Bob Marley and The Wailers
Catch A Fire



by JonM USER (3 Reviews)
July 5th, 2006 | 48 replies

Release Date: 1973 | Tracklist

In 1973, Bob Marley & The Wailers were already a reggae phenomenon. Bob had been a sound system regular with his singles from Leslie Kong and Coxsonne Dodd for ten years, and in the last five years the Wailers' records with Lee "Scratch" Perry had turned them into a chart topping success in Jamaica. But Bob, with further ambitions to move the band up in the world, signed a deal with JAD Records alongside his agreement with Perry (a common practice in the Jamaican recording industry at the time), and this turned out to be the fateful arrangement.

While Perry's dubs generated major dollars in Jamaica, and Leslie Kong's rereleases and compilations, though they hurt the image Bob and the band were trying to establish, continued to spread the name around (before Kong fell victim to duppy business), Bob took a trip to Sweden to cut a soundtrack for a film, Want So Much To Believe. Bob never ended up writing any music for the soundtrack, but his trip to Europe prompted manager Danny Sims to propose a speculative Wailers tour in England. The full-fledged tour never materialized, either, though the somewhat random streak of gigs they played garnered significant support in the U.K. But the band was spending most of their time uncomfortably cold in the winter of 1971, rehearsing in a cellar in Surrey. Suddenly, they found themselves without a manager after Sims skipped town for Miami to pursue other interests, but this turned out to be the most fortunate development in the Wailers' career so far.

Through promoter Brent Clarke, who the Wailers hired as their temporary manager when Sims departed, the band was hooked up with Island Records' Chris Blackwell, who had released many of the Wailers' early Jamaican singles for U.K. distribution years earlier and thought very highly of the band. Clarke gave Blackwell an advance of "8000 to produce a Wailers LP. The band returned to Jamaica in early '72, purchased studio time at Dynamic Sounds Recording, and churned out the recordings that would become their major label debut by the end of that year.

Bob returned to England with the masters, and he and Blackwell collaborated on the final product, enlisting the help of musicians of the caliber of Wayne Perkins, who happened to be recording in the upstairs studio at Island's Basing Street facility at the same time Blackwell and Marley were working downstairs. Perkins recorded the lead guitar for the album's opener, "Concrete Jungle," in one take, and went on to play on "Stir It Up" and "Baby We've Got A Date" as well. Also notable, Robbie Shakespeare, half of the inseparable rhythm section (with drummer Sly Dunbar) that many consider to be the definitive purveyors of the reggae sound, other, of course, than the Barrett brothers from The Wailers, played bass on "Concrete Jungle." On April 13, 1973, Catch A Fire was released in its original, remarkable Zippo lighter jacket.


The first pressing, 20,000 copies, sold out quickly, but the hand-manufacture the elaborate sleeve required hindered production, so the subsequent pressings were released with a new cover, now as iconic as the first sleeve, featuring Bob pulling on an impressively, intimidatingly, untenably large spliff.


The track listing was as follows:

Side one
  1. "Concrete Jungle" (Marley)
  2. "Slave Driver" (Marley)
  3. "400 Years" (Marley/Tosh)
  4. "Stop That Train" (Tosh)
  5. "Baby We've Got A Date (Rock It Baby)" (Marley)

Side two
  1. "Stir It Up" (Marley)
  2. "Kinky Reggae" (Marley)
  3. "No More Trouble" (Marley)
  4. "Midnight Ravers" (Marley)

The album consists almost exclusively of some of the Wailers' best songs, some of which were already well known in Jamaica in previous versions ("Stir It Up" as an early single, and "400 Years" on many of the records cut with Lee Perry). But Catch A Fire had a new sound, as deep as a cutting-edge studio record but as raw as the sound of the Kingston ghettos about which many of the lyrics were written. The aesthetic shift is made explicit on "400 Years," which begins at the mid-tempo rocksteady pace at which the group often played the tune live (still somewhat slower than the previous version produced by Perry), but as soon as the first chorus begins, the tempo swirls downward into a slow, soulful reggae groove that contrasts sharply with the feeling of the early Wailers.

