In a previous article about Bob Marley and The Wailers I mentioned how Natty Dread was the album that provided Bob Marley with his first hit single, No Woman, No Cry in the US. I also mentioned in that article, how it was the first album he released as Bob Marly and The Wailers, instead of as The Wailers. By the time Natty Dread was being recorded, his two former bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer had left the band. They’d tired of struggling to achieve success, and decided to leave the band, becoming solo artists. Another change was the addition of The I-Threes, three female vocalists, who included Bob’s wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Their addition was a masterstroke, as they provided backing vocals on many of the band’s tracks, bringing a beautiful soulful sound to the music. When the album was released in October 1974, it reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 200, which was the highest chart placing for any of Bob Marley album so far. The album was both political and spiritual, and since its release, has been recognized as one of the most important albums Bob Marley ever recorded, and is included in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. However, what makes Natty Dread such a great album? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Natty Dread opens with Lively Up Yourself, a track that celebrates skanking, a form of dancing, reggae and sex. It opens with a bass booming loudly, accompanied by organ and percussion, before Bob sings. When his vocal enters, it’s a joyous celebration of good time living, accompanied by chiming guitars and drums. The arrangement isn’t that full, but gets over the joyous times that Bob has been having. During the track, the bass line is prominent, guitars chime brightly and later, the brass section help fill out the arrangement, with blazing horns and a sultry saxophone. A combination of Bob’s joyous vocal, and an arrangement made all the better by strong rhythm and brass sections, make this a good track to open the album.

The single that gave Bob Marley his first hit single in the US, No Woman, No Cry is next. It begins with an organ playing atmospherically, accompanied by bass before Bob gives a heartfelt vocal, as he nostalgically looks back at growing up among the poverty in Trenchtown. Guitars, rhythm section and organ combine to accompany Bob, whose vocal gets slightly quicker, and is accompanied by backing vocalists. This version is very different to later versions by Bob, and for me, is the definitive version. This is because of Bob’s heartfelt vocal, and the accent he uses as he sings it. He sings it as if back in Trenchtown, and the arrangement is both sympathetic to the vocal and never overpowers it. To me, it’s a track laden in atmosphere and nostalgia, that give the listener an opportunity to discover what life was like for Bob before he found fame and fortune. 

Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) sees Bob fire a warning shot across the bows of the nation’s leaders, as he warns of leaving the poor hungry. He warns “that a hungry mob is an angry mob.” It’s a track that shows Bob at his most political and in the process, he produces a hugely melodic track. Much of this is thanks to the addition of the I-Threes, the female vocalists who open the track singing sweetly and soulfully accompanied by the rhythm section and guitars. The tempo is slow, and Bob’s vocal is slow, clear and spiritual accompanied throughout by the I-Threes. Behind him, one of the best arrangement unfolds. It chugs slowly along, with the rhythm section at its heart, with guitars interjecting throughout. However, by the end of the track it’s Bob and the I-Threes who make this such a good track, together with some hugely powerful and political lyrics, which are as true today as back in 1974.

Bob wrote Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock) after being stopped by the police late one night, and again, he foresaw the problems that this type of “stop and search” tactics could have. They could lead to people turning against the police and authorities and have a revolution. The rhythm section, I-Threes and harmonica open the track, which has an atmospheric sound, thanks to the rhythm section and harmonica. The I-Threes provide a contrast, with their soulful vocals. When Bob’s vocal enters, he’s angry and upset at his treatment by the police. He portrays this anger well, and forecasts what might happen. Meanwhile, the band play slowly, producing an arrangement that’s the perfect backdrop for Bob’s lyrics. There’s a darkness and broody atmosphere throughout, thanks to the bass and harmonica. Here, Bob’s vocal and lyrics speak for those who were mistreated by the authorities in Jamaica at this time. He sings passionately, with anger, annoyed and upset at the treatment he received, and becomes a spokesman for the oppressed and poor. This is one of the best songs on the album because of his vocal and lyrics, which are outstanding.

So Jah Seh is one of the spiritual songs on the album, and at this time Bob was becoming increasingly interested in the Rastafarian religion. It begins with percussion, brass and rhythm sections and organ combining. The tempo is slow, there is a broodiness in the arrangement. Bob’s vocal has a warmth and spiritual sound as he sings the lyrics, although his vocal is slightly overpowered by the arrangement, especially the brass section. Here the arrangement is much fuller, with the rhythm and brass sections, guitar, percussion and organ all contributing towards an arrangement that is transformed from a broody sound at the start, to a much brighter almost joyous celebration of spirituality. Combined with Bob’s vocal and lyrics, this is a potent combination, and a track that demonstrated and celebrated the newfound spirituality of Bob Marley.

