Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation. – Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, in his eulogy to Bob Marley
Maybe it’s a cheat to include a greatest hits album in the Full Album Covers category, but when the suggestion of Legend was put forward, I was intrigued. Only as I started searching did I perhaps discover why this best-of was the album suggested, instead of Catch a Fire, say, or Natty Dread. One of Bob Marley’s “normal” studio, or even live, albums might have been, well, a much duller choice, actually. If not dull, then uninnovative and samey, because anyone can do karaoke, and by golly, there are a lot of copycat Marley covers out there! By focusing on Legend, at least there is opportunity to steer a little clearer of identikit versions.
Legend came out in 1984, seeking no more than to be a simple collection of the greatest hits of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It succeeded effortlessly in that aim, as it included all his 10 UK chart successes (3 in the US), and 3 earlier staples, well-known from live performances. Plus, arguably the showstopper, a solo Marley performance of “Redemption Song,” a powerhouse made up of just a ragged vocal and an acoustic guitar, latterly seen as possibly his greatest legacy, and certainly garnishing the largest number of cover versions, from Johnny Cash (see below) to the Fugees (likewise).
It may be hard to credit, but before Bob Marley, there was no such thing as reggae. Well, of course there was, but outside Jamaica and the odd novelty record, give or take the ska records that brightened up ’60s Britain, it was Marley (or probably his record label boss, Chris Blackwell) who must take responsibility for reggae becoming a distinct and distinctive genre worldwide. Although there had been a Wailers since 1963, it was only in 1972, when the band became signed to Blackwell’s Island Records, that the real taste of success came. (Ironically, it was when Johnny Nash, known for his version of Marley’s “Stir It Up,” left the Island label that Blackwell, seeking a replacement, came across Marley.) Between 1972 and 1981, the year of his death, Marley had hit after hit after hit, first in the UK, his appeal later crossing the Atlantic, and seemed a colossus. Indeed, since his untimely demise from melanoma, his star has risen still higher, bolstered by Legend becoming, to date, the 2nd longest charting LP in Billboard history, selling 33 million copies worldwide. It has appeared in a number of formats, but it is the original UK release I deal with here, although I would particularly draw to your attention the 2002 remasters that included a bonus disc of remixes and dub versions of the originals.
Right, hang on to your hats!
Corrine Bailey Rae – Is This Love (Bob Marley cover)
One of Marley’s sweetest songs gets slowed down by Rae; she also applies a hint of electronica to replace the bluebeat, making it more a yearning quest for affirmation, rather than the jaunty acceptance of the unfamiliar.
Londonbeat – No Woman No Cry (Bob Marley cover)
Uncertain whether this is great or appalling. The arrangement, never so ’80s, is certainly the latter. But the vocals, principally Jimmy Helms of “Gonna Make You an Offer” fame, are just perfect, at least to my ear. Very little reggae identifiable.
Shakespears Sister – Could You Be Loved (Bob Marley cover)
This relatively straightforward copy, allowing for some fairlight, is the product of the unusual duo of Siobhan Fahey, ex-Bananarama and ex-Mrs. Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), and Marcy Levy/Marcella Detroit, ex-Clapton backing singer. Deliriously and darkly weird on their own material, this is just two girls playing a song they love.
Gilberto Gil – Three Little Birds (Bob Marley cover)
Lordy, but don’t these Brazilians love their reggae, with this duly acclaimed singer/politician having covered many a Marley song. A delicate samba sway imbues the rocksteady beat with a beachside vibe that is slightly less saccharine than it may at first seem.
Flying Pickets – Buffalo Soldier (Bob Marley cover)
This lot, a bunch of “resting” actors, were huge in the U.K. for a brief window, based on a series of oddball choices of material, and a disparate image of varied edginess. Rather than impressing by their vocal prowess, which was maybe lacking within any conventional wisdom, the embellishments are, often as not, around vocalizing the instrumental lines. This is a live version, and, I suspect, you probably had to be there.
Sawa – Get Up, Stand Up (Bob Marley cover)
Back to Brazil and it’s bossa nova time, from the excruciatingly entitled Bossa ‘n’ Marley tribute disc of a few years back. Whilst losing the aggressiveness of the original, somehow it still suggests a call to arms, but only if you can exert yourself to finish that caipirinha first.
Kevin Geraldez – Stir It Up (Bob Marley cover)
I learnt early on the imperative of including a ukulele in every Cover Me covers list. I know nothing of Kevin G, but I think he captures the mood and then some. In fact, I could probably listen to this at least twice, such is the curse of novelty.
New Grass Revival – One Love/People Get Ready (Bob Marley cover)
Another staple, the bluegrass one, but don’t run – again, I think they nearly have it, as well as being the only group I could find appreciating the two songs are but one. OK, could do with a bit more manic fiddle and banjo breakouts, but at least they are trying. Very trying. *rimshot*
Jaco Pastorius/Bireli Lagrene – I Shot the Sheriff (Bob Marley cover)
Echoes of the Police in this, strangely, as the bass and guitar noodle frantically in competition, held together by some tidy drums. Almost restrained by Pastorius standards, arguably no bad thing (said not unkindly, as I’m a fan).
Jody Watley – Waiting in Vain (Bob Marley cover)
At last, some balls, as the ex-Shalamar singer redefines the song completely, this being the Ron Trent remix. Barely a nod to Bob, probably only as the chorus kicks in, but you can tell she ain’t going to wait long for anyone. You can bet there’ll be another one along in a minute, too.
Joe Strummer – Redemption Song(s)(Bob Marley cover)
Shame Johnny Cash never did this alone, as I think he nailed it in his aforementioned duet with Joe, but Joe alone is just fine by me, the accordion chords toward the end adding a poignancy to his own ragged voice, made all the more affecting by his own, too, premature death. (Or is that his own too-premature death?)
Lauryn Hill – Satisfy My Soul (Bob Marley cover)
No stranger to the preceding song herself, either alone or with the Fugees, again as mentioned above, this is a live rendition from last year. It’s OK.
Bill Laswell – Exodus (Bob Marley cover)
Not strictly a cover, being a remix, but heck, it’s so damn good, as is the parent record, that I had to include something from it somewhere. Laswell is somewhat of an ethno-musicological guru, to those in the know, with an extravagant back catalog, ranging from involvement with 80s quirkist outfit the Golden Palominos to bass heavy and dub-centric workouts with musicians from anywhere and everywhere in the world. (Forgive my feeble attempt to encapsulate such a prolific career in but one sentence; just glance at his discography!) Anyhow, “Exodus” is a track from his one of his occasional re-visitations of a single artists work, and I commend it: Dreams of Freedom: Ambient Translations in Dub.
5’nizza – Jammin’ (Bob Marley cover)
Saving me from posting the incredibly anodyne Yannick Noah version, along comes this Russian acoustic duo, with a loose rasp-through, with just a hint of how the original may have been, unplugged, making me wish we had more like “Redemption Song” available, without band and without backing. What do I know about ’em? Very little, save the name being, apparently, Russian for “Friday.”
I hope you found this an exodus worth undertaking. If nothing else, I have personally come out with a greater respect for Marley the songwriter and Marley the performer, familiarity having blunted the latter of late. These efforts, by and large, fail to surpass the originals, so, if I were you, I’d be nipping off to his Amazon page or his iTunes page and tapping in at source.