Global Week: What Millennials Should Know About… Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Exodus’

VIBE revisits Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus LP for Global Week

Bob Marley & The Wailers
Exodus (1977)

Most Slept On: While it’s easy to sing the proverbial praises of Exodus’ string of radio staples—“Jamming,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” “Three Little Birds,” and One Love/People Get Ready”—it’s the fiery righteousness of “The Heathen” that remains one of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ most underrated statements. This is straight-no-chaser music for the underclass; the battle weary poor and disenfranchised under the thumb of the rich and powerful.

“Rise up fallen fighters/Rise and take your stance again/It’s he who fight and run away/Live to fight another day/With de heathen backs up on the wall!,” Marley proclaims over a simmering groove that sounds like the drum up to payback. “The Heathen” exemplifies Marley’s rare gift for writing clear, concise and deadly serious unpretentious message music for the masses. Jah protects and rules.

Lines Best For Status Updates:
—“Woe to the downpressors/They will eat the bread of sorrow/Woe to the downpressors/They will eat the bread of sad tomorrow” (“Guiltiness”)
— “Cause if summer is here, I’m still waiting there/Winter is here, and I’m still waiting there” (“Waiting In Vain”)
—“Turn your lights down low/Never never try to resist, oh no!/Oh, let your love come shining in—into our lives again/Sayin’: ooh, I love ya!” (“Turn Your Lights Down Low”)

Bet You Didn’t Know: Marley wrote the smoldering torch song “Waiting In Vain” for Cindy Breakspeare, the young and criminally gorgeous woman who was crowned “Miss World” in November 1976. The hopeless romantic, Rasta Man was involved in a very public affair with Breakspeare while he was still married to celebrated I Threes vocalist Rita Marley. Two years later, the stunning beauty queen would give birth to future reggae standout Damian Marley.

Synopsis: There is a reason Exodus boasts the most tracks on Bob Marley’s seminal greatest hits package Legend. Declared by Time as “the best album of the 20th century,” the reggae singer-songwriter’s ninth studio work transformed Marley from unlikely crossover triumph to larger than life global icon. The first side of Exodus boils with sneering fire-and-brimstone rebuke against the powers-that-be while the second side is a celebration of good times, love and sex. And for good reason.

In late ’76, Marley and Rita survived three assassins bullets after shooters barged into the singer’s compound, an attack spurred on by dangerous and bloody warring between Jamaica’s political parties—the JLP and the PNP. Marley had agreed to perform at a free concert dubbed Smile Jamaica, but because of his own socialist beliefs many viewed the show as a co-sign for Prime Minister Michael Manley’s Cuba-backed People National Party. Marley distanced himself from any such ideas even turning down requests to support rival Jamaican Labour Party headed by Edward Seaga.

This would ignite a headline-making attempt on the powerful artist’s life that would have a profound impact on the recording of Bob Marley & the Wailers follow-up to their 1976 work Rastaman Vibrations. “One brandished two automatics like he was Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come,” Vivien Goldman wrote in the definitive read The Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Album of the Century, chronicling the events surrounding the making of the classic release. “They fired round after round, the sound deafening as the kitchen became a battlefield. The bullet aimed at Bob’s heart instead smashed into his upper arm. Later, Bob was advised that an operation to remove it carried the risk of loss of control of his fingers, so the lead would stay there till he was in his coffin.”

Already disillusioned by his native island’s fractured social, political and economic state, Marley bolted from his beloved Jamaica and poured his anger into the London Exodus sessions, which began in late ’76 and ended in April of ’77. When he returned from exile, Marley made his boldest public statement yet. Against the wishes of friends and family, a visibly scarred, defiant Bob Marley & The Wailers performed their now legendary April ’78 set at the One Love Peace Concert, even calling up the leaders of both parties to publicly embrace.

During the Jamaican elections, Michael Manley’s trumpeted his campaign slogan: “We know where we’re going.” Marley’s two-fisted response? “Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied with the life you’re living?/We know where we’re going, we know where we’re from/We’re leaving Babylon into our father’s land.” All that, and Marley still had time to write some of the most gorgeous love songs of his career. Epic stuff.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

You can cop Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus LP on iTunes here.