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Music / Bob Marley

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WANTED: The man who shot the sheriff.note 
"My music will go on forever. Maybe it's a fool say that, but when me know facts me can say facts. My music will go on forever."

Robert Nesta Marley (February 6, 1945 May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican musician who popularized reggae as a musical artform and (by association) Rastafari as a religious movement throughout Jamaica and the world at large.

He was the lead singer for the Wailers, a Jamaican reggae and ska group which started in 1963 and lasted until 1974. During that time, Marley recorded many songs, both as a solo artist and in conjunction with the band, and many of those songs were released in the years following his death from cancer in 1981. Among his most well-known hits are "Get Up, Stand Up," "One Love," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Buffalo Soldier," "Redemption Song," "No Woman No Cry," and "Iron Lion Zion."

Among his posthumous achievements: He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, awarded the 2001 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and had a statue of his likeness erected at Arthur Wint Drive in Kingston, Jamaica. Additionally, he appears in several works of tourism-related art and across various media, including having an Expy, "Bob, the King of Reggae," in the Twin of Twins' "Stir It Up" dancehall series.

Marley's most recognizable physical feature is his dreadlocks hairstyle, which has since become synonymous with Jamaican culture and is a favorite hairstyle for several reggae and Jamaican dancehall artists and also generally for both men and women worldwide.

He has an official website.


"Tropetown Rock":

