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Music

The Clash song that inspired one of Bob Marley’s hits

Bob Marley and his original line-up of The Wailers rose to prominence in the Jamaica reggae scene in the early 1970s. They made an early effort to break into the British music scene with a trip to London in 1972, where Marley met the famous Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Following the successful trip in 1972, Marley and his band returned and lived in London for a year or so until 1973, all the while gaining popularity within the British music scene. 

In 1975, the group returned to London to play their famous show at the Lyceum. It was at this performance that Jah Wobble of Public Image Ltd. was inspired most as a bassist. In a recent interview with Far Out, legendary punk bassist Jah Wobble explained that hearing the reggae basslines in Marley’s tunes was the moment he fell in love with music. When asked what the most inspiring act he had ever seen was, Jah Wobble replied: “[I] was watching Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett with the Wailers at the Lyceum in 1975. I didn’t come out of there thinking, ‘I’m gonna play bass’ because the punk thing hadn’t really happened yet, but I was just fascinated with the bass players” He said. “It was this feeling, you know? It was incredible.”

It appeared that the reggae music popularised by Bob Marley throughout the 1970s had a profound impact on popular music on both sides of the Atlantic. The burgeoning love of the groovy and heart-warming musical style began to rub off on rock music too, and could be heard in the ska-revival movement in the UK. Bands such as Madness, The English Beat and The Specials had begun to mix the sound of post-punk with reggae with a great deal of success. 

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The Clash were another group that had clearly taken a keen interest in the reggae scene in the late 1970s. Their accessible style of upbeat punk-rock often had a catchy reggae beat and bassline to it. While The Clash were keen disciples of Marley and reggae music, it has also been documented that Marley had been a fan of The Clash and once even wrote one of his hit songs after being inspired by the London punk rockers.

According to Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White, Marley first learned of The Clash’s music while hanging out with the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry in London. “He admired their spunky courage and anger in the face of England’s social stratification and class-based economic oppression,” wrote White. “He also admired the help that The Clash and other punk rockers were giving to East and West Indians…”.

The Clash had only released their debut album at the time, but Marley had taken to the group’s attitude and their intriguing blend of reggae, R&B, and punk. White wrote about how Marley had appreciated the group’s involvement in politics as they spoke out against racism and police corruption. Marley was also a big fan of The Clash’s cover of Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’, one of Perry’s productions.

Marley’s enjoyment of the early Clash music he heard inspired him to write his single ‘Punky Reggae Party’. He set about recording the track with Perry at the Basing Street Studio in London with the help of Aswad, another reggae group enjoying the London limelight at the time.

In ‘Punky Reggae Party’, Marley sings about punk musicians and Rastafarians being “mistreated with impunity.” Elsewhere, the lyrics give a shout out to The Clash, Toots and The Maytals and his group, The Wailers. The track was released as a b-side single in 1977. In 1978 Marley spoke to Interview magazine about why the song was only released as a b-side and not in one of his albums.

“The record company fight against us,” he said. “Ya know them don’t like the punk. Them don’t wanna go to a punky reggae party. But we’re gonna find them guilty. Now the people’s piratin’ it. The tune’s a hit tune in England. Why don’t they release it here with ‘Jamming’?”