Bob Marley & The Wailers – Natty Dread (1974)

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Community Music Reviews Bob Marley & The Wailers – Natty Dread (1974)

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  • 4
    Rank: Flurry
    Points: 20148

    Bob Marley’s Natty Dread, released in 1974, is my current choice for the best Bob Marley album. This album is at once supremely powerful and supremely chill. Marley and the Wailers strike a balance between incendiary songs and more peaceful, laid-back tracks, while weaving in a message of revolution and unity among the people.

    It opens with a battle cry at the start of “Lively Up Yourself,” which also happens to be one of the most easygoing, least political songs on the album. The track introduces a mellow mood with lyrics about dancing to reggae music before Marley gets into the true subject of Natty Dread: poverty, government oppression, and the power of music to unite the people.

    Then comes the famous “No Woman, No Cry,” one of Marley’s most popular songs (although the 1975 live version from the Lyceum gets more play nowadays). It’s a song about hope and remembrance of the little things that make life worth living, told through the lens of memories from Marley’s adolescence.

    After the first two positive songs, Marley gets into the meat of the subject matter with “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry).” While this may seem like a rich vs. poor song on the surface, it is actually a people vs. government song. He sings about the cost of living being too high, and the rich and poor banding together to protest the oppression. Woven throughout is Marley’s advice to forget about problems and dance to the music. This creates a juxtaposition, where on one hand he encourages revolution, and on the other, he encourages a party. It’s easy to see within this context why Marley remains so revered after all these years.

    Next up is one of my two favorite songs on the album, “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock).” This is a sleeper Bob Marley track that not enough people know about. This song is all about freedom and government oppression, told through the lens of being pulled over at a police roadblock and having to get rid of your pot stash. Set to war cries, Marley refers to reggae music as “Rebel Music,” and it’s just badass.

    “So Jah S’eh” is an anthem of unity, with lyrics about how dogs and cats can get together and be friends. Marley applies this to humans, of course, and suggests that all the people should be able to live together in peace.

    Marley gets back to the chill vibes with the title track, “Natty Dread.” This is a positive, laid-back song that’s all about traveling around with a head full of dreadlocks. Halfway through the album, it stands as a break from the heavy sentiment before getting to the weightiest song on the album, soon.

    “Bend Down Low” is another more easygoing song, this time about whimsical love with a danceable groove. It continues the vibed-out break, before we reach the crux of the album on “Talkin’ Blues.”

    While “Rebel Music” is a deep cut, “Talkin’ Blues” is even deeper, and in my eyes it stands as the single most powerful song on this album. It is also possibly Bob Marley’s single most revolutionary song. It calls out power figures for not being true to themselves and explains Marley’s absolute dedication to his message. Sleeping on the street, he has nothing to lose, and he feels boxed in. His “feet is just too big for his shoes.”

    He says that he will stare into the sun and become totally engulfed in the blindness. Not only that, he will go one step further, because he “feels like bombing a church / now that you know that the preacher is lying.” This is a pretty wild lyric to hear coming from the king of sunshine himself. And he sings it so casually that the average listener may not even hear the words. It’s absolutely genius work by Mr. Marley and it paints a much more vivid picture of him than what we most often see in pop culture.

    “Revolution” takes things up a notch and compares the coming revolution to the biblical trope of revelation, meaning the end of the world. It is pretty on the nose, directly warning listeners not to get involved in deals with politicians. It’s powerful, but “Talkin’ Blues” soars as the shining moment on this record.

    “Am-A-Do” ends the album on a more tender note, about love and relationships. It’s all about needing a certain special woman in his life, and how the sentiment is mutual.

    Overall, Natty Dread by Bob Marley & The Wailers is an artistic feat that manages to present revolutionary words in an accessible format. While some of the most powerful songs on the album are often glossed over in favor of the big hits, the whole album is worth a listen for the enhanced perspective on Bob Marley as an artist.

    Captain Trips
    Rank: Droplet
    Points: 32

    Oh man – the best Bob Marley album is a purely subjective question. There are times when I would agree with you that Natty Dread is the best. I love the raw vocal quality on this record. But, I’m also a huge fan of a lot of his other music!

    Did you know that he almost signed with Grateful Dead Records in early 1974? They talked about it on the latest episode of the The Good Ole Grateful Deadcast. With Natty Dread being released in ’74, perhaps this was the record that would have come out on Grateful Dead Records, had the deal gone through?

    Interesting food for thought.

    Rank: Flurry
    Points: 20148

    @JerryGarcia I saw that on social media a few weeks ago. That would have been really cool, especially if it led to either:

    A. Jerry sitting in with Bob Marley & The Wailers

    B. Bob Marley sitting in with Jerry or the Dead

    C. Jerry & Bob Marley duo

    Something tells me that Jerry Garcia and Bob Marley would have been fast friends. Natty Dread on Grateful Dead records is an interesting alternate timeline to imagine.

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