The Wailers - Catch A Fire - Review
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critics' view

Following their two LPs with Lee Perry, The Wailers delivered the first of their album’s conceived for the worldwide market, arriving in April 1973. To commemorate Island's first Wailers LP, label head Chris Blackwell had commissioned designers Rod Dyer and Bob Weiner to strike up something special. Dyer and Weiner conceived of a cover modelled after a Zippo cigarette lighter, which has a hinged top. Said Clark: “The top half was riveted to the bottom half, which was a receptacle for the record and its inner bag, so the thing literally opened as a Zippo lighter would.” Catch-A-Fire-Spliff-tastic laffs for the 20,000 who were quick enough to bag a copy!

From the Upsetters crew, the services of the Barret brothers were retained, with Aston (bass) and Carlton (drums) being responsible for a rock solid backline. There are sweet backing vocals throughout from Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths; their earnest wails make these songs of trouble, strife and love all the more believable. Bob and his gang were busy, busy, busy at this time, and were heavily committed to hectic European and American tour schedules throughout 1972 and 1973. With financial backing by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, the latest Wailers set was recorded at various stages between May-October 1972, while the group were back on home turf. Later in London, producer Blackwell made some “international friendly” overdubs, with notable contributions being made by Muscle Shoals session musician Wayne Perkins, who provided a guitar solo on “Concrete Jungle” and lead guitar on “Stir It Up”. This potentially horrific intervention worked out well – there were no dissenting voices from the naturally critical Jamaicans. The latter tune was finally realised here, having first saw the light of day as a rocksteady 45 in ’67 and having been given a pop treatment by Johnny Nash in the summer of ’72.

All sides of Bob Marley’s songs are on display on this LP – themes of sufferation and poverty are prevalent on side 1, whilst messages of peace and love are the general order of the day on side 2. The deeply grooved “No More Trouble” is next best from Bob’s pen – “Make love and not war! 'Cause we don't need no trouble… Help the weak if you are strong now… Seek happiness!” These are positive vibrations in full-effect. Perhaps the most affecting songs on this LP are the two penned and sung by Peter Tosh. An excellently reworked “400 Years” (originally done on their “Soul Rebels” LP in 1970) is a plea borne of frustration – different century, same shit – how long must his people be subject to discrimination? Another improved rework is “Stop The Train” (originally done for Leslie Kong’s The Best of the Wailers LP in 1970) as Peter’s soulful vocal convinces he “can’t take it no more”.

At last, the world was ready to listen to Jamaican songs that weren’t all about rum and frickin’ coconuts. Hallelujah for these wailing Wailers.

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