Forty years ago, Bob Marley and The Wailers released the album that launched their career, Catch A Fire which will be rereleased by Commercial Marketing on vinyl on 25th September 2015. Catch A Fire was certified in the UK and was the start of a career where critical acclaim and commercial success were ever-present. It also introduced the world to Bob Marley, a man who was much more than a singer. Much more.

Poet, philosopher and political activist describes Bob Marley. He was someone who spoke up for the Jamaican people, someone who was a force for good and peace. Religion played  an important in his life. A devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley was a deeply religious and spiritual man.  Religion played an important part in his life. Bob Marley also played an important role in raising reggae music’s popularity.

Back in the 1970s’, Bob Marley was hugely influential in increasing the popularity of reggae music. Before that, although reggae music was something enjoyed by some people, it hadn’t crossed-over and gained mainstream appeal. Bob Marley were instrumental in raising reggae music’s profile. Catch A Fire was the album that launched Bob Marley and The Wailers’ career and was their debut album for a major record label. 

Catch A Fire was Bob’s first album for his new record label Island Records, owned by Chris Blackwell. Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell had first met in London in 1972, when Bob Marley and The Wailers were stranded in London. They’d entered in a deal with CBS Records, and gone on tour with Johnny Nash, the American soul singer. However, things went badly wrong, and Bob, stranded in London, thought he’d approach Chris Blackwell about recording a new single. Instead, Chris Blackwell said he wanted the group to record a whole album. This, at the time, was unheard of, but Chris Blackwell was adamant. He asked Bob how much an album would cost, and Bob said between £3,000 and £4,000. Blackwell gave Marley £4,000 and headed back to Kingston, Jamaica to record Catch A Fire.

Now that Bob Marley and The Wailers had the funds to record a new album, they headed for Harry J’s recording studio in Kingston. It had an eight track recording studio, the type that rock bands were using then. Again, this was a first, as previously, no reggae band had used such a facility. Blackwell wanted more than a reggae album, he said he wanted “more of a drifting, hypnotic-type feel than a reggae rhythm.” To achieve this, Bob travelled to London to oversee Chris Blackwell’s overdubbing of the tracks. Chris Blackwell had enlisted the help of Wayne Perkins and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, two American musicians. Wayne Perkins was responsible for re-recording some of the lead and rhythm guitar parts. John Bundrick meanwhile, added organ, synths, clavinet and electric piano to the UK mix of the album. Another of Blackwell’s decisions, was to lessen the heavy bass sound. Two songs were then left off the album. This “new mix” didn’t go down well back in Jamaica. However, music critics love the album. Their reception was positive, now the only people to convince were the record buying public. 

On Catch A Fire’s release in April 1973 it initially sold 14,400 copies. Although this wasn’t going to make Bob Marley a star, it had increased his profile and gained a good reception from music fans. Catch A Fire was hugely instrumental in launching Bob Marley and The Wailers. After Catch A Fire, the band embarked on a period where they released several classic albums one after another. Suddenly, after many years of trying, Bob Marley and The Wailers, were household names. One thing that saddens many people, is how the original Wailers weren’t part of this success story. They’d split up in 1973, tired of struggling for success. Little did they know in 1973, that success was just a year away.

One of the attractions of Catch A Fire for critics and music fans alike, were Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’ lyrics. Peter Tosh penned 400 Years and Stop The Train, while Bob Marley wrote the other seven tracks. Both Peter and Bob were socially aware and militant. Neither Bob Marley, nor Peter Tosh, were afraid of raising subjects and issues that would be deemed confrontational and controversial. Both wished for a future where people in Jamaica, and elsewhere, would be free from oppression. Their view of the world was an optimistic one, and this is apparent in the music on  Catch A Fire, which would eventually be successful.

The nine tracks on Catch A Fire showcase the talents of Bob Marley and The Wailers. On its release, it may not have been their most successful album. Eventually though, it was certified silver and launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Not only that, but Catch A Fire has stood the test of time well, and the messages within it, are as relevant today, as they were in 1973. You’ll realise that when I tell you about Catch A Fire.

