Thursday, September 05, 2013


"And I Love Her" / The Wailers

For Stevie Wonder, crown prince of the Motown hit machine, doing a Beatles cover was a significant gesture. But now consider the case of Bob Marley, cranking out homegrown singles in Jamaica in 1965 with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (just the Wailers back then, no "Bob Marley & the" about it). Of course they're listening to the new tunes coming out of the U.K., of course they had some idea that Beatlemania was sweeping the globe. They find a copy of A Hard Day's Night and give it a spin. Some good tunes on there -- wonder how they'd sound done Jamaican-style, just a little something for our local fans?

Well, they'd sound like this:

(Yes, that is Bob Marley in the middle on that album cover, long before the dreadlocks and the knit hat, before reggae became a political movement.)

The Wailers' version of "And I Love Her" was released as a single in 1965, only a year after the Beatles original. I imagine it got a lot of radio play in Kingston, but it never made it onto an album, apparently. I'd never heard this song at all until Marshall Crenshaw played it one night on his excellent Saturday night WFUV radio show The Bottomless Pit.  Trust MC to dig up a gem like this.

The Beatles double-A single "If I Fell / And I Love Her" is seriously one of my favorite records of all time, as I've gushed often before. Unfortunately I am not alone in this. There must be at least a hundred cover versions of this song, not to mention the thousands of lounge singers who've worked up a rendition. I can't bear to listen to most of them.  IMHO the original recording is just about perfect; it's sacrilege to cover it, even if you don't change a note.

Well, Bob Marley changes the notes, adding a plangent downward swoop at the end of each phrase, but rising exultantly on the "And I love her"s. He changes the tempo, too, trading in the bongos and samba for a shuffling reggae beat. He keeps the trademark guitar phrase but lets his horn section take it over, turning the intimate ballad into an anthem. Instead of doubling his own vocals, he communes with his buddies singing background harmonies. And somehow it all works, and works gloriously.

All those emotionally ambiguous chord fluctuations in the bridge? Gone. Instead, he relaxes into "A love like ours will never die," reassuring his sweetheart of his constancy. The world's a hard enough place, he seems to be saying -- why not trust in love to make it a little bit better?

Production values?  You've got to be kidding. The music industry in Jamaica in 1965 was strictly small-time -- this was well before Bob Marley became BOB MARLEY and built up reggae to world respect.

But that's what I love most about this record.  It's as sincere as it can be -- much more sincere than McCartney's charm offensive. Marley comes off simply as a guy who loves his woman and is inspired to sing his heart out. Who could ask for anything more?

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