Rewind album: Uprising, by Bob Marley & The Wailers
Richard James Havis
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Since his death in 1981 from cancer, Bob Marley has been promoted as a thoughtful, introspective singer of radio-friendly reggae songs, and his dreadlocked image used as an emblem for peaceful co-existence.
But that description ignores Marley's interest in politics - he survived an assassination attempt in 1976 - and his fervent adherence to the Rastafarianism spiritual movement. In spite of his music's relaxed, laid-back style, these were the elements that fuelled his creativity, and the singer brought them to the fore on Uprising, his final studio album.
Although it does not contain any of Marley's most famous hits, Uprising has many interesting aspects. The highlight is Redemption Song, a track that could, spookily, have been written as his epitaph. Performed solo on an acoustic guitar, and reminiscent of John Lennon's self-confessional later work, Marley exhorts the listener to "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our mind". The line was taken from a speech by Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), who was considered a prophet by Rastafarians.
The song is a political lament, and stands in contrast to the more defiant lyrics of The Wailers' 1979 LP Survival, which featured a schemata of a slave ship on the cover. In Redemption Song, Marley urges us to look inwards to find freedom, proclaiming that freeing the mind is the first step towards emancipation. The refrain, "All I ever had/Was redemption songs", sounds like an American folk song, and is unique in Marley's work.
A version featuring a full band, which is surprisingly kind to the original cut, is featured on the remastered edition of Uprising. The song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, Joe Strummer, and - unfortunately - by Rihanna, who warbled it on the Hope for Haiti charity TV show.
Elsewhere, Forever Loving Jah is a hymn to Rastafarianism, the religion that held Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie I as a god. The song is beautifully sung, and benefits from groovy backing vocals from the I-Threes, which featured Marley's wife, Rita. Could You Be Loved is the catchiest, most radio-friendly track on the LP, and went to No 5 on the British singles chart.
The album, which was executive produced by Island Records' Chris Blackwell, still sounds tight and perfectly on the beat - it's not as laid-back as his previous work. But Marley's top-notch band, which featured reggae greats such as Junior Marvin on guitar, ensure it swings.
"Though Marley's vision on Uprising is fairly dark, the sound is full and bright, tinged with a lightness similar to the air-headed pleasures of [Marley's 1978 LP] Kaya," reviewer Chris Morris wrote in Rolling Stone magazine in 1980. Marley died the next year, and a posthumous LP, Confrontation, was released in 1983.