Catch A Fire opens with Concrete Jungle. It begins somewhat hesitantly, with a guitar, rhythm section and organ combining. Quickly, the arrangement opens out. Tough, edgy and pulsating rhythms emerge as Bob delivers a heartfelt, frustrated vocal. Behind him, the arrangement has an understated quality, with a bass reverberating, an organ gently playing, drums steadily keep the beat. The track gently pulsates, as instruments emerge, joining and leaving the mix. A guitar soars, but is played subtly. One constant is the buzzing bass. It’s a feature of the track. Like all the tracks on Catch A Fire, the lyrics deal with important social issues. Here, the issue is the poverty and conditions faced by people in the poorer areas of Jamaica. Bob Marley highlights their plight in this poignant, moving song.

Slave Driver deals with the effrontery that was slavery, one of the most abhorrent shameful things in history. Bob Marley’s lyrics tackle the subject head on.  His vocal takes centre-stage, while the arrangement frames it. Drums and organ, accompanied by backing vocals, open the track. When Bob sings, he surrounded by reverberating rhythms, that sound melodic, yet the bass sounds slightly brittle. The arrangement has a similar understated quality to Concrete Jungle, it meanders along, never threatening to overpower Bob’s vocal. This suits the song, allowing the you to focus on Bob Marley’s vocal and his righteous anger  as he tackles one of of the most shameful and despicable things in history, slavery.

The militant Bob Marley can be heard on 400 Years. With its dark, heavy, sound, it’s very different from the two previous tracks. Even Bob’s voice sounds different, it’s deeper, there also is an edge to it. Maybe it’s because he’s airing his frustration and anger. Likewise, the arrangement is fuller. Back is that brilliant buzzing bass, accompanied by drums and guitar. Backing vocals provided by The Wailers are the perfect accompaniment to Bob’s vocal. They drench his vocal beautifully, bringing a real spiritual feel to the track. All of this, contributes towards a powerful track, which demonstrates both Peter Tosh’s talents as a songwriter and Bob Marley and The Wailers talents as singers and musicians.

One of the best known songs on the album is Stop the Train I’m Leaving, another song written by Peter Tosh. It begins with drums, guitar and organ combining, with the drums almost cracking, whilst in contrast, the organ is melodic as it meanders in and out of the track. When Bob sings, his vocal sounds strong, yet relaxed. His vocal sits right at the top of the arrangement. Behind him, one of the best arrangements on the album is emerging. A chiming guitar, throbbing bass, subtle drums, a dreamy melodic organ make a potent, musical combination. When you add Bob’s powerful, charismatic voice, you’ve the recipe for one of the highlights of Catch A Fire.

On Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby), we see another side to Bob Marley. Here we see his romantic side, on what is a much lighter, brighter track. This is apparent when the organ plays, gently and melodically. Drums play, they’re subtle, similarly, the bass is way back in the mix. Neither overpower the organ which is a constant presence, nor do they overpower Bob’s vocal. It’s very different, it’s gentler, the edge that was present on earlier tracks is gone. Instead this is Bob Marley the romantic, the lover. Quickly, Bob’s vocal is surrounded by the most beautiful arrangement on the album. It reverberates and chugs along, a magical musical combination, supplemented by some stunning female backing vocalists. 

Another track that may be familiar to many people is Stir It Up. This is one of the tracks Chris Blackwell changed, bringing in Wayne Perkins to redo the lead guitar on the track. As the rhythm section opens this track, a bass reverberates and drums play. They’re joined by Wayne’s guitar while the bass then throbs way down in the bottom of the mix. Bob’s voice sounds lighter and happier. By now, music is emerging in waves, beautifully washing over you. Although the guitar playing is of the highest standard, it sometimes overshadow other instruments. You’re drawn to solos, and miss other things that emerge during the track. Another guest artist is Tyrone Downie, who plays organ. His playing is understated and is much more suited to the track. Although Stir It Up is one of the album’s highlights, it would’ve been interesting to hear what the track sounded like before it was overdubbed by Chris Blackwell. Maybe, it would’ve been even better without the addition of the overdubbing lead guitar parts?

