“Rise oh fallen fighters/ Rise and take your stance again./ ‘Cause he who fight and run away/ Live to fight another day”
— “The Heathen”
In December 1976, Bob Marley was rehearsing for the “Smile Jamaica” concert, a politically charged venue sponsored by the People’s National Party and their leader, Prime Minister Michael Manley. Marley only agreed with Manley to perform if there were no political overtones. He knew that his performance could be seen as a political statement and was hesitant to perform. A week after press releases went out for the event, Manley called an election. Jamaicans knew that the election could be swayed by a perceived endorsement from Marley.
A few days before Marley’s performance, gunshots riddled through his kitchen. His manager, Don Taylor, was shot four times in the groin. One of the bullets that missed Taylor ricocheted off a wall and hit Marley in the arm. His wife, Rita, was sitting outside in her yellow Beetle, and was hit by one of five bullets shot at her. She had to have a bullet removed from her scalp. Marley was treated and released, but both Taylor and Marley’s friend Lewis Griffith were critically injured.
A few days later, Bob Marley and The Wailers performed at the “Smile Jamaica” concert to offer words of peace to his country amid pre-election chaos. In his rebellious and defiant way, Marley sang to a crowd of 300,000. He even exposed his wounds to the crowd, struck a cowboy pose drawing imaginary guns and laughed. Then he disappeared and didn’t return to Jamaica for fifteen months.
While he was gone from his country of birth, he recorded Exodus. He named the album for the title track before he even finished writing it. The album was released in 1977 and stayed on the UK charts for 56 straight weeks.
There are a number of reasons for the landmark success of Exodus: it focused on more mundane aspects of everyday life without moving too far away from Marley’s earlier political music. It is possible that the underlying fear and the overwhelming passion of performing at a time when he was running for his life created the lyrical precision of the album. It seems clear that he knew he was living on borrowed time — four years, to be precise — and he wanted to be sure he made his mark. Of the five albums he released before his death in 1981, only Uprising (featuring “Could You Be Loved” and “Redemption Song”) came closest to the complete beauty of Exodus.
“I jus’ wanted ta play fe da love of da people.”
It is no wonder that Marley has become an international symbol of Jah strength, inspirational insight and, of course, reggae. Over the years, he has been elevated to iconic status and his importance to the musical world parallels that political relevance of African-American figures like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr. He achieved the balance of vulnerability with ferocious spiritual power on his thirteenth album. Exodus is an example of Marley’s love for music and the power of a good soul-soothing jam to change the world. On one of the defining albums of his career, there are both political affirmations of struggle and strife coupled with lyrics made for making love. He is not as fiery or pensive in his approach as he was on previous albums like Catch A Fire or Rastaman Vibration, but he still managed to create a solid (some would say unsurpassed) volume of good, spirited reggae.
On the remastered version of Exodus, he blends insightful poetry with a silky rasta-groove on “Turn Your Lights Down Low”. There are the songs that defined him as an international icon: “Jamming”, “Waiting In Vain”, “Exodus”, and “One Love/People Get Ready”. The unreleased tracks on this album are just as enticing and addictive. Who can help but to bounce or wind their hips when he croons on “Three Little Birds”: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing / Cuz every little thing’s / Gonna be all right.” The unreleased versions of “Waiting In Vain”, “Jamming”, and “Exodus” are a treat, if only because they offer more layers of Marley’s musical legacy. An alternative version of “Waiting in Vain” picks up the pace of the original, if only by half a beat. On two versions of the classic “Jamming”, you can feel Marley moving to the pulse of the flirtatious bass, even when he slips in a line intended to spite those who meant to end his life. Still, these versions are mostly mood-setting instrumentals.
The second disc of the set reflects Marley’s thoughts during his time of unrest. Of ten tracks, seven have never been released previously. They are live performances from the Exodus tour in London in June of 1977 and his sessions with Lee Perry later the same summer. On “Crazy Baldhead/Running Away”, Marley provides his sentiments on Babylon with a nonchalant yet piercing rendition that is almost ten minutes long. The same is true for the third version of “Exodus”, which is nearly 12 minutes long. One of the more inspiring tracks is “Keep On Moving”, which was penned by Curtis Mayfield in 1964. This is both a testament to the peace Marley made with his hiatus from Jamaica and the personal struggles he had at the time: “I’ve got two boys and a woman and I know they won’t suffer now / Jah, forgive me for not going back / But I’ll be there anyhow / Yes, I’ll be there anyhow.”
It is hard to get enough of Marley’s exploration of universal conflicts and impressionistic reflections. There is some nostalgia in his delivery, but there is also the utter flawlessness of his voice, the understanding that he was a legend in the making when Exodus was first released nearly 25 years ago. It was only a couple of years ago, in 1999, that Time Magazine voted Exodus the most important album of the 20th Century. This deluxe re-issue of the defining album of Marley’s career expounds on his relevance to contemporary culture. In two hours of bearing witness to bliss and brutality, to society, love and serenity, Bob Marley infuses new life into old classics. He proves that true legends may vanish from the public eye from time to time, that their presence seems to waver a bit as the world continues to turn. But real legends, real soul rebels never die, as long as their fans continue to love them.