APRIL 1973: With Catch a Fire, the band then simply known as The Wailers bridged the deep roots sound of Jamaica with the commercial rock music of the international market, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom. United.
Conducted by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer and recorded between three different eight-track studios in Kingston, Jamaica, Catch a Fire was produced in London by Chris Blackwell of Island Records.
The tracks – seven of which were composed by Marley and the other two by vocalist and lead guitarist, Peter Tosh – are a thoughtful and heartfelt collection, driven by a raw sense of urgency.
Speaking to Billboard in 1973, Marley compared his music to the blues, saying, “It tells the truth from the people’s point of view.” In catch a fireMarley and Tosh are brave with their language and delivery, whether it’s lamenting black oppression, calling for poverty uprising, or singing love songs.
The original 20,000 pressed vinyl comes in a sleeve, designed by graphic designer Rod Dyer, that looked and opened like a real Zippo lighter (above).
Copies of this original pressing have since become a collector’s item and the cover was reproduced for the 2001 deluxe CD edition, which includes the unreleased original “Jamaica version” of the album.
1. Concrete Jungle
Concrete Jungle features an unusually long intro for a reggae song – easing rock fans in with familiar electric guitar sounds, before the punchy bass and classic reggae beat kick in after 30 seconds. Later, it features a searing guitar solo from Muscle Shoals session guitarist Wayne Perkins.
The lyrics contain recognizable metaphors regarding darkness and lightness, recalling passages from the Bible and many aspects of Caribbean and Western culture. Concrete Jungle – or Jungle for short – is the unofficial name of a notorious housing project built in the early 1970s on the edges of Trench Town in West Kingston.
With this track, Marley gives a visceral commentary on the unhealthy aspects of city life, while shedding light on the very real place where his friends lived.
2. Slave driver
In Slave Driver, Marley and The Wailers continue to deliver a bold and meaningful message, giving a voice to some of their country’s most marginalized people and acknowledging how racism has continued to thrive within the structures of society.
Yet the beautiful vocal harmonies created by Marley, Tosh and Wailer mean that the listener may not even realize at first how political the song is. The title of the album – which means “to go to hell” – comes from this track, and is sung in the background as Marley tells the “slave drivers” with calm certainty that “the table is turning” and that they are “going to get burned” for their continued mistreatment of Africans.
3. 400 years old
Written and composed by Peter Tosh, previous versions of 400 Years of The Wailers were already well known in Jamaica – especially the one produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. It is a haunting song of social criticism, referencing slavery in many forms and highlighting the relentlessness of oppression with the repeated “It’s been four hundred years”,
in addition to scary choirs. Once again, the listener is invited to make the connection between past and present atrocities. But despite all the gruesome references, there’s also a hopeful side to the track with its reference to biblical Genesis 15, which believes that after 400 years of abuse, release awaits.
4. Stop That Train
Peter Tosh’s second track on the album, Stop That Train, is another indication of the success he was to have as a solo artist. Marley and Wailer’s rich vocal harmonies ensure this track stays in your head long after you stop listening to it.
The listener can sense Tosh’s sense of despair and grief with lines like “even though I tried my best/still can’t find happiness”. It’s a painfully sad subject, understood by many to be someone contemplating suicide – or at least someone leaving a home they once loved and tried to improve. But somehow, once again, the song seems to float and fade away with a sense of hope. In the last 15 seconds of the track, we hear Tosh mumbling “it must be better”.
5. Baby, we have a date (Rock It Baby)
Baby We Got a Date (Rock It Baby) is the album’s first love song, and it comes at the end of the first side of the original record – almost as a kind of reward for new international listeners who stick with it. the activism, and a promise of lighter content on the next side.
It features another appearance from Wayne Perkins on slide guitar, as well as backing vocals from Rita Marley and her friend Marcia Griffiths – a popular solo artist in Jamaica. This track has a sweet, positive sentiment, and is about someone looking forward to their scheduled date at “a quarter to eight”.
6. Stir it up
This hypnotic track is another that was already well known in Jamaica as a Wailers track, and became Marley’s first hit song outside of his native country. They first released Stir It Up in 1967, and in 1972 American singer Johnny Nash released a cover version which scored a Top 15 in the US and UK – perhaps encouraging Marley to dig it up. re-record for the next album. “Stir It Up” also features Wayne Perkins, once again, with a wah-wah-infused guitar lead. The lyrics are soothing and sultry and it was said that Marley originally wrote the song for his wife, Rita. It’s the longest song on the album – five minutes and 32 smooth seconds of the irresistible classic elements of reggae music – funky guitar, congas, keyboards and that steady, rocking beat.
7. Kinky Reggae
A laid back, upbeat song that remained a fan favorite and was almost always played at Marley’s concerts. Kinky Reggae, following the example of Stir It Up, is full of joy and requires the listener to indulge in good times and some serious skanking.
Fans have speculated about the messages in Marley’s lyrics in the track – it could be a coded story about drugs, a celebration of sexual promiscuity or a secret show of support for the queer community – but most critics agree that It’s about someone who can’t settle down and is full of positive vibes.
8. No more trouble
No More Trouble has few lyrics – the main ones being “We don’t need no more trouble”, repeated several times by Marley as well as in the moving harmonic backing vocals of Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths. Its beauty and power reside in this evocative simplicity.
A virtual collaboration with Erykah Badu was the first track on a 1999 remix album by hip-hop and rock artists, with production by Stephen Marley, called Sing Babylon.
9. Midnight Ravagers
With a classic Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett bassline pounding with conviction and driving the track forward, Midnight Ravers closes the album with a sense of optimism and perseverance. With the “don’t let me down!” repeated, Marley reminds listeners that he counts on them to help him spread the message of his music and be part of the positive change he sought to bring to the world.