Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Wailers Alternative Discography #2: "The Wailing Wailers"

Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were incredibly prolific in the 1960s, topping the local charts so regularly they became known as 'the Jamaican Beatles'. Much of what they recorded before meeting Chris Blackwell was magnificent, and almost all of it needs to be heard.

I'm presenting a series called 'The Alternate Wailers Discography' - a kind of imaginary discography of 'should-have-been' albums that didn't, and don't, in fact exist - though the songs on them do. There are two aspects of the Wailers' legacy that trouble me, and I aim to address both of them:

  1. In the 1970s and beyond, the name "the Wailers" became little more than a suffix to the phrase "Bob Marley and". While I'll not even attempt to deny Bob Marley's greatness, or even his primacy, the Wailers were a trio. The logo of their early record label Wail N Soul M showed three hands holding each other's forearm to form a triangle. All for one, etc. It's sad and insulting to see Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer presented as merely Bob Marley's early-years backup singers.
  2. Throughout the 1960s, the principal medium of record distribution in Jamaica was the 7". The hordes of songs they recorded that decade were almost all released haphazardly on singles, never to be collected until years later on cheap, chintzy compilations: incomplete, unannotated and often overdubbed. By the standards of the modern music industry, this dilutes the music's impact, allowing the Wailers' 1960 work to be seen as a minor prelude to Bob Marley's 1970s albums in Island Records. Island surely bears much of the blame for this - it is in their interest to promote their own property at the expense of material they don't have the rights to - but it is yet another thing that distorts our perception of this supergroup.
With the aid of a relatively extensive selection of recent compilations and the absolutely essential Bob Marley and the Wailers: a Definitive Discography by Roger Steffens and Leroy Jodie Pierson, I've gone about creating an 'alternate discography' of the Wailers - what their discography might look like if the Jamaican record industry in the 1960s had cared about the 12" album. While the albums are figments of my imagination, the songs that make them up are not, and the albums are perfectly compilable, provided you have the originals.

This is not a project designed to aid in the illegal distribution of Wailers music. I would love to allow you to listen to the albums I've put together, as I think they play very well as albums. But that would be illegal. The best I can do is tell you how to assemble them yourselves. I've also attempted to repect Steffens and Pierson's copyright by (a) not including every song the Wailers recorded and (b) not including certain discographical details. I have, though, trusted Steffens and Pierson implicitly and built the entire project around the details as they've presented them.

For a more detailed background, read this earlier blog post.

    Album #2:
    The Wailing Wailers
    (December 1964, Studio One)

    Side One
    1. 2:28 Dance With Me — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    2. 2:45 True Confessions — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Junior, Beverly
    3. 2:54 Lonesome Feelings — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Beverly, a, b, c
    4. 2:44 There She Goes — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Beverly, a
    5. 2:42 Teenager in Love — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Junior, Beverly
    6. 2:42 It Hurts to Be Alone — Junior with Bob, Peter, Bunny, Beverly
    Side Two
    1. 3:04 Nobody Knows — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Beverly
    2. 3:09 Love Won't be Mine This Way — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Junior, Beverly
    3. 3:28 Where Will I Find — Bob with Peter, Bunny, Junior, Beverly
    4. 3:07 I Need You — Bob with Peter, Bunny, d
    5. 2:50 Don't Ever Leave Me — Junior with Bob, Peter, Bunny, Beverly
    All tracks recorded August 1964,
    except "I Need You" September 1964,
    "Lonesome Feelings" and "There She Goes" October 1964.
    All tracks produced by Clement Dodd.

    The Wailers are: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso.
    note: 'a' is Cherry Green, 'b' is Joe Higgs, 'c' is Sylvia Richards, 'd' is Rita Anderson

    This second volume covers the several months immediately after the début - which in reality means the several months immediately following that initial burst of activity in July 1964. Yet if Bunny's memory serves him right, all but three of the tracks on this second collection were recorded in August, meaning that the Wailers dusted off two album's worth in as many months. The idea that they recorded their main set during those initial sessions is reinforced by the sense that many of these tracks were perhaps hastily put together - to meet a commercial need in the wake of "Simmer Down", perhaps. Even though these weren't really albums, this collection still seems to suffer from the 'sophomore slump'.

    There are excellent tracks on this second album. But curiously, where the first collection was non-stop ska, this second one seems intentionally derivative of American music - most obviously in the straight cover "A Teenager in Love", the near-cover "Nobody Knows" (i.e. 'the trouble I've seen) and the semi-cover "Dance With Me" (largely a rewrite of "On Broadway"), but also on the originals, many of which take doo-wop or early Motown as a starting point.

    This is certainly true of Junior's two lead spots here: the faux-Motown "It Hurts to Be Alone" and the curiously international-sounding "Don't Ever Leave Me". The second title is ironic in that it was recorded in Junior's last session as a Wailer. This is the last album he appears on - and even at that he didn't see the whole album out, having already left before its final three songs were recorded. I let his two songs close out each side for one main reason: the fact that they are both awesome, beautiful songs with great vocals. Junior definitely leaves the band in a position of strength, reminding people to miss him on the way out.

    Junior's contributions might steal the spotlight, but Bob, who otherwise does every lead (none of Peter, Bunny or Beverley get any showcases here, for some reason), gets a few key performances. In particular, "Lonesome Feelings" and "There She Goes", a tune he'll return to a few years hence, are commanding and memorable tracks. But too much of this album goes by in half-decent unmemorable derivative numbers. Not embarrassing, but not world-changing either by any means. And the sound quality is, by and large, as bad as the first album.

    I should also mention that Rita Anderson, making her first appearance on a Wailers track here, would soon shed her maiden name for a rather more famous married name...

    "The Wailing Wailers" was actually the name of a 1960s era album - not an actual album but a compilation of Studio One-era tracks (it has little in common with my album). The 'nickname' became popular enough to kind of be an 'alternate' name for the band. But it's a cool title, and very evocative of how Coxsone Dodd saw the band. Plus, Junior engages in some proper wailing on this album, so it's the best batch of songs to put this name one.

    Being Studio One stuff, these eleven songs are culled from the same releases listed in the first album entry.

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