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"No Woman No Cry"
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Bob Marley

Bob Marley, theDeveloping World's first superstar, was taken by cancer at the tragically early age of 36, but by then he had already placed reggae firmly on the world stage.

Today, more than twenty years after his death, Marley remains reggae's universal figurehead - but his appeal was always far broader than that. By the time of his fourth album for Island Records, he was reaching out to mainstream rock audiences - helped largely by the success of "No Woman, No Cry". This was not an entirely solo effort however, as he sang with his band the Wailers who had just had a change of personnel. In 1974 Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left and as Benjamin Zephaniah relates Bob and Peter were very different characters and it was no surprise that they parted company.

Benjamin Zephaniah
"I could understand why they couldn't be together in the same band for too long."

The now familiar version of "No Woman, No Cry" was recorded in London in 1975 and appeared on the Wailers' album Live! As the audience roared their enthusiasm on one of the most atmospheric live albums ever, the loping, heartfelt rhythms of "No Woman, No Cry" and Marley’s bittersweet vocal, soaked in gritty nostalgia, combined to transcend all musical genres.

The track echoed Marley's experience of growing up in the Trenchtown district of Kingston, Jamaica and is probably the song for which he is best remembered. It also gave him his first British hit single. But, according to the credit, "No Woman, No Cry" was actually written by one Vincent Ford! Or was it…?

Prior to Chris Blackwell signing him to Island, Marley had already been recording for a full decade - and the musical legacy he left behind him in Jamaica would prove a legal minefield when he became a bona fide star in the late 70s.

Vincent Ford had been a close friend of Marley's in Kingston, and well into the 1990s he was claiming authorship of the song. One theory had Marley setting Ford's words to music, another reckons that by letting his disabled friend claim the songwriting credit, Marley sidestepped various legal and contractual difficulties. Or maybe it was an act of pure philanthropy - and Bob just wanted Vincent to have the royalties. This is more than possible as Marley himself stated that it was music that was more important to him than success.

Bob Marley
"you can't really think of success you know ..."

Whatever and whoever, "No Woman, No Cry" remains a truly transcendent Marley moment. A studio version of the song had appeared on the previous year's Natty Dread but it is the more muscular version from Live! that still echoes around the world. It is a song that has stood the test of time and Marley's widow Rita still finds comfort in it today.

Rita Marley
"It's very much a special song for me."

In each chorus the title is sung first in the minor, the melody following the root notes, then restated in the major, the tune rising to the fourth, bringing a sense of hope that problems can be overcome. Memorable phrases such as "government yard in Trenchtown" spice up the lyric, and the atmosphere leaps when the extra refrain "everything’s gonna be alright" explodes unexpectedly out of the second verse.
Dominic King

Even today, nearly 30 years on from that hot summer night in London, there is magic in the air as Marley makes "No Woman, No Cry" an almost trance-like experience. And as he leads the Wailers into the refrain one final time, it’s really hard not to believe that "everything’s gonna be alright …!"

© BBCi
Patrick Humphries, 2003

Recommended Reading
Bob Marley by Stephen Davis. Published 1983, Arthur Barker Ltd.
Bass Culture by Lloyd Bradley. Published 2000, Penguin Books.
The Complete Guide To The Music Of Bob Marley by Ian McCann. Published 1994, Omnibus.
Catch A Fire: The Life Of Bob Marley by Timothy White. Published 1991, Henry Holt.

... one of my very favourite Bob Marley tracks.

Brinsley Forde

 Listen to Brinsley on one of his favourite Marley songs

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