Remembering Marley’s Exodus, 40 years on
On the album, Marley become much more than the dreadlocked Rasta of popular renown
Some pictures are worth a thousand words. One of the photos that accompanied recent pieces about Uruguay legalising the sale of marijuana featured three dudes lighting up at a protest in Montevideo. Predictably, two of the three are wearing Bob Marley T-shirts.
For many, this is completely on brand. The Jamaican singer may have been a global superstar, but he also remains a sort of shorthand for rebellious youths everywhere. Smoking dope, listening to Marley and looking to overthrow the system seem to go hand in hand.
Such symbiotics naturally ignore Marley’s musical legacy. It’s 40 years this week since the release of Exodus, the album which remains key to assessing his skills as a pop performer. Other albums such as Arrival or
Survival may have had more political fire in their belly, but
Exodus was Marley flexing his pop muscles.
What’s striking about Marley is how much of an album artist he was. Certainly, it’s this which Island boss Chris Blackwell always credited with helping him become an international star. And you could make a good argument that Exodus is top of the list when it comes to his songwriting.
Exodus has a nasty back story but one that is pivotal in the Marley narrative. The previous December, Marley was set to play the Smile Jamaica concert at Kingston Racecourse, which had been organised by the office of the country’s prime minister Michael Manley. Two days before the show, Marley, his wife Rita and his manager Don Taylor were fired on by gunmen at the singer’s house on Hope Road.
There are many theories about who was behind the hit – from individuals attached to the rival Jamaican Labour Party to various criminal interests – but two days later, Marley played the show in front of 80,000 people despite his injuries.
The assassination attempt saw Marley move to London and it was there that he recorded
Exodus. Perhaps it was that sense of taking stock and realising that he was lucky to be alive that accounts for the mellow vibes on the album. It’s songs such as One Love and
Three Little Birds which set the tone as much as the title track. Marley seemed to feel that there
was enough drama going on on his life and there was no need to return to the righteous messages of I Shot the Sheriff or War.
He’d a cracking band by his side. That magnificent rhythm section of Aston Barrett (bass) and his brother Carlton (drums) provide a beautifully pitched soundbed, while the lead guitar work of Julian “Junior” Marvin really spotlights tracks like So Much Things To Say.
Exodus also shows that Marley could really do pop. Remember that his style of reggae wasn’t what dominated Jamaica at the time and, in fact, it doesn’t sound a whole lot like any reggae that came before.
Exodus is much more rooted in blues and soul and catches a trace of the rock that Marley was beginning to pepper throughout his material.
Even at a remove of 40 years, it’s a record that still shines brightly and makes the case for Marley to be viewed as much more than just the dreadlocked Rasta of popular renown.
Remember that his style of reggae wasn’t really what dominated Jamaica at the time and, in fact, it doesn’t sound a whole lot like any reggae which came before