Kinky Reggae has a a lovely laid back feel to it when it begins. It just gently pulsates, as it emerges out of your speakers. Straight away, it’s beauty just washes over you, and envelops you. A glorious sounding track emerges, straight from the opening bars. The rhythm section play and as the track unfolds, Bob sings. His voice is much more relaxed, happier as he sings lyrics loaded with not so subtle innuendo. Backing vocals join in, they suddenly emerge, to accompany and compliment Bob’s vocal. With its laid back feel, a myriad of beautiful rhythms and melodies unveil themselves. That combination and Bob’s vocal make this a track to treasure.

It’s a combination of spacious sounding bass, drums and backing vocalists that open No More Trouble. Here the tempo, is slow, pedestrian even, laden with drama as the song opens out. There is spiritual sound to the backing vocalists, and eventually, when Bob sings, his vocal is equally spacious and dramatic. This track sees Bob sing about peace, and a cessation to trouble and war, which back then, was tearing his country apart. Behind him, the arrangement is understated and dignified. As drums and percussion punctuate the arrangement, they reinforce the lyrics, which succinctly, poetically and powerfully see Bob Marley get his message across.

Midnight Ravers closes Catch A Fire. It’s another of Bob Marley’s protest songs. Here, he was ahead of his time, when he wrote about the problem of pollution. A drum roll opens the track, a guitar plays, as the song meanders along. Backing singers join in. Then, when Bob sings he and his backing singers combine masterfully and melodically. Gone is the happiness and joy that was previously present in Bob’s voice. Instead, he sounds almost sad, as if saddened by the destruction he’s singing about, and it’s effect on everyone. Behind him, glorious rhythms can be heard, they play brightly. This is a complete contrast to Bob’s vocal. There is almost a darkness present in both his vocal, and that of The Wailers. No wonder, given what he foresaw. Here, Bob Marley is akin to a seer with a social conscience.

Catch A Fire was the album that announced Bob Marley and The Wailers arrival to the wider world. Before that, they were a huge success in Jamaica. Following Catch A Fire, their popularity spread far and wide. Although Catch A Fire didn’t match the success of later albums, including  Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, it’s an important album in Bob Marley and The Wailers’ back-catalogue, which was recently rereleased by Island Records on vinyl. 

Full of lyrics that are socially aware and militant, neither Bob Marley, nor Peter Tosh, were afraid of raising subjects and issues that would be deemed confrontational. Both wished for a future where people in Jamaica, and elsewhere, would be free from oppression. Their view of the world was an optimistic one. This is apparent in Catch A Fire’s lyrics. Although the subject matters are controversial, the music on Catch A Fire that’s no bad thing. Subjects like poverty, slavery and pollution all deserved to be tackled. The man to do that was Bob Marley. On Catch A Fire, Bob Marley and The Wailers tackled these subjects head on. Despite releasing an album of music with a social conscience, Catch A Fire wasn’t initially a commercial success.

On its release, Catch A Fire wasn’t a commercial success, selling only 14,400 albums. Eventually though, Catch A Fire was certified silver and launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Not only that, but Catch A Fire has stood the test of time. Catch A Fire is a timeless album. After that, Bob Marley and The Wailers released a string of classic albums, including Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya. These album may have been more successful, but since the release of Catch A Fire, it has been recognised as a classic album. 

Featuring Nine tracks,  with lyrics that are both militant and socially aware, Bob Marley deals with some of the problems affecting the people of Jamaica. Many of these problems affected people worldwide, and sadly, these problems persist today. In some ways, it was brave of Bob Marley to include such songs on Catch A Fire, as many people would be put of by his militancy. However, it was these subjects that made Catch A Fire what it is. That’s an important and potent classic album. To me, it’s one of Bob Marley’s greatest albums. Along with Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, Catch A Fire contains some of the best music Bob Marley and The Wailers records, is worthy of being called a timeless classic, with a social conscience. 





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