Ruby: 40 Years of Exodus

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Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus

Released June 3rd, 1977 on Island Records

RYM:  #367

BestEverAlbums:  #240

The Wailers were an early ska group, originally, forming in 1963 and featuring Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh.  Seven albums later they’d morphed into the premier reggae act in their native Jamaica, but as usual with these sorts of things that just meant major change was around the corner.  Wailer and Tosh left in 1974; Marley put together a new version of the Wailers for 1976’s Rastaman Vibration while both Wailer and Tosh released their own solo albums (Blackheart Man and Legalize It, respectively, both reggae classics in their own right).  Rastaman Vibration became a major success, scoring a berth in the Billboard charts (hitting #8) and, in “Roots, Rock, Reggae”, Marley’s only American Top 100 hit.  Then, in December of 1976, Marley and his wife were shot at in an assault that likely had political motivations, since Marley was scheduled to play a concert that was a de facto rally for Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley.  Despite his injuries, Marley played the show as scheduled, because he was about as badass a performer as you’re ever likely to find.  Following this incident, however, Marley decamped to London, where he would remain in exile for two years.

Exodus was the first result of being holed up in London, and it is thought by many to be his finest album.  Certainly his career retrospective, Legend (a staple of every dorm room, head shop, and activist squat since time out of mind) features more songs from Exodus than any of his other albums.  There are a huge number of stone classics featured here:  “The Heathen”, “Exodus”, “Jamming”, “Turn Your Lights Down Low”, and “One Love/People Get Ready” are all signature tracks.  Part of it’s appeal at the time was how different it was from the reggae music coming out of Jamaica in the late 1970s.  Exodus was more laid-back, with an increased focus on piano tones and freer, lighter beats.  There were elements of rock ‘n’ roll (especially with regard to Marley’s guitar playing – check out those opening licks on “Natural Mystic”) and the then-white-hot funk scene.  The only real connection to the reggae scene that Marley had exiled himself from was a nod to the rhythm and the liquid nature of the pulsating bass lines, something that could have been borrowed from funk music if Marley hadn’t already come from the reggae world.

It was this melding of reggae tinges with rock, funk, and blues motifs that drove Exodus, like it’s predecessor, into the Billboard charts and made an international superstar out of Bob Marley.  He would be dead within four years, a victim of a malignant cancer that first manifested itself in a tumor under his toenail in the same year that Exodus was released.  His final words – “Money can’t buy life” – are a clear statement of truth in a world increasingly bent on driving the capitalist machine into overdrive and then collapse.

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Ruby: 40 Years of The Clash

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The Clash – The Clash

Released April 8th, 1977 on CBS Records

BestEverAlbums:  #174

RYM:  #224

1977 is widely regarded as “the year punk broke” and there are several reasons for this.  The Ramones released their second album earlier in the year, as we discussed.  The Sex Pistols would release their only real album later in the year.  Between the two, though, is what I feel to be the real heart of punk rock:  The Clash.

That’s maybe a controversial thing to say (although, not really) for a few reasons.  For one, the candy-coated third wave of punk that broke into the mainstream in the mid-1990s (which, unlike “grunge”, actually called itself punk rock) was built on pure waves of the Ramones and the more melodic part of the Buzzcocks.  The only real antidote to that, for kids with access to a radio and little else (weren’t those the days) was Rancid, who were by and large a Clash cover band.  Even still, the band didn’t get the sort of legendary status in the 1990s as other bands from 1977 did.

I once went wandering (mostly drunk) with a few friends through a Laurier Brantford residence called The Post House; it was night and we were friends with the RAs, so this sort of thing was fairly normal.  We got caught up in a conversation with some of the freshmen about music and the subject of punk rock came up.  “Oh yeah!” one of them shouted.  “Punk rock is awesome!  The Sex Pistols rule, they started it all!”  This got me started on a lengthy rant about how the Sex Pistols were the Backstreet Boys of punk, a group of fashionable chatterheads put together by a merchant to sell safety pins to well-heeled slumming Londoners.  The Clash, I said, The Clash were what punk rock was meant to coalesce around, because they were strident, political, in touch with the down-and-out working class, and rocked harder than anything else out there.  This sounds like total /r/thathappened material but I swear to god it’s true, this was before I learned that if I wrote my stupid opinions down they might seem less obnoxious.

Still, at the risk of sounding like a cut monologue from SLC Punk, The Clash weren’t posers like I felt (and to an extent still feel) the Sex Pistols were.  Johnny Rotten and friends were the original edgelords, dressing provocatively and flashing swastikas like it was the coolest thing since the electric guitar.  The Clash didn’t need flashy imagery and hip fashion trends to telegraph their seething rage – that’s what the songs were for.  From the beginning, people derided punk rock as music for people who couldn’t play their instruments or write songs, but The Clash could do both, and well.  They embraced reggae right from the beginning as well, injecting a diversity into the genre that it would have floundered without.  They also weren’t afraid to get back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, a sound that they would later embrace whole-heartedly on London Calling.  The mixture has galvanized bands ever since, and chances are if you see any of those rockabilly folks drinking their hipster beers at places like the Cadillac Lounge, they’re Clash fans deep down.

The only real question, once the brilliance of the album has been established, is which version?  The original British release kicks off with “Janie Jones”, a thundering rocker about an infamous London madame.  The American release starts with “Clash City Rockers”, a dead ringer for the Who’s “I Can’t Explain”.  The American version also has several key songs that the British version lacks:  “Complete Control”, a somewhat toned-down version of “White Riot”, a cover of “I Fought The Law”, the early rocker “Jail Guitar Doors”, and the ultimate Clash reggae tune, “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”, which sets out a clear anti-violence, pro-racial unity, pro-socialist message, three things that The Clash and their descendants would go on to enshrine as gospel.  The songs these would replace (“Deny”, “Cheat”, “Protex Blue”, and “48 Hours”) are simply not as good as the tracks included on the American version, so…the American version wins.

The band would of course go on to loftier heights (London Calling is often included in discussions of The Greatest Album Ever Made) but The Clash 1977 is the real root of both their later sound and the whole of punk rock.