  • Album Filler: You could definitely get the impression that aside from "Get Up Stand Up", "I Shot The Sheriff" and "Burnin' And Lootin'" (which are all career-defining classics), Burnin' was quite a lazily made album compared to the preceding Catch A Fire. "Hallelujah Time" was a new song submitted by Bunny Wailer that could easily be one of his solo recordings (although he never remade it), and "Rastaman Chant" was a traditional song that had been part of their live set. The remaining five songs are remakes - "Small Axe", "Duppy Conqueror" and "Put It On" being easy-listening arrangements of live set staples that not coincidentally featured in their original versions on Trojan's "African Herbsman" compilation the same year, "Pass It On" being a remake of Bunny's solo version from the previous year, and the Peter-led "One Foundation" being based around a section of The Soulettes' "Bring It Up" (a song written by Bob a couple of years before). The album is certainly not bad, but illustrates that the band wasn't writing as collaboratively as they had been (and indeed, it turned out later that Bunny and Peter were saving most of their new ideas for solo albums).
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: In Jamaica in particular Bob Marley's status among the people and Rastafarians is practically more comparable to a prophet or a divine Messianic incarnation than that of a musical artist. He is worshipped among Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey.
  • Artist and the Band: He started his career with the band The Wailers. Following his major involvement in the band as a writer, their album Natty Dread was credited to Bob Marley And The Wailers while previous album have been retroactively credited that way.
  • Artistic License: There is a surprisingly large amount of this in books. From Timothy White's book "Catch A Fire", which at times skews the facts for a more entertaining story, to the booklet of Songs Of Freedom with vague liner notes written without listening to the actual songs. One of the strangest is the assertion in "Bob Marley: The Untold Story" that the group were performing "Bad Card" and the Bunny Wailer track "Crucial" despite neither being released until the early 80s, and that both were used as campaign songs by local politicians.
  • Badass Boast:
    • "Iron, Lion Zion": "I'm gonna be iron like a lion in Zion!"
    • "Small Axe": ''"If you are the big tree, We are the small axe."
    • The whole premise of the song "Screw Face", which is about staring someone down to show you aren't scared of them and will fight them if they mess with you.
  • Bleached Underpants:
    • The Legend compilation was compiled with this in mind. It primarily consists of Bob's love songs, with only a handful of his political songs (most notably, "Get Up Stand Up", "I Shot The Sheriff" and "Redemption Song"). It has nothing at all from his two most political albums "Rastaman Vibration" and "Survival", and it includes the Catch A Fire version of "Stir It Up" which wasn't a single (rather than the actual single from that album, "Concrete Jungle") as well as "One Love (People Get Ready)" which wasn't a single in his lifetime. The compilation is heavy on his most popular album Exodus as well (including 5 of its tracks). The tracklisting was selected via a survey by the Island label, in order to present Bob to an international audience that was alienated by his political and Rastafari-oriented lyrics. It worked a bit too well; Bob is seen by many as a smiling Caribbean ganja-smoker and represented by its lead single "One Love", as opposed to the anti-establishment revolutionary he was. Despite this, the compilation remains very popular both for people getting into his music and casual listeners who just want one Bob release. A politically-themed sequel compilation, "Rebel Music", was released a couple of years after to offset the criticism, although it was never as popular.
    • There's a lot of evidence in books that Bob could be quite standoffish to people, jealous and violent, particularly around women, with his widow Rita Marley and ex-bandmate Beverley Kelso having numerous stories like this in books. Some male musicians, particularly those who worked with him in Sweden in 1971, also noted these tendencies, claiming he had a permanent 'screw' (frown), hated being stereotyped, and primarily putting them down to culture shock and unease when not around Rasta culture. To some extent though, this was Jamaican ghetto culture at the time, which was suspicious of everyone.
  • Borrowed Catch Phrase:
    • The line "you can fool some people some time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time" in "Get Up, Stand Up", is a variation on a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln although it's a Peter Tosh line not Marley (Marley does perform it on live albums after Peter left The Wailers though).
      • Marley's famous death bed quote to his son Ziggy "Money Can't Buy Life" is actually the title of a 1962 calypso song by Eric Morris.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Yes, he had numerous extramarital flings, but he acknowledged all his children (whether born inside his marriage or not), and was devoted to his wife Rita.
  • Concept Album: Survival, about apartheid in Africa and encouraging its population to fight against it.
  • Crapsack World: Bob Marley's songs are mostly political and social protests against both universal as well as local problems in Jamaica: "Concrete Jungle", "Burnin' And Lootin'", "No More Trouble", "War", "Rat Race", "Johnny Was", "So Much Trouble In the World", "Real Situation", "No Woman, No Cry", "Get Up Stand Up", "Babylon System", "Survival". He often felt angry when people just bought his records and did nothing else but listen and smoke a joint to them. The man frequently reminded people in the West that the topics of hunger, crime, war, poverty and other misery in Jamaica weren't just musical fantasies, but real-life problems that caused his country to keep stuck in hardships.
  • Darker and Edgier: Soul Rebels is a strikingly dark album, both on a musical and lyrical level. It was a monumental step both in The Wailers' career and for the development of reggae music in general, as it pretty much invented the minor key roots sound that diverged the genre from its party-oriented roots. Of particular note are the title track, which starts the album off on a noticeably sombre note, "My Cup" (a James Brown cover), "Reaction", and the two Peter Tosh songs "400 Years" and "No Sympathy".
