The Meaning of Bob Marley’s “Talkin’ Blues”

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    The Meaning of Bob Marley’s “Talkin’ Blues”
    Published: May 14, 2024

    “Talkin’ Blues” is an incendiary Bob Marley & The Wailers song from the 1974 album, Natty Dread. Consistent with the theme of the album, this is a song of revolution, a political weapon hidden behind a reggae rhythm. Here, Marley shows us that he is willing to live out in the streets and fight for what he believes in, which is freedom for the Jamaican people, and all people.

    There was also a Bob Marley compilation album released in 1991, called Talkin’ Blues, which featured live selections, studio cuts, and segments of interviews with Bob.

    For the purposes of this article, we are going to be discussing the song “Talkin’ Blues,” which is certainly a lesser-known, but quite powerful Bob Marley song that showcases his political side.

    “Talkin’ Blues” (1974)

    “Talkin’ Blues” Lyrics Meaning

    Chorus One

    Cold ground was my bed last night (bed last night)
    And rock was my pillow, too (doo-oo-oo-oo-oo!)
    Cold ground was my bed last night (bed last night)
    And rock was my pillow, too, Yeah

    “Talkin’ Blues” first chorus.

    This lyric is borrowed directly from the Lightin’ Hopkins song “Mojo Hand,” a classic blues song. By doing this, Marley places himself in conversation with American blues music, which first emerged as the voice of the oppressed people of the rural American South following the Civil War.

    “Mojo Hand” is also referenced in the Grateful Dead song “Ramble on Rose.”

    Chorus Two

    I’m saying, Talking blues (talking blues)
    Talking blues (talking blues)
    They say your feet is just too big for your shoes (shoe-oo-oo-oo-oo)
    Talking blues (talking blues), talking blues (talking blues)
    Your feet is just too big for your shoes (shoe-oo-oo-oo-oo)

    “Talkin’ Blues” second chorus.

    These lyrics are all about feeling down and out. When your feet are too big for your shoes, you are stuffed into place and it hurts to move around. The feeling is that you can’t really control it, and perhaps you are being talked down to by an authority figure. Either way, it’s a frustrating image.

    Verse One

    Yeah, I’ve been down on the rock for so long (so long)
    I seem to wear a permanent screw (screw-oo-oo-oo-oo)
    I’ve been down on the rock for so long (so long)
    I seem to wear a permanent screw (screw-oo-oo-oo-oo)

    “Talkin’ Blues” first verse.

    Bob Marley has been in this uncomfortable situation for so long that he has developed a permanent “screw,” which a scowl on his face that makes him seem unapproachable. This is a Jamaican slang term known as “screwface,” which is explained by Marley’s friend and collaborator Neville Garrick in a quote on the Slovakian blog, manik.sk.

    Verse Two

    But I, I’m going to stare in the sun
    Let the rays shine in my eyes
    I, I’m a going to take a just-a one step more
    Because I feel like bombing a church
    Now, now that you know that the preacher is lying
    So who’s going to stay at home
    When, when the freedom fighters are fighting

    “Talkin’ Blues” second verse.

    This verse is shockingly radical coming from an artist who has millions of listeners at beach resorts all over the Caribbean. Many people do not know that Marley was this kind of incendiary songwriter. He is seen as a loving hippie, which he was, to an extent, but he also stood up for what he believed in and was willing to die for it.

    What he believed in often went directly against the best interests of the Jamaican government, which put him in harm’s way more than once, including an attempt to silence him by assassination in late 1976.

    That lyric about bombing a church is really big in 1974. Anytime, really. But in 1974, to hear Bob Marley say that he wants to bomb a church was extremely out there. This is the kind of songwriting that put a target on his back.

    Conclusion

    Both of the choruses repeat here to end the song, but I want to end with some more thoughts about Bob Marley. “Talkin’ Blues” is powerful stuff, and in the modern age we don’t hear much about this side of him. He knew what he was doing here. He was truly stirring everything up.

    I think the fact that he was such a strong believer in the cause behind his music is the reason why he was able to also make the most loving, laid-back beach songs any of us have ever heard. He had the yin and the yang, the darkness and the light, and he lived it all with a genuine spirit.

    As an artist, the ability to be genuine, and communicate in a genuine way, is what sets apart the bubblegum pop stars from the musicians with lasting cultural impact long after they are dead.

    Bob Marley was a real one and “Talkin’ Blues” is one of the best examples of that.

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