or are they just dancing to the music? And if the latter is the case, what does it mean in terms of Marley’s professed Rastafarian asceticism, his antimaterialist rhetoric, his mission as the bringer of doom to Babylon?
A recent editorial in The Caribbeat, a West Indian entertainment magazine that’s been selling like hotcakes at the newsstands in New York’s subways, voices a viewpoint that must be shared by a substantial portion of the West Indian community in the U.S. Referring to the numerous articles on Marley which have been appearing in U.S. publications, the magazine’s editor writes that “it is no longer Bob’s musical talent and abilities that count. Rather, we must endure account after account on ‘Rastafarianism,’ ‘Dreadlocks,’ ‘Pocomania,’ ‘Haile Selassie,’ ‘Shanty Towns’ and all sorts of hocus-pocus that is supposedly responsible for the creation and mainstay of reggae. … The Jamaican sound is going to succeed in one and only one way. That is, through hit records. People cannot spin ‘Rastafarianism,’ ‘Marcus Garvey’ and other such hullabaloo on their turntables.”
The Caribbeat blames the direction of Marley’s promotion, which it regards as a contemptible freak show, on Island, overlooking the role Marley has chosen for himself. In fact, Marley plays to the hilt a dual role as spokesman for the Third World’s disadvantaged and avatar of a highly commercial brand of popular music, and on Rastaman Vibration he is playing both aspects of his role with consummate skill. The album rails against Jamaica’s social and political malaise and preaches black self-reliance while aiming straight for the top of the charts.
In “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” for example, Marley asserts confidently that, “We bubbling on the Top 100/ Just like a Mighty Dread,” and his backing singers, the I Three’s, respond with a slick, cheery riff that’s more than reminiscent of Philadelphia International’s Three Degrees. The album’s opening cut, “Positive Vibration,” proclaims, “Rastaman vibration, yeah! Positive.” Soon, however, a different mood intrudes:
Woman hold her head and cry
Cause her son had been
Shot down in the street
And died
Just because of the system
Protest, paranoia and finger-pointing are the themes of most of the rest of the songs; the vibrations are anything but positive. As a solution to the inequities of “the system,” all Marley seems to be offering is a harsh, eye-for-an-eye brand of Old Testament morality that is far removed from the sort of pragmatism practiced by most contemporary revolutionaries.
But whatever the words say, the melodies and the band’s playing are enchanting. “Who the Cap Fit” is Gamble and Huff’s “Back Stabbers” done up Jamaican style, one long paean to distrust and moral opprobrium. Musically, it is probably the most affecting song on the album. There are four distinct sections, each with a clever harmonic change or a hook worthy of the most calculating AM tunesmith. The I Three’s surpass themselves with a rich, churchy blend behind Marley’s unusually forthright and personable vocal. There are synthesized strings to make the message even sweeter. It’s hard to imagine anybody resisting a song that sounds this good, even though it cautions that your best friends are likely to betray you.
“Who the Cap Fit” is one of three tunes written or cowritten by the Wailers’ remarkable rhythm section, the brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett. The band’s other original members have long since departed, and at least two of them, the vocalists and songwriters Bunny Livingstone and Peter “Tosh” Mackintosh, haven’t been adequately replaced. But the Barretts, who were one of the better bass/drums teams in reggae when they first recorded, have grown into one of the most compelling, creative and flexible rhythm sections in all of popular music. Since they began expanding reggae’s rhythmic dimensions, and especially since their incredibly varied work on Natty Dread, the sort of rock musicians who used to make disparaging comments on the simplicity of the music have fallen silent. With Rastaman Vibration, they continue their quiet but profound rhythmic revolution. If “Roots, Rock, Reggae” becomes the hit single Island is hoping for, it will be because people listening to their radios find the combination of Marley’s sinuous, minorkey melody and the Barretts’ inexorable drive almost unbearably stimulating. If the album is the one that finally puts the Wailers over the top, it will be the Barretts’ achievement as much as it is Marley’s.
The band’s new music does lack the intense complexity which the original Wailers, with Bunny and Tosh, brought to masterpieces like “Concrete Jungle.” But ultimately it commands respect. The sensitive, careful listener will learn from Rastaman Vibration something of the pain, rage and determination of Shantytown, Jamaica, and perhaps something of the community’s political and cultural fragmentation as well. Those who don’t care to listen carefully will still get the celebratory, life-affirming message of the sound and the beat. Perhaps that sound and beat are the “positive vibration” Marley talks about at the beginning of the album, and his apparently inconsistent stand halfway between revolution and the Hot 100 masks an underlying unity of feeling and purpose which only the music can express. In any event, as a pop record Rastaman Vibration makes perfect sense. (RS 215)
~ ROBERT PALMER (June 17, 1976)
Side One
“Positive Vibration” (Vincent Ford) – 3:33
“Roots, Rock, Reggae” (Vincent Ford) – 3:38
“Johnny Was” (Rita Marley) – 3:48
“Cry to Me” (Rita Marley) – 2:36
“Want More” (Aston Barrett) – 4:15
Side Two
“Crazy Baldhead” (Rita Marley/Vincent Ford) – 3:11
“Who The Cap Fit” (Aston Barrett/Carlton Barrett) – 4:43
“Night Shift” (Bob Marley) – 3:11
“War” (Allen Cole/Carlton Barrett) – 3:36
“Rat Race” (Rita Marley) – 2:49
Deluxe Edition (2002)
Disc One Remastered
“Positive Vibration” – 3:33
“Roots, Rock, Reggae” – 3:38
“Johnny Was” – 3:48
“Cry To Me” – 2:36
“Want More” – 4:15
“Crazy Baldhead” – 3:11
“Who The Cap Fit” – 4:43
“Night Shift” – 3:11
“War” – 3:36
“Rat Race” – 2:49
“Jah Live” (Original Mix) – 4:17
“Concrete” (B-side of Single) – 4:24
“Roots, Rock, Reggae” (Unreleased Single Mix) – 3:38
“Roots, Rock, Dub” (Unreleased Single Dub Mix) – 3:38
“Want More” (Unreleased Alternate Album Mix) – 5:10
“Crazy Baldhead” (Unreleased Alternate Album Mix) – 3:08
“War” (Unreleased Alternate Album Mix) – 4:03
“Johnny Was” (Unreleased Alternate Album Mix) – 3:41
Disc Two: Rastaman Vibration Live Edition
“Introduction” – 0:38
“Trenchtown Rock” – 4:56
“Burnin’ & Lootin'” – 4:54
“Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” – 4:13
“Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock)” – 6:08
“I Shot the Sheriff” – 6:34
“Want More” – 7:02
“No Woman, No Cry (Live)” – 5:19
“Lively Up Yourself” – 5:44
“Roots, Rock, Reggae” – 5:32
“Rat Race” – 7:53
“Smile Jamaica, Part One” – 3:19
“Smile Jamaica, Part Two” – 3:10

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