  • Disappeared Dad: His father Captain Marley was a serial womaniser and married his mother Cedella Booker with no intention of staying together, having affairs both before and after he was born. His family, who were white Jamaicans, were notoriously racist, and felt having a child with a lower class black woman brought shame on the family, particularly as Cedella was only 18 at the time (In contrast, Captain was 60). However, they did actually maintain contact until his death, growing estranged due to Captain's attempts to cut Cedella out of Bob's life by sending him away to boarding school and having a relative raise him.
  • Distinct Double Album: Though released separately, for intents and purposes "Exodus" and "Kaya" were a double album, with all their tracks recorded during the same sessions. Whilst "Exodus" has more horn-led songs designed for a live set, "Kaya" has a more stripped down production designed for unwinding to.
  • Divergent Character Evolution: An unnamed song from a 1968 demo tape borrows some lyrics from Bunny Wailer's Studio One track "Who Feels It Knows It" and also features lyrics and melody that would be reused in "Cheer Up" and "Crisis". He would soon after remodel the song into "Cheer Up" but reuse the leftover parts as "Crisis" about 9 years later. Interestingly, he not only still borrowed those lyrics from "Who Feels It Knows It" but used the song's title as a hook, without crediting Bunny.
    • This is also true of "One Love". In its original 1965 incarnation, it was one of many Impressions songs the group covered.
    • An acoustic demo titled "Oh What A Day" from 1976 features Bob playing around with some of the lyrics of the late 60s song "Chances Are" over some jazzy chords and vocal melodies which were the basis for "Misty Morning", recorded the following year. Intriguingly, he follows the Chances Are lyric "I see years of bright tomorrows" with the Misty Morning one "I want you to straighten out my tomorrow".
    • The Wailers themselves diverged from a harmony group at Studio One, to having very specific personalities in their solo work. Whilst they always shared themes, Bob was the most romantic, Peter the most political, and Bunny the most spiritual.
    • The 'woy yo yo yo' from the Live! version of "Get Up Stand Up" ended up in "Punky Reggae Party" a few years later.
  • Dreadlock Rasta: His song "Buffalo Soldier" is the Trope Namer.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Bob Marley's earliest songs have him sound much more like a typical smooth 1960s soul singer, with an equally high voice.
    • Bob's lyrics gradually got more and more political as they went on. The lyrics of albums from Rastaman Vibration onwards are predominantly directed at rallying people together to take a stand against oppression. The Wailers, for a long time, would talk about everyday situations in the ghetto, having a good time or problems with crime.
    • Typical of the ska era, some Studio One songs have lyrics purely about dancing, with the weirdest example being the otherwise rasta or political oriented Peter Tosh's "Hoot Nanny Hoot".
  • Empty Fridge, Empty Life: "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)"
    A hungry mob is an angry mob
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Although a trio (for most of their existence), The Wailers fit this trope well:
    • Bob was Sanguine, the friendliest of the group, but criticised for being too much of a people pleaser at times. Although he could take a while to trust people, he could sometimes be too trusting - many felt his manager Don Taylor was trying to take advantage of him, for example. He could pick up women with ease and as a result, had the most children.
    • Peter was Choleric, he was very intelligent and good at talking to people, but didn't suffer fools gladly and was known to be the most aggressive of the three if you wronged him. He was the first member of the group to take an interest in politics and wasn't afraid to take part in demonstrations or face police brutality for his beliefs.
    • Bunny was Melancholic, an introvert whose chief characteristics were his mellow songwriting and distrust of pretty much everybody. He was the most religious of the group and was considered by some to have the ability to put curses on people.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: Most of them reference God (Jah) in one way or another. Some of the more specific ones are Bunny's "Hallelujah Time", "So Jah Say", "Redemption Song", "Want More", "Zion Train", "Forever Loving Jah", "Give Thanks & Praises",...
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: According to his wife, he was often bullied by his peers as a child for being half-white.
  • Happily Married: To Rita Marley (nee Anderson) for 15 years up to the time of his death. This despite numerous affairs, of which Rita was fully aware. Bob considered Rita to be like a sister to him, and was very protective of her.
  • Heavy Meta: "Trenchtown Rock," "Roots Rock Reggae," "Jamming"...
  • In the Blood: Three of his children, Ky-Mani, Damian "Junior Gong" and David "Ziggy" Marley, went on to become well-known entertainers themselves.
    • As did Stephen, who is considered to have the most Bob-like voice out of them but has recorded the least material.
    • Hell, they could and have filled their own music festival.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Sun Is Shining" is often singled out in this regard, as it features happy lyrics over noticeably dark music (something that remained even when he recut the song for "Kaya" eight years afterwards). Conversely, there are later songs like "Real Situation" that feature happy music and dark lyrics.
  • Made a Slave: Imagery invoked in Concrete Jungle, Slave Driver, Buffalo Soldier, Redemption Song and even into the sleeve notes of the album Survival.
  • The Not-Remix: The single version of "Is This Love" includes a guitar part after the first "I wanna love you" which is not included on the Kaya version. This version was included on the original pressing of "Legend" though not on the remaster.
    • The Confrontation LP has some post-production in order to give the LP a consistent production sound: for instance "Blackman Redemption", "Rastaman Live Up", "I Know" and "Trenchtown" had simplified arrangements with fewer vocals and more upfront percussion compared to their previously released single versions.
