Anniversary tribute to Bob Marley

Silvino Edward Diaz

Sept. 23 marks the 28th anniversary of Bob Marley’s final concert.

Played at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh in 1980, it’s when the live recording of the song “Redemption Song” took place.

It’s a distinctive highlight in his life. And considering it happened here in our Keystone State, it seems right to pay homage to the man also known as Tuff Gong – Nesta Robert Marley.

Marley is one of the most influential figures of contemporary Western culture. His “Exodus” album was named “Greatest Album of the 20th Century” by Time Magazine.

Some of his most celebrated records, “Get Up, Stand Up” and “No Woman No Cry,” were inducted into the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and 2005, respectively. And the BBC named his song “One Love” the “Song of the Century.”

“One Love” was also recently inducted into the Hall of Fame as a part of the ’07 class.

But all accolades aside, he is hard to miss. Marley is an institution, a global brand. When you think reggae, you think Bob Marley.

That’s probably due to the fact that Marley’s face is plastered on T-shirts, shoes, books, hats, graffiti, skateboards and tourism commercials for the Caribbean.

Fortunately for anyone interested, there’s a reality behind all those images, behind all those first impressions and behind those uncalculated guesses.

Beneath all that mess of mass production, there’s a core laying at rest in a sort of positive vibration.

And that’s the reason why we gather – the music. So let’s talk about the music.

Here are four albums and a compilation that best represent Marley along all the stages of his illustrious career as a musician and philanthropist:

“Wailing Wailers” (1965)

This is the first album released by The Wailers – the first of their eight albums together. This is pre-Lee Perry and pre-dreadlock Marley; therefore, it’s not signature Marley, – not bad, just different.

Also, if you haven’t yet listened to Wailer and Peter Tosh sing alongside Marley, you’ll enjoy this production. The arrangement of Wailer’s high, Marley’s lead and Tosh’s low vocals feed each chorus a strong dose of harmony.

“One Love” also makes its debut in this album, though Marley would reinvent it numerous times during his career. Favorite tracks: “Simmer Down,” “I’m Gonna Put It On.”

“Catch a Fire” (1973)

Marley’s Island Records debut, “Catch a Fire” was the Wailers’ breakthrough international release.

However, this album, like much of Marley’s work, still hosts a stirring political manifesto.

Songs like “Slave Driver” and “Concrete Jungle” continue to reinforce Marley’s passion for social commentary.

This is just another testament to Marley’s versatility.

Favorite tracks: “Kinky Reggae,” “Midnight Ravers,” “All Day All Night,” “400 Years.”

“Exodus” (1977)

In retrospect, Marley’s songwriting is healthiest on “Exodus.” Six of the 16 tracks included in “Legend” (his most successful compilation) are from this album.

Marley aimed for unconventional compositions; his records sound more like musical rituals foreshadowing Marley’s forthcoming socio-political crossfire.

And that’s why more of Marley’s Rastafarian doctrine reveals itself here.

The title track, which runs for more than seven minutes, mostly on the chant “movement of Jah people,” is a journey through the prophecies of the African exodus with a chorus so explosive, you’ll think you’re crossing the Red Sea with Marley by your side.

Favorite tracks: “Exodus,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Punky Reggae Party” (on Deluxe Edition).

“Confrontation” (1983)

This is the darkest of his albums. Its name and its cover – a portrait of Marley slaying a dragon – are indications of a militant Marley.

“Simmer Down,” released in 1965, was a cry for peace to the “rude boys” of Jamaica’s Trenchtown slums, while “Buffalo Soldier” and “Blackman Redemption” illustrate and challenge the nature of racial tensions worldwide.

And that sums up Marley at the end of his career – battered by a hungry illness and multiple assassination attempts, perhaps even a little belligerent, who knows?

It’s great music still.

Favorite tracks: “Chant Down Babylon,” “Blackman Redemption,” “Rastaman Live Up!”

“Bob Marley and The Wailers: Trenchtown Rock”

(Anthology ’69-’78)

While the compilation “Legend” is the most successful reggae album of all time, it is overplayed, and everyone knows it.

“Legend” may be Marley’s magnum opus, but “Trenchtown Rock” is the compilation that captures Marley in his most rustic form.

Most of the album is early reggae – you could hear the rocksteady in the background – and its 51 tracks are all conceptual.

Plus, the album includes older versions of many well-known records like “Sun is Shining” and “Natural Mystic.”

Favorite tracks: “Wisdom,” “Mr. Chatterbox,” “Mr. Brown,” “Rainbow Country.”

All reggae artists live – and will forever live – under Marley’s shadow.

Many believe that it’s because he seemingly invented the definitive reggae sound.

Even if you disagree with this statement, he is unquestionably the elder sensei.

Marley found a way to say the deepest of thoughts in the simplest of words; his lyrical compositions are brilliantly minimalistic.

Perhaps that’s the meaning of true poetry – universality; simplicity; and, of course, beauty.

We should all get to know him a little better.