“Best of” albums released in 1984 included collections by Gil Scott-Heron, Herman’s Hermits, the Moody Blues, Parliament, Art Garfunkel, Dottie West, the Sugarhill Gang and a posthumous release of Bob Marley singles called “Legend.”
With songs recorded with Marley’s band the Wailers, “Legend” has since sold approximately 25 million copies, and is surpassed only by Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” as the longest-charting album in Billboard magazine history.
The current incarnation of the Wailers, marshaled by bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, is celebrating the compilation’s 30th anniversary by touring and playing the album in its entirety, with a stop at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades scheduled for March 20.
When Island Records executive Dave Robinson first contemplated assembling “Legend,” he reportedly was surprised by the low sales of the late Marley’s catalog (the musician died in 1981 of cancer at age 36). Subsequent marketing research indicated that reggae music in general – as well as the dreadlocked Jamaican’s stances on revolution, politics, marijuana and spirituality – were divisive.
So Island focused on pitching a softer side of Marley to the public, and succeeded. Marley’s “One Love” message (“One love, one heart/Let’s get together and feel all right”) has gradually spread throughout the world.
“Legend” may be considered “Marley Lite” by some hardcore fans, but its compassion, freshness and simplicity of expression have proven both infectious and timeless.
For attendees of the upcoming “Legend” fest, here are 10 informational nuggets to enhance the experience.
10. “Family Man” Barrett, referred to as “Fams,” is the only current Wailer to have played with Marley. He claims to be the architect of reggae, has unsuccessfully sued Island Records and Marley’s estate for royalties, holds down the bottom with a Fender Jazz Bass, and was given a lifetime achievement award by Bass Player Magazine in 2012. He says he has 41 children and 23 grandchildren that substantiate his nickname.
9. The rest of the current band includes Elan Atias and Koolant Brown, lead vocals; Keith Sterling, keyboards; Anthony Watson, drums; Audley Chisholm, rhythm guitar; Chico Chin, trumpet; Everald Gayle, trombone; and Brady Walters and Cegee Victory, background vocals.
8. “Legend” includes 14 songs from seven albums dating back to 1973’s “Catch a Fire.” “Exodus,” Marley’s first release after being wounded by Uzi-wielding assassins in 1976, and one of his least radical in temperament, is represented with five songs.
7. So many people know the words to the “Legend” songs that these concerts often become singalongs.
6. Marley wrote “Stir It Up” in 1967 for his wife, Rita, who was one of three backup singers in the band. The song was first made popular by Johnny Nash and appeared on his “I Can See Clearly Now” album. It’s a love song, not a call for activism.
5. Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” was also first a hit for another artist: Eric Clapton on his 1974 “461 Ocean Boulevard” album. Clapton had not heard of Marley when he was introduced to the song and did not want to release his cover because he thought it didn’t do the Wailers’ version justice.
4. In the documentary “Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend,” Marley’s former girlfriend Esther Anderson says “I Shot the Sheriff” was inspired by Anderson’s quest to acquire birth control pills while in England with Marley in 1973. She also says “Get Up Stand Up” was based upon Marley’s experiences during a trip to Haiti, where he was deeply moved by its poverty.
3. Rolling Stone Magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” lists Marley’s “Legend” at 46, “Catch a Fire” at 123, “Natty Dread” at 182, and “Burnin’ ” at 319.
2. “Buffalo Soldier,” from Marley’s final recording sessions in 1980, appears on the 1983 posthumous “Confrontation” album, and addresses the black U.S. cavalrymen who fought in the late 1860s Indian Wars as symbols of black resistance.
1. Some lyrics of “Redemption Song,” the final track on Marley and the Wailers’ ninth album, “Uprising,” are derived from a speech given by black nationalism and Pan African proponent Marcus Garvey. At the time he wrote the song, circa 1979, Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer in his toe, and was dealing with excruciating pain as well as his mortality.