  • Pacifism Backfire: Bob, along with Michael Manley (Jamaica's Prime Minister at the time), helped organise a festival called "Smile Jamaica" in 1976, for which there was a single of the same name. Whilst from all accounts this was just an attempt to raise some good money and help tourism, some Jamaicans who disliked Manley put two and two together and misinterpreted the message of the song as telling them to smile because they couldn't change the political system. Unfortunately, this led to an attempted assassination on Marley and anyone else at his house at the time. To his credit, Bob still played the festival, though left the country shortly after. Many fans can't hear the song "Smile Jamaica" without thinking of the assassination attempt, and how close this song came to being Bob's last (the complete opposite of the positive message intended).
  • Pep-Talk Song: "No Woman No Cry", "Wake Up And Live", "Lively Up Yourself", "Get Up, Stand Up", "Coming In From The Cold", "Exodus", "Iron Lion Zion", "Africa Unite", "Work", "Redemption Song",...
  • The Power of Love: Bob is just as famous as a protest singer as he is as a writer of love songs.
  • The Power of Rock: "Trenchtown Rock"
    One good thing about music/ when it hits you feel no pain
  • Protest Song: "War," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Get Up, Stand Up", "Buffalo Soldier", "Rat Race", "Them Belly Full", "So Much Trouble In The World, "Revolution", "Rebel Music", "Run For Cover", "Hypocrites",...
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Ambush In The Night", inspired by the murder attempt on his life.
    • The lyrics on the songs on "Uprising" are about his knowledge that he was dying of cancer and that it would be his last album. He often expresses concerns about how people close to him will cope ("We And Dem"), his inability to change the political landscape within his lifetime ("Real Situation" and "Redemption Song") and included "Coming In From The Cold" at the last minute (written a few years earlier) as a song to help fans cope with his death.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Was raised Catholic, then became a committed Rastafari and near the end of his life converted to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. He stated that his belief in Christianity still had Haile Selassie as the messiah, just that the Western Bible had been changed compared to the Ethiopian one which he regarded as real.
    • According to his mother his last words were "Jesus, take me".
  • Really Gets Around: Had numerous extramarital flings and illegitimate children.
  • Rearrange the Song: As is common in reggae, Marley rerecorded many of his pre-Island songs in the 70s reggae style. He added completely new sections to "It's Alright" and renamed it "Night Shift". He also changed "One Love" from a ska song to a laidback reggae song. There are numerous other examples but these two particularly stand out.
    • Bob's track "Rebel Music (3 O Clock Roadblock)" became an iconic song of dub music, with numerous mixes being made. Bob seemed to encourage this as the B-Side of his own single was his own dub version, as opposed to just an instrumental, and several unreleased mixes have leaked as well. The version by Augustus Pablo on his Ital Dub album particularly increased the popularity of the song by taking it into completely new territory.
  • Recycled Lyrics: He did this on a few occasions:
    • His 1962 debut single "Judge Not" includes the line "The road of life is rocky and you may stumble too" which was reused in both 1964's "Destiny" and 1980's "Could You Be Loved".
    • Some of the lyrics in 1970's "Jah Is Mighty" were reused from "Corner Stone". Whilst they were recorded in the same time period, "Jah Is Mighty" has completely different music and additional lyrics, so it's not an alternate version of "Corner Stone" as such.
    • "Bring It Up", a 1971 song he wrote for his wife Rita's group The Soulettes, recycles lyrics from 1967's "Stir It Up", and then goes into lyrics which would be recycled in 1973's "One Foundation".
    • The line "Can a woman's tender care cease towards the child she bear?" in 1965's "Hooligan" were reused in 1976's "Johnny Was".
    • Some of the lyrics of 1966's "Freedom Time" were reused in 1976's "Crazy Baldhead".
    • Some of the lyrics of 1975's "Rainbow Country" were reused in 1976's "Roots Rock Reggae".
    • Some of the lyrics of 1969's "Wisdom" were reused in 1980's "Stiff Necked Fools".
  • Retraux: "Slogans" was recorded by Bob as a very sparse vocal, guitar and drumbox demo, but for the Africa Unite compilation it was pulled out of the vaults and overdubbed with a full band and the I-Threes, with Eric Clapton providing a guitar solo. Whilst overdubbed remixes had been attempted before, "Iron Lion Zion" and "I Know A Place", this version was deliberated designed to sound like it could have been released during his lifetime (and indeed, it was a song that Bob mentioned to interviewers in his last few months). "Slogans" was well received by fans and released as a single.
  • Shout-Out: Frequently to Haile Selassie, including a translated version of a famous speech of his being the basis for "War". He also does a shout out to his children in the Exodus outtake version of "Keep On Moving" (the basis for the 1995 single remix).
    • "Punky Reggae Party" name-checks The Damned, The Jam, The Clash, Toots And The Maytals and Dr. Feelgood. Bob wrote it after realizing that punk and reggae share the same goal - speaking out against injustice.
    • Marley was a fan of Curtis Mayfield, and several of his songs feature Shout Outs and verses homaging his work. Likewise, two of Marley's more popular songs - "One Love/People Get Ready" and "Keep On Moving" - are covers of Mayfield tunes (though "One Love" only partially - through "People Get Ready").
    • A lot of Bob's work in 1969 and 1970 references James Brown 's work, with him imitating his vocal style and namedropping lyrics on a substantial number of songs recorded at this time. Traces of Brown's influence can be heard later on too, for example on the way that Bob speaks some of the lyrics on songs like "Exodus".
