Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wailers Alternative Discography #3: "One Love"

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 #3:
    One Love
    (August 1965, Studio One)

    Side One
    1. 3:19 One Love — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    2. 2:13 Playboy — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    3. 3:04 Shame and Scandal — Peter with Bob, Bunny
    4. 2:11 Diamond Baby — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    5. 2:20 Do You Feel the Same Way — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    6. 2:38 Love and Affection — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    Side Two
    1. 3:02 Hooligan Ska — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    2. 3:06 And I Love Her — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    3. 2:48 I Made a Mistake — Bob with Peter, Bunny, a
    4. 3:15 Where's the Girl for Me — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    5. 3:35 Jumbie Jamboree — Peter with Bob, Bunny
    All tracks recorded January 1965,
    except "Love and Affection" and "And I Love Her" May 1965,
    "One Love", "Shame and Scandal" and "Do You Feel the Same Way" July 1965.
    All tracks produced by Clement Dodd.

    The Wailers are: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
    note: 'a' is Beverley Kelso

    Exhibit A in the defence of this project, or 'why in a nutshell I wanted to do this'. "One Love" is perhaps the signature song of one of history's most famous singer/songwriters. It is perhaps tied with John Lennon's "Imagine" for most celebrated musical vision of utopia ever. That's pretty high praise for any one composition, and praise that the song, party stolen from Curtis Mayfield it may be, is strong enough to carry.

    So it's that much worse that the song is universally known by its decade-hence retread. Not to say that the Island Records version isn't great, or that sonically it's not 10x superior to this tinny take. But history has been rewritten, and this song has been shorn of its context, of the initial impulse of its creation, through the banishment of this recording to the curio cabinet.

    Here it is, title track of my third re-imagined Wailers album. And it's pretty brilliant. This album as a whole is pretty great, actually - a big step above the rather hesitant second album. Returning to the 'rude boy' theme of their début "Simmer Down", side two is framed by epics that condemn hooligan violence. In the middle, you get the Wailers taking on the Beatles - a beautiful version that stays loyal to the song while giving it a distinctly Jamaican vibe. It might not be the best cover, though: Peter's take on the good-time Trinidad calypso number "Shame and Scandal" is the best belly-laugh moment in the Wailers' whole early career. And while side one's opener is obviously Bob's finest moment, the side closer "Love and Affection" is a personal favourite, too.

    With Junior and Beverley both gone (bar one appearance from the latter), the Wailers are now a trio - the core trio that will always remain the 'classic line-up' - even though some of the albums we'll see in the future will not feature Bob Marley and some will not feature Bunny Wailer. With the core trio established, it feels as if there's more of a sense of purpose this time out, with the tracks recorded in three distinct 'sessions', and one assumes written with an eye towards the marketplace. Although this is not in fact an 'album' any more than the others I've presented, it does play like one - there's a kind of unity of purpose happening here, even though a good few of the tracks come off as mostly 'filler' (I should mention that I deliberately picked-and-chose in the Studio One years, looking for songs both that took my fancy and that were up to some recording quality standard - which is a bit improved this time out but still murky).

    Bunny remains in the background, once again. Peter gets only two leads, but they're both great: the closing 'Jumbie Jamboree' for one starts to show an increase in ambition. It finishes the album off with high expectations for the future - though ultimately this is probably the single best 'album' of the Studio One era.

    As a Studio One release, the tracks all come from the muddied mess of Heartbeat releases mentioned in the Simmer Down entry.

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