In recent months, the already legendary Bob Marley’s music has been given a second wind of posthumous popularity thanks to one of the most unlikely sources. Heavily featured in the hit horror flick, and Omega Man remake, I Am Legend, Marley’s music became an almost unofficial soundtrack to the film. Beyond Marley’s music playing a role in the movie, Smith’s character offered a brief dissertation on the man himself, applying it to the context of the plot, stating that Bob Marley “believed that you can cure — actually cure — hate and racism by injecting it with love and music… Two days before Bob Marley was supposed to perform he was shot. Two days later he walked on stage and performed. They asked him in an interview why didn’t he rest, and he said, ‘The people that are trying to make the world worse never take a day off, why should I?’ Light up the darkness.”
Obviously, a blockbuster as big as I Am Legend is the perfect time to spark a resurgence in the popularity of Marley’s music, one born of curiosity from those on-screen lines. Combine a celebrity endorsement from Will Smith with the undercurrent of racial and class-structure tension, poverty, war, and the other symptoms of our turbulent times, and the need for meaningful music that has stood the test of time is all the more underscored.
With that in mind, there isn’t a more perfect time to release Another Dance: Rarities From Studio One chronicling Bob Marley’s early days with The Wailers. Recorded between the years 1964 and 1966 by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica, the disc contains a number of previously unheard tracks and original or re-worked songs already in the Marley catalog.
Preserved on Another Dance as a unified front are the original Wailers, with the three core members Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny “Bunny Wailer” Livingston standing alongside Junior Braithwaite and the group’s two female vocalists, whose voices are prominent on many of the tracks, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith.
While the musical offerings on this disc of rarities are very good, there are a few caveats to keep in mind in regards to the latest musical artist or group to receive the “recently unearthed” treatment. It’s slightly misleading to say that this is Bob Marley and the Wailers. It is Bob Marley and the Wailers, just not the Bob Marley and the Wailers most listeners are familiar with. This incarnation of the group is that of a collective finding its musical legs and starting to incorporate a new sound to an already popular style. Many of the political messages and social commentary that Marley, Wailer, and Tosh were known for are absent from these recordings. They’re not entirely missing, still heard on several tracks. However, the bulk of the material does not run with as much of the political messages and social commentary that Marley and the Wailers were known for. “One Love” is heard here on the rarities disc in one of its earliest incarnations, before it became the anthemic banner of the reggae movement. The same lyrics calling for unity of all mankind are present, but the arrangement is very different, with only the song’s basic melody remaining the same as in its most widely known rendition.
Another Dance is strictly for the Marley die-hards who are aware that he had a rather different sound before evolving towards the style he’s most known for, during both his career with the Wailers and as a solo artist. It also could appeal to those who are curious to hear evidence of this musical progression. Fans of his full-throttle, definitive reggae style will be thrown for a loop listening to Marley’s early stuff, which is slightly more R&B than straight-ahead rocksteady. There is a serious bent towards the ’50s and ’60s doo-wop sound ’60s on many of the tracks, with the Wailers utilizing the male and female harmonies in the group to their fullest potential.
The recordings featured on Another Dance are also not the clearest. Many tracks feature the fuzzy tones of decades old studio recording technology. While it’s far from sub-par, to those accustomed to hearing music in über-crisp high fidelity perfected to a gloriously homogenized digital sheen, it’s somewhat jarring to hear studio tracks jumping right off the tape and transposed with zero sweetening into digital format. However, it does authenticate the feel of being taken back in time and placing this phase of the group within its given chronology.
Once you get past all of that, there are some truly remarkable pieces on this album of unearthed treasures. “Don’t Ever Leave Me” is sweet and sincere-sounding, while “Ska Jerk”, which sounds eerily similar to Jr. Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun”, contains what may be some of the earliest examples of scratching and beat boxing on the track, giving the song a uniquely ahead-of-its time flavoring.
Many of the tracks pull from the popular Stateside music of the time period. “Playboy”‘s refrain seems to be lifted directly from “Twist and Shout”. The girl-group stylings of “Lonesome Feeling” could easily make you forget that this is Bob Marley and the Wailers and not Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. (Ironically, one of the earlier names of the configuration of the Wailers on this disc actually was “the Teenagers”.) Distinctively marking the track are the ska horns that provide its solid basis.
Another Dance serves as a remarkable piece of evidence in the musical evolution of Bob Marley and the Wailers. While it’s not evident upon the first spin of the disc that the horn-flavored doo-wop group heard here would eventually morph into the definitive force in reggae, listening closely, you can hear the faint rumblings of a new sound buried beneath the pop patina of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ early work.