  • Silly Love Songs: "Stir It Up," among others.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: His songs were mostly on the idealistic side, encouraging people to treat each other equally. However, he was deeply cynical towards oppressors and usually encouraged people being persecuted to do whatever they could to stop it (as evidenced in the lyrics of "War," which are a translated Haile Selassie speech). However, his level of cynicism pales in comparison to his former band-mate Peter Tosh, who was so cynical it is one of his trademarks.
    • This caused posthumous problems for him: Because of his religion, he believed that planning for his death would hasten it, and thus never wrote a will. This resulted in record companies keeping a large amount of the money from his music rather than giving it to the people of Jamaica as he had wished.
      • According to his widow Rita, Bob's lawyers were so corrupt that they made Rita pay for all his debts, which meant she had to organize a lot of posthumous releases to make enough money. Hence why there are compilations like "Natural Mystic", "One Love" and "Africa Unite", remix albums, and various licensed products (such as rolling papers) that Bob would not have endorsed in his life time.
    • Last words: "Money can't buy life."
  • Small Reference Pools: Marley is still the most famous reggae singer. A downside of his fame to other reggae performers is that almost every reggae song known in existence has been attributed to him.
  • Smoking Is Cool and Smoking Is Not Cool: There are quite a number of photos that depict him smoking a joint. Bob also referenced smokin' herb and spliffs often in his music, including Jump Nyabinghi, Easy Skankin,... but despite all that he was actually quite critical of people just being stoned and doing nothing to change the system. He even referenced it in songs like "Burnin' And Lootin'" from Burnin' ("I must say: all them- all them drugs gonna make you slow/ It's not the music of the ghetto.") and "Pimper's Paradise" from Uprising, which is about a female drug addict.
  • The Svengali: Those around Bob often felt that Chris Blackwell was this. In particular, they cite the splitting of the original group, the occasional Executive Meddling in production and tracklistings, and the posthumous release of the effectively Bleached Underpants release Legend. To his credit, Blackwell has said that nothing happened without Bob's approval and that what made business sense in The '70s wouldn't necessarily do so nowadays.
  • Take That!: Did this a lot in his songs, primarily against racial inequality and subjugation of blacks.
    • "Small Axe" from Burnin' has a direct one by Upsetter records, against Studio One, Federal and Treasure Isle, known as 'the big three'. In Jamaican patois the word 'three' is pronounced like 'tree', so the song is really saying 'Upsetter records is going to cut down all the other record companies by being better'. Lee Scratch Perry, owner of Upsetter wrote the lyrics to this song, and was often known for filling his songs with biblical imagery and hidden meanings.
      • "Running Away" from Kaya is a take that at people who accused Bob of "Running Away" from Jamaica after his attempted assassination. There are hints at his belief that the government were out to get him and that's why he wasn't going back. This is often forgotten with the laidback mood of the song, in which lines like "You must have done something you don't want nobody to know about" could be interpreted as some kind of kinky fetish lyric.
      • "Crazy Baldheads" and "Stiff Necked Fools" are other examples.
  • The Band Minus the Face: A variation of this trope in that The Wailers were never supposed to be Bob Marley's backing band (as his solo period would have you believe). Rather, they were a collective with no one true lead vocalist - in particular Bob dropped out of the band for some time in 1966 with Bunny and Peter taking on vocals on songs. Even after his return to the group, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Aston Barrett all released tracks credited to The Wailers (but featuring other musicians from the group). After Bob died this became even more of an example as his backing musicians formed The Wailers Band (who still tour) and a Bunny-led reunion attempt of surviving members became known as The Never Ending Wailers (which featured sampled Bob vocals from unreleased recordings, but still).
  • Three Chords and the Truth: "Redemption Song", which is a common song for acoustic guitarists to learn.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "No Woman No Cry" and "Redemption Song."
  • Train Song: "Stop That Train" and "Zion Train".
  • Traumatic Haircut: Loved ones say that the only time his happy-go-lucky demeanor slipped during his cancer treatment was when his dreadlocks fell out due to the chemotherapy.
  • The Unintelligible: Due to his heavy use of marihuana and equally difficult to understand Jamaican patois accent journalists and the audience often had a hard time trying to make sense out of what Bob was saying during interviews.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The book Catch A Fire by Timothy White is a novel based on Bob's life that is advertised as a biography. For many years, it was considered the best book on him, but much has come out after his death that has contradicted the assertions made in the book, so it is best seen as a curio which embellishes some details of his early life. An example of its inaccuracy is the part on the founding of Wail'N'Soul M' records in 1966 - it states the first single was "Bend Down Low/Mellow Mood" (when the actual b-side was "Freedom Time" - the combo used is a pairing done for the JAD rerecordings two years later), that the follow up was "Hold On To This Feeling" (which is a cover of a Jr Walker And The All Stars song from three years later and was in fact the first Tuff Gong single) and that the group continued to release several singles for Coxsone at this time (who they had left after he agreed to help distribute "Bend Down Low/Freedom Time" yet withheld money).


Video Example(s):


"I Shot The Sheriff"

"I Shot The Sheriff" by Bob Marley from Burnin', in which the narrator turns out to have killed the racist sheriff in self-defence. Also, "Rebel Music" from Natty Dread, in which the police is targeted for arresting people for drug possession.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / AntiPoliceSong

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