The album is driven by the urgency and lyrical eloquence with which Bob Marley and Peter Tosh presented their message of dissatisfaction with the Babylon system. This is the element that set the Wailers apart from the competition to begin with in the sound systems of Kingston, but the heat has been turned up for the Wailers' international debut, with nearly every song crackling with revolutionary fervor. Indeed, some of the songs on Catch A Fire would rank among Marley's (and Tosh's) best socially conscious songs they ever wrote.

But the most obvious evolution from The Wailer's LPs with Perry to Catch A Fire is in the arrangements. The facilities at Basing Street were superior to those in which the band had worked before, and the roster of instrumentalists was, as always, impressive, but the most important influence on the sound was the production team of Chris Blackwell and Bob Marley. This band had transformed from a top Jamaican act into an international force, and the new sound the duo forged for the Wailers reflected this new status.

From this very first major label LP on, it is clear that Bob Marley & The Wailers had created something transcendent. Even on the apolitical love songs that make up the middle of the album, the sound still manages to feel definitive, as if Marley was not just singing about love but doing for love what his political songs do for his righteous cause. The lush backing vocals and instrumental textures from Tosh and Bunny Wailer, the unstoppable groove of Aston and Carlie Barrett, and the sheer intensity of Bob Marley's presence combine for a sound of near-universal significance, but Catch A Fire retains a street rawness particular to the appeal of the early Wailers, an appeal that did not diminish so much as simply change over the length of their recording career.

In order to fully experience Catch A Fire, I suggest you pick up the double-disc double-disc [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000059ZT4/sr=8-2/qid=1152025827/ref=sr_1_2/002-6196933-6180009?ie=UTF8]Deluxe Edition[/url]. This release contains two extra tracks, the rockin' "All Day All Night," which recalls the R&B charm of the Wailers' early ska records, and the indispensable, gorgeous ballad "High Tide Or Low Tide." But more importantly, the first disc, which also has the extra tracks, contains the Jamaican masters of the tracks from the album that Marley brought to England and expanded with Blackwell. These are the songs of Catch A Fire stripped of their extra production, nothing and no one but The Wailers and their music. Listening to the Jamaican versions is like being in the room with the band, just Carly, Family Man, Peter, Bunny, and Bob, as they burn through the raw essence of the songs that Marley and Blackwell later made deeper and more complex. But the finished product alone exudes the full power of The Wailers as they began the ascent to their peak, and the second disc of the deluxe edition contains Catch A Fire as it was released.

user ratings (389)

Comments:Add a Comment 
July 5th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Nice review. Truly great and gifted artist, musician, and songwriter. I have this and several others from Bob. Outstanding body of work he left behind and one of the greatest live performers ever. Can't say enough, really.This Message Edited On 07.05.06

Tangy zizzle
July 5th 2006


Very thorough.

July 5th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Nice review. I really like this album, although I cannot stand the track "Kinky Reggae" gah!

July 5th 2006


Great first review, a pleasure to read

July 5th 2006


I was hoping you would do some reviews, and this is a great start. Nicely written, with lots of background stuff which I foiund interesting, great album too.

July 5th 2006


incredible review man and especially for a first

July 5th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Really really good first review. I like all the songs except kinky reggae. This is the only general release Bob Marley record I dont have on vynil.

July 5th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Thanks dudes. For those of you who don't like "Kinky Reggae," you should check out the version on Talkin' Blues. I'll bet it changes your mind.

Cygnus Inter Anates
July 29th 2006


Review more reggae please.

This is a good review.

June 30th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

One of my favorite Marley albums.

June 21st 2008


this is a real album right hur

August 13th 2008


Where are all the reggae fans hiding? Pretty much everyone I talk to on this site is one of those hardcore metalheads.

November 13th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

One right here!

January 17th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

They're here, just out-numbered. Good job on the review, still wish people would distinguish between The Wailers and Bob Marley & the Wailers albums on this site, but I suppose thats nit-picking. This Message Edited On 01.16.09

January 23rd 2009


not enough about this album. marley put a real sense of love and personal accountability into his work.

February 8th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

I love this album.

June 28th 2012


Album Rating: 5.0

"Stir It Up" is timeless.

Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2013


Album Rating: 4.5

All-star lineup and an awesome production. This is revolutionary music that doesn't have to scream to get noticed.

June 28th 2013


I love the extra guitar parts added by Perkins. It really helps the record stand out.

July 15th 2013


Album Rating: 4.5

Undeniably, one of their best albums.

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