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Music

A life in lyrics: The essence of Bob Marley in his 10 greatest lines

@TomTaylorFO

Over 40 years on from the death of Bob Marley he remains a spiritual numen for millions in every corner of the world. His words are lived by, and his music is lived along to. With wisdom, dreaminess and melody he changed the way we look at music, offering up so much, and asking only for our ears in return. He did this all in 36 years crammed with brimming creativity and fearless intent. 

Every single Marley song has one snippet of spiritualism. Even the melodies themselves and the way he played them with his trusted Wailers had an essential wisp of ethereal wistfulness about them. However, it was his words that made him an icon. With pointed poignancy, he tackled the ways of the world and man in a call for cognizance that proved bliss didn’t have to be ignorant. 

Below we have chartered his life in the words that he left behind. His legacy remains unimpeached and the lyrics he unspooled as naturally as though he was reading from a sermon already written have even more prescience in today’s world. Through ten of Bob Marley’s greatest lines, we tell the philosophy and life of a master. 

Bob Marley’s greatest lines: 

‘Concrete Jungle’

“No sun will shine in my day today, The high yellow moon won’t come out to play.”

While it may well be his philosophical wherewithal that most people think of when it comes to Marley’s songwriting, he had a very poetic way of putting it across. With his first major Island Records release, Catch a Fire, he opened proceedings with an elegiac look at being downbeat in Jamaica. 

The fact he chose weather to reflect this is a symbol of his view on the interconnectedness of all things. As he said himself, “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air,” and “if you listen you will hear.” Even when he wasn’t ostensibly being spiritual, this wind forever flowed through him. 

‘400 Years’

“So, won’t you come with me, I’ll take you to a land of liberty, Where we can live, Live a good, good life and be free.” (With Peter Tosh)

Marley wasted no time in delineating his message to his new-found global audience and was quick to declare himself as the guiding light of liberty. Without ever calling himself holier than thou, he simply dispelled a message of mercy and freedom for those who cared to listen.

He did this bold and fearlessly from the off. As he once passionately opined about his unwavering message of truth: “The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off—why should I?” Thus, he extolled his own kindly virtues and never looked back. 

‘Sun is Shining’

“Sun is shining, the weather is sweet, Make you wanna move your dancing feet.”

If you’re sat in any beachside bar anywhere in the world for long enough, Bob Marley will soon find his way into the speakers. He might not have even been added to the playlist, he’ll simply float in there naturally like the sound of the wind through the trees. His music calls for sunshine and he knew how to capture it in sound. 

Beyond the spirituality of his message, the sun and sea were part of the inherent iconography. His sound beckons you to relax and enjoy the free bounty of nature. If you listen to ‘Sun is Shining’ on a summer’s day and your toes aren’t tapping, then I can only assume they are suffering from cramp induced by the rest of his back catalogue. 

‘Positive Vibrations’

“If you get down and you quarrel every day, You’re saying prayers to the devils, I say.”

Marley’s music and the messages therein seem more prescient now than ever. In the age of online culture wars, his stance on telling people to stand aside and pursue their own spiritualism is a boon that we should all try to adhere to from time to time. 

These days, it seems so many people are quarrelling and so few are taking the time to be mindful which only adds to the raucousness of vying echo chambers. Marley asks you to acquiesce from arguing in ‘Positive Vibrations’ and be a bit more empathetic about the way you approach life. 

‘No Woman No Cry’

“And then Georgie would the fire lights, I say, Log would burnin’ through the nights.”

Another key component of Marley’s music was how well he painted a picture. Not only does the live version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ transport you to the sanguine crowd, but he also emotively paints you an expressionist vignette from his own life with tales of Kingston. 

These moments of personal storytelling colour his music with an unrivalled sense of sincerity. Many people have tried to preach with their music, but so few manage to genuinely make it feel like it is coming from a position of unfettered and hard-earned wisdom. And beyond that, it’s just a gorgeous thing to revel in too. 

‘Redemption Song’

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”

Marley made such good use of the English language that if you look up ‘Emancipate’ in the dictionary, this may well be the example of it being used in a sentence. You say the word now and it summons this sentence in a hot second—it is the tagline for musical mindfulness is many corners of the Earth. 

Folks like Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone and George Harrison have uttered similar sentences to great effect, but this almost became the meta mantra of Marley the man, and also his music. Simply put, this is as memorably iconic as musical lyrics get. 

‘Trenchtown Rock’

“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”

Another magic factor of Marley’s work is how seamlessly he wove his wisdom into melodies. The line above seems like an epitaph or the sort of considered quote that might open a book, but he works into ‘Trenchtown Rock’ without skipping a beat of shifting a note out of shape. 

Sure, Marley was a spiritual numen, but he was also foremost a musician and a masterful one at that. His wisdom was coupled with beautiful skill which upheld the magic of the statement itself—his music could wallop you with a marble uppercut and you’d still just float a few feet higher than before you dropped the stylus into the groove. 

‘Zion Train’

“Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, Wisdom is better than silver and gold.”

Throughout his life, Marley lived by the practices he preached. In fact, he was once asked by an interviewer whether he had become rich as a result of his recent successes and he replied: “What do you mean, rich? A lot of money in the bank? Possessions make you rich? I don’t know that type of richness, my richness is life.”

He never changed his philosophy on this one iota and refused to be swayed by any notion of celebrity lifestyle or commercial appeal. As he once said outside of song: “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

‘Three Little Birds’

“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little is gonna be all right.”

Another mantra that defines the man. This line is one of the first that you learn by memory when first getting into music and you never forget it. It is so precise that it has almost subsequently become a cliché, but that has done little to erode its pointed profundity. 

It’s a cup of tea in lyrical form: simple and understated but unmistakable. And behind the couplet is a story that makes it even sweeter; as Marcia Griffiths of the backing vocal trio I Threes once explained: “After the song was written, Bob would always refer to us as the Three Little Birds. After a show, there would be an encore, sometimes people even wanted us to go back onstage four times. Bob would still want to go back and he would say, ‘What is my Three Little Birds saying?’”

‘Pass It On’ 

“Live for yourself, you will live in vain. Live for other, you will live again.” (With Bunny Wailer)

Marley’s legacy has lived on beyond his tragic passing, and this line just about sums it all up—he lived a fearless and selfless life and as such his spiritualism has endured. If anything, his message has even been amplified as his music spreads around the world. The star is still selling records in far-flung corners like Vanuatu never mind your local record store. 

As his own personal mantra read: “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”

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