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Music

What John Lennon thought about Bob Marley

@SamWKemp

As the man who sent the sound of reggae spinning around the world, Bob Marley became the living breathing embodiment of one of the 1970s most innovative genres. His music was celebrated by some of the world’s most successful artists, including Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles’ John Lennon.

Lennon and Marley had a lot in common. Both were vocal activists and advocates for peace. Despite their vastly different upbringings, John and Bob were both adopted as modern-day messiahs, musicians with the countercultural clout of political leaders. In death, they became God-like figures and are continually held up as examples of normal citizens who went on to be incredibly influential figures.

But Lennon wasn’t thinking about any of that when he played some of Bob Marley’s music on a radio show in the 1970s; he was thinking about the music. By the ’70s reggae had become immensely popular, especially in the UK, where it was swiftly adopted by radio stations, musicians, and fans alike. Its popularity was, in part, thanks to the readiness with which it was accepted by cultural gatekeepers such as Lennon.

On his radio broadcast, Lennon attempts to introduce the reggae sound to an uninitiated audience. “This is nowhere near the subtlety of ‘Get Up Stand Up,” Lennon begins, “But it’s one of Bob Marley’s very early pieces, and you can hear the guitar and the bass not only doing work together but some very smart complimentary stuff. It’s more clever than we’ve got, but we’ll give you an idea of how beautiful it can be.”

Lennon never got the chance to meet Marley, but George Harrison did. Like Lennon, the former Beatles guitarist was a huge fan of Marley’s music. On July 13th, 1975, he was invited backstage to meet the man himself after a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles. Very few details about their meeting exist, but it’s said that when Marley was told Harrison was coming backstage, he lit up a joint and exclaimed “Ras Beatle!” A photo of the meeting – in which Harrison is holding a joint – would suggest that George also had a toke or two.

Judging from a short radio interview Marley gave during one of his visits to the US, the reggae superstar was also a fan of The Beatles. On being asked if he ever listened to the ‘Fab Four’, Marley said: “During the ’60s I was listening to The Beatles. We even did a record with a Beatles song, you know? Yeah, so we used to listen to The Beatles a lot. The Beatles were a very popular group in Jamaica.”

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