Bob Marley & The Wailers

Ahhh, reggae. What is also known as Jamaican dance music has become nothing less than an international phenomenon, thanks in no small part to the pioneering sounds of Bob Marley, who would have been 70 this year. (Marley died of cancer at the relatively young age of 36 in 1981.) Calling Marley the king of reggae is a bit like saying 4K Ultra HD looks fantastic—it’s a fairly obvious statement, but no less profound. The seminal ’60s and ’70s work of Bob Marley & The Wailers literally defined a music genre that continues to engage people the world over—in fact, it may be the most universal music there is. British heritage artists like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones incorporated reggae’s core spirit into their own rock offerings as soon as they heard it, while others like The Clash, Steel Pulse, UB40, and Matisyahu have fused the form with their own sounds to encapsulate and propel further rastaman variations like dancehall, dub, drum and bass, and hip-hop.


Why does reggae appeal to so many collective ears? The mystique lies in the very makeup of the genre’s hypnotic, offbeat 4/4 rhythm, which evolved out of the faster tempos of its predecessors, ska and rocksteady. Reggae’s signature staccato guitar lines, known as the skank, all riff on the offbeat—i.e., beats 2 and 4—and they’re often supported by staccato piano and/or synthesizer. Drumming centers on the backbeat and especially beat 3, with the snare tuned high like a timbale and the drum fills usually ending without any cymbal crashes. The syncopated, melodic bass lines are thick and heavy, with the lower frequencies emphasized the most—a low-end lover’s dream. Add in call-and-response vocals and passionate lyrics born of both a personal and political nature, and there you have all the elements of reggae’s perpetually magical, engaging sound. Yeah, mon!

Marley’s own, well, legend was sealed with the posthumous 1984 release of the greatest-hits compilation Legend, which has sold 15 million copies in the U.S. alone. The two-disc 30th anniversary Deluxe Edition has all 16 tracks on both CD and Blu-ray, and the latter disc contains two alternate takes and a masterful 5.1 mix done by surround maven Bob Clearmountain. Clearmountain gives the seemingly indelible reggae blueprint even more depth, putting the listener right in the middle of the haze, er, mix from the get go. On “Is This Love,” Marley’s vocal is front and center, while the back channels teem with cowbell in the rear left and other percussion in the rear right. Guitar lines skank on from the front left, and oh, how that low-end riddim just pounds from the sub channel. “Redemption Song” is properly stark, with just the right delay and echo on Marley’s heartfelt vocals and the accompanying acoustic guitar. “Jamming” is exactly that, with wah-infused guitar wailing in the rear right and the all-female I-Three background-vocal mesh taking turns both caressing Marley’s leads in the fronts and then responding accordingly in the back. Legend in 5.1 more than amply lives up to its name.


In celebration of Marley’s 70th birthday, Universal will be rolling out a series of archival releases throughout the year, commencing with Easy Skanking in Boston ’78. “The Heathen” and “Rebel Music” are emblematic of the show’s overall inspirational vibe, which culminates in a downright spiritually uplifting reading of “Exodus,” featuring a red-shirted Marley exhorting, “Set the captives free!” with plentiful support from The Wailers and I-Three. Just half of the show appears on the Blu-ray, with new video elements courtesy the 577 animation team (Bruno Mars, Pearl Jam) and material shot by a fan with a handheld camera sitting in front of the stage, both supplementing the official footage.

If you can’t wait for the next archival installment, be sure to pick up Uprising Live! (EagleVision/Universal), a two-CD/one-DVD set that chronicles Marley’s spellbinding appearance on the German TV series Rockpalast, recorded during his June 13, 1980 performance at Dortmund’s Westfalenhalle venue. Telling in both tone and title, “Natural Mystic” defines how to catapult listeners and viewers alike directly into the essence of Marley’s aural elixir, less than a year before he passed.


Sorry to have to be Captain Obvious again, but it’s fair to say reggae music becomes more ubiquitous with each tick of the clock, largely thanks to Marley’s abject mastery of the form. I hope you like jamming too, so get up, stand up for your high-resolution reggae rights.

Blu-ray & CD
Label: Tuff Gong/Island/UMe
Audio Formats: 96-kHz/24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (Blu-ray), 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD and Blu-ray)
Number of Tracks: 32 (Legend), 20 (Easy Skanking – 13 on 1 CD, 7 on 1 Blu-ray)
Length: 2:20:06 (Legend), 2:01:17 (Easy Skanking)
Producers: Bob Marley & The Wailers, Steve Smith, Chris Blackwell, Errol Brown, Lee Perry (Legend stereo mixes), Bob Clearmountain, Ziggy Marley, Jaime Feldman (Legend multichannel mixes), Ziggy Marley, Cedella Marley, Jaime Feldman, Matt Solodky (Easy Skanking)
Engineers: Sergio Reulas Jr. (Legend), Robert Vosgien (Easy Skanking)