Comparisons with reggae were rife following the emergence of punk, and it’s straightforward to comprehend the reasons why. After all, they told real stories from the heart of the people, and both respective scenes similarly ruffled feathers, but it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t have caught Bob Marley donning a leather jacket and listening to ‘Pretty Vacant’.
Both movements were a response to fighting back against authority, but, musically, the similarities were sparse, and it’s challenging to draw any parallels on that level beyond their shared social consciousness.
Additionally, their world views were also different due to the contrasting climates that made them. What mattered to Johnny Rotten isn’t necessarily the same causes of significance to Marley, but that didn’t stop the Sex Pistols singer from connecting with dreads.
The Clash famously infused elements of reggae into their sound, and they weren’t the only punk group that mined inspiration from the Jamaican-born scene. When Rotten appeared on Capital Radio in 1978, he played a selection of tracks from the genre. One of the tracks he aired was Dr Alimantado’s ‘Born For A Purpose’, and the frontman also explained why he felt they were kindred spirits.
“Just after I got my brains kicked in (referring to being attacked for ‘God Save The Queen’ by royalists), I went home and played it,” he revealed. “There’s a verse in it: ‘If you have no reason for living, don’t determine my life.’ The same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread.”
Contrastingly, Marley didn’t feel that same intense attachment towards punk that the British punk bands felt towards the movement which he spearheaded. When probed on his thoughts on the genre, Marley once told Hot Press in 1978, “Yeah, we listen to other music, man. All music, we listen to. We listen to Barry White. We listen to Issac Hayes. Also Earth, Wind and Fire. We listen to all black artists, man.”
He then continued to reel off more names and added, “Yeah, we listen to most people we get from Island. Stones and people. And Jefferson Starship, The Eagles and an’ all of them.”
Marley then discussed the spiritual link between punk, and reggae, which elicited this response from Marley, “I couldn’t really stop the snow, you know? It’s a mystic association. No comment. I never really hear a lot of punk music, y’know?”.
Although he didn’t listen to any punk groups, Marley could appreciate that they were fighting back against the powers that be, which was sufficient to earn his respect. “It’s great ‘cos a punk feel that English society do them no good. They want them roots,” he commented.
Marley’s opinion is a fair representation of the interrelation between punk and reggae, which wasn’t an equal one, with the latter inspiring the former rather than a two-way street. Nevertheless, the singer could appreciate anyone willing to fight the good fight and using music to make the world a fairer place.