Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Wailers Alternative Discography #4: "More of the 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 #4
    More of the Wailers
    (January 1966, Studio One)

    Side One
    1. 3:39 Where is My Mother — Bob & Bunny
    2. 2:21 Rude Boy — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    3. 2:24 Jailhouse — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    4. 2:59 Somewhere to Lay My Head — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    5. 3:16 Wages of Love — Bob with Bunny, c
    6. 3:09 I'm Still Waiting — Bob with Peter, Bunny 
    Side Two
    1. 2:59 Ska Jerk — Bob with Peter, Bunny, a
    2. 2:59 What's New Pussycat — Bob with Peter, Bunny, b
    3. 2:44 Cry to Me — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    4. 2:57 Another Dance — Bob with Peter, Bunny
    5. 2:32 Lonesome Track — Bob with Peter, Bunny, a
    6. 2:15 This Train — Bob & Bunny
    All tracks recorded October 1965,
    except "What's New Pussycat" August 1965,
    "Rude Boy" September 1965,
    "Lonesome Track" November 1965,
    "Jailhouse" and "Cry to Me" December 1965.
    All tracks produced by Clement Dodd.

    The Wailers are: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer.
    note: 'a' is King Sporty, 'b' is Cherry Green, 'c' is Rita Anderson

    Sometime on or around October of 1965, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer stood in front of a single mic, with only Marley's acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and wailed close-harmony versions of the traditional folk tunes 'Where is My Mother' and 'Bound for Glory' (which they would return to time and again, always under the name 'This Train'). While I have no idea why they did it (the recordings were not released at the time), I'm glad they did. The recordings are beautiful, heartfelt and ghostly, and they're a wonderful diversion during a time when the Wailers seemed reluctant to break out of the ska mould. I've used these songs to open and close my fourth 'album' in a more arresting fashion.

    Because otherwise it's really ska as usual. There's a bit of a sense that they're skanking into a rut here, as the best songs are the ones that break the ska mould in some way, and the most generic ones the ones that stick closest to it. I really sweated over the track placement of this album, arriving at what I thought was a 'final version' on several occasions before scrapping it and starting again. The current lineup largely runs in opposite order to the last one I had, largely because while 'Lonesome Track' is a catchy enough ska song, it's just so poorly recorded that it has to be buried, really - here it serves as a train-focused 'intro' to 'This Train'. It's noteworthy for King Sporty's ska 'vocal sound effects' (also known as 'chikka chikka noises'), which are more prominently heard on a jarring overdub on 'Ska Jerk', the Wailers' cover of the Motown classic 'Shotgun'.

    Which is how it goes... 'What's New Pussycat' is the straightest American cover they've done so far, disingenuous really in its faithfulness. But the American influences apparent on the two very 1960s ballads that close side one, 'Wages of Love' and 'I'm Still Waiting' are worn proudly and integrated confidently. They're both jaw-droppers, gorgeous, and having little at all to do with ska music. As is the case on this album - it's a ska album whose best songs are not ska.

    Or is that the case after all? 'Jailhouse' and 'Rude Boy' are classic ska numbers in the 'Simmer Down' mould, again like the previous album showing that the Wailers were most inspired when talking about their Trenchtown lifestyles - talking about what hit closest to home, when not singing in a manner very far removed from home indeed.

    In addition to the two acoustic moments, half of the remaining songs were recorded in October of 1965, but the remaining five songs were recorded in fits and bursts throughout the second half of 1965. Obviously this gives the album a bit of a schizophrenic feel - somethng we're about to get rather more of. This is a good enough album, but there's a palpable sense that something needs to change. And interestingly, it was Mr. Marley himself who 'took one for the team', with a rather surprising next move int he band's development.

    The contents of this album come from the same mish-mash of Heartbeat releases as listed on Simmer Down and Other Hits. This rather generic album title was chosen mostly because in the mid-1960s, there were plenty of generic album titles like this, and the album didn't really have a lapel-grabbing standout to serve as a title track.

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