Watch a Young Bob Marley and The Wailers Perform Live in England (1973): For His 70th Birthday Today

If you’ve spent any time at all on a col­lege cam­pus, you’ve heard Bob Mar­ley and the Wailer’s 1984 com­pi­la­tion album Leg­end waft­ing from dorm rooms and frat house win­dows. The longest chart­ing album in the his­to­ry of Bill­board mag­a­zine, it con­tains all of the band’s top 40 hits and more or less stands as every young American’s intro­duc­tion to the icon­ic Jamaican singer, if not to reg­gae music itself. Before Leg­end, there was Eric Clapton’s cov­er of Marley’s 1973 sin­gle “I Shot the Sher­iff.” Clapton’s ver­sion hit num­ber one on the Bill­board Hot 100 in ’74—his only num­ber one hit in the U.S.—and intro­duced Amer­i­can audi­ences to Marley’s fiery pol­i­tics, if not always to Mar­ley him­self. On what would have been Mar­ley’s 70th birth­day, we bring you some ear­ly footage of the man and his band.


While many Amer­i­cans may been rather late to the Bob Mar­ley par­ty, and to reg­gae, the Eng­lish have long had a fas­ci­na­tion with West Indi­an music. Ska pio­neers like Desmond Dekker drew huge crowds in the UK while remain­ing much less pop­u­lar state­side (though Dekker had a num­ber one hit in the U.S. in 1969). But even some Brits didn’t quite know what to do with Mar­ley when he and the Wail­ers hit Eng­lish shores in the spring of 1973. Play­ing the Sun­down The­ater in the Lon­don sub­urb of Edmon­ton in sup­port of Dekker and a host of oth­er acts (top), Mar­ley, writes Dan­ger­ous Minds, “was still some­what of an enig­ma and the Wail­ers were son­i­cal­ly much more adven­tur­ous than some of the oth­er acts on the bill that day…. Accord­ing to reports at the time, most of the audi­ence at this Wail­ers gig didn’t ‘get’ the group.”

Nev­er­the­less, that ’73 tour changed the band’s for­tunes for­ev­er. After three albums, a pre­vi­ous UK tour, and sev­er­al attempts to break into the pop charts, the Wailer’s fourth record, major label-debut Catch a Fire, final­ly made them inter­na­tion­al stars, if not yet every Amer­i­can col­lege freshman’s favorite band. Just above, hear an FM broad­cast of anoth­er date from the UK leg of the Catch a Fire tour (see the Youtube page for the full setlist). After Britain, the band played a run of shows at Paul’s Mall in Boston, then four nights at New York’s Max’s Kansas City. Just a few months lat­er, they hit major cities all over the U.S. before return­ing to Eng­land in Novem­ber in sup­port of Burnin’, and the song Clap­ton made famous.

While we tend to asso­ciate Mar­ley with peace, love, and patchouli—an impres­sion fur­thered by Leg­end, which leans rather heav­i­ly on the love songs—these ear­ly albums are fierce and mil­i­tant, and do not hold back from explic­it calls for vio­lent rev­o­lu­tion and con­dem­na­tion of his­tor­i­cal oppres­sion. It’s a some­what neglect­ed side of Marley’s leg­end, but in these con­certs, we see just how mul­ti­fac­eted a song­writer and per­former he was. Charis­mat­ic and vibrant, and flanked by the tal­ent­ed Peter Tosh, Mar­ley exudes star pow­er. Today on his 70th birth­day, it’s still as good a time as any to cel­e­brate his life and remem­ber his stri­dent yet soul­ful calls for love and jus­tice.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Video: The Day Bob Mar­ley Played a Big Soc­cer Match in Brazil, 1980

John­ny Cash & Joe Strum­mer Sing Bob Marley’s “Redemp­tion Song” (2002)

Bill Graham’s Con­cert Vault: From Miles Davis to Bob Mar­ley

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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