The title track Natty Dread is another reference to the Rastafarian religion, and is an idealized embodiment of the Rastafarian movement. It’s the rhythm and brass sections that open the track. Horns blaze, before Bob’s vocal, accompanied by the I-Threes enter. Horns play throughout the track, while a bass sits low in the mix, as the track drives along. Again, Bob’s vocal has a strength and spiritual sound and feel, while horns rasp and blaze and the I-Threes soulfully accompany him, with short sharp bursts of vocal. During the track, the arrangement is much fuller and has a bright and melodic sound, with the horns, rhythm section and the I-Threes at the heart of the arrangement. Here, the arrangement was perfect for Bob’s vocal, allowing his vocal and lyrics to shine, on another track that reflects the importance of religion in his life.

Bend Down Low is a track that shows the romantic side of Bob. It begins with the rhythm section, guitars and organ playing. The sound is a mixture of dull and bright, with the bass and organ producing the dullness and percussion and guitars contributing light. When Bob sings, his voice has a joyous sound. As he sings, one of the lyrics is “you reap what you sow” a quotation from The Bible, again demonstrating his spiritual side. The track moves along reasonably quickly, and sees the I-Threes sing backing vocals, and the arrangement is much fuller. This is a very different track to previous ones, which are either political or spiritual, and are a taste of things to come on later albums. It demonstrates Bob’s versatility as both a singer and songwriter, and features a joyous vocal from Bob.

When Talkin’ Blues begins it’s drums and guitars that open the track, combining to produce a lovely bright sound. Quickly, drums and bass combine, when Bob sings, accompanied by the I-Threes. Bob’s vocal is atmospheric and heartfelt and made all the better by the I-Threes singing backing vocals. A harmonica plays, as the arrangement chugs slowly along, with horns subtly playing. Here, Bob is back to his political best, providing a voice for the poor and oppressed. It’s a lovely slow song, with a great vocal and soulful backing vocals from the I-Threes. Combined with some great lyrics from Leco Cogil and Carlton Barrett, this is a great track with a slow, atmospheric arrangement. 

Natty Dread closes with Revolution, another political song written by Bob. It begins with drums and blazing horns setting the scene for Bob’s passionate vocal, which is accompanied by the I-Threes, who play a big part in the track. Bob, when he sings, sounds as if he’s suppressing anger and frustration as he sings about wanting people to be free. Here, he vents his anger and frustration at his country’s leaders, backed by a driving rhythm, blazing horns and soulful backing vocalists. Here, you can’t fail to be inspired by his vocal, and empathize with his anger and frustration at the way people were oppressed and mistreated. To me, this is easily one of the outstanding tracks on the album, as Bob’s vocal is laden in passion, anger and frustration. He spoke up for the poor and oppressed, gave them a voice through the medium of music, and made the world aware of his country’s problems. Revolution features, a great vocal and lyrics, and one of the albums best arrangements. It’s an outstanding track to end a great album.

Having spent some time listening to Natty Dread and researching the background to the album, this was an important album for Bob Marley for several reasons. Obviously, it gave him his first hit in the US with No Woman, No Cry, and helped him to break him in the US and thereafter, he became hugely popular there. However, it showed both the political and spiritual side of Bob. On this album, he sings of the problems facing people in his home country, and the poverty and oppression they were suffering from. By then, he was politically active and both angry and frustrated at what was happening in Jamaica. This album allowed him to tell the world about these problems. At this time, he was also becoming much more involved in the Rastafarian religion, which was playing an important role in his life. Several songs on Natty Dread saw Bob celebrate his spirituality which as his career progressed, became even more important to him. Natty Dread was the album that helped make Bob Marley a huge star, and it featured ten great songs, where he and The Wailers sing and play brilliantly. This is an outstanding album, easily one of the best Bob Marley and The Wailers albums. if you’ve never heard it, I can thoroughly recommend it, as it features ten great songs, played and sung with passion by Bob Marley and The Wailers. Standout Tracks: No Woman, No Cry, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock and Revolution.


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