The Wailers

Island Records, 1975


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When Bob Marley & The Wailers released their debut album Catch A Fire in 1972, the minor success it received was a shock to many people. Reggae, after all, was not supposed to be a form of music which would have popular appeal. But the performances of Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (among the band members) were so good they won over many people.

So when their follow-up Burnin' came out one year later, they faced the task of topping their previous success. They did so, and did it well.

If this album is remembered for any song, it will be "I Shot The Sheriff," a song which would earn even more recognition for reggae when Eric Clapton covered it on his album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 461 Ocean Boulevard. A song whose meaning Marley never explained, it is a wonderful slab of reggae which explains why it was growing in popularity/ Another well-known hit, "Get Up, Stand Up," is a protest song hidden in a danceable beat. The message is clear: If you want to protect what you believe in, get off your ass - and dust yourself off if you fall down in the process.

If this album shocks in any way, it's that Marley et al. still display a bit of the "rude boy" image which characterized - in a sense - the precursor to gangsta rap. (In its defense, reggae in this style didn't negatively portray women.) "Burnin' And Lootin'" is possibly one of the most underrated songs of the early career of The Wailers - I often find myself skanking to its slinky rhythm when I'm listening to it in the Pierce Archives. In a lesser sense, "Small Axe" is a political song which almost calls for a "David And Goliath" effect.

If all of Burnin' was as strong as the songs I've mentioned, it might have been the reggae album bar none. But there are a few weaker performances. The level of energy and excitement found on the first half of the album is missing on most of the second - though songs like "Duppy Conqueror" and "Rasta Man Chant" are still enjoyable.

Burnin' brought The Wailers to a whole new level of success - yet it spelled the end of one chapter in their career as both Tosh and Wailer jumped ship. (Tosh pursued a successful solo career until he was murdered in 1987.) Marley continued the band under the name Bob Marley & The Wailers, and continued to make a name for himself as a bonafide superstar until his death from cancer in 1981.

If you're just getting into reggae and would like to know a good album to start with, Burnin' is a great place to start - it was the first reggae album I bought a long time ago. When a band can even make the weak songs interesting is a way to know that you're listening to something special.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.