Withdrawn: Catch A Fire

The Wailers: Catch-A-Fire

Catch A Fire: The Wailers, Island LP, 1973. Zippo sleeve
Palm tree centre with pink rim: 1973
side oneside two
1 Concrete Jungle
(Bob Marley)
1 Stir It Up
(Bob Marley)
2 Slave Driver
(Bob Marley)
2 Kinky Reggae
(Bob Marley)
3 400 Years
(Peter Tosh)
3 No More Trouble
(Bob Marley)
4 Stop That Train
(Peter Tosh)
4 Midnight Ravers
(Bob Marley)
5 Baby, Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby)
(Bob Marley)
Catch A Fire: track list

Monday 23rd April 1973. New release day for records. I always made a point of going to Wax Records in Bournemouth to check out the new releases. I was teaching English as a Foreign Language. It meant a race down to the town centre in lunchtime, or in a free lesson. That day I was free before lunch, so unhurried. I walked in. The manager said, “You will buy this. I guarantee it. Just listen,” and put on Catch A Fire. He chose Side Two for familiarity, because Stir It Up was known. Neither of us had heard of The Wailers, but I already had Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now LP and Stir It Up was my favourite track. It had been out for a year. Then The Wailers’ version of Stir It Up crept out of the speakers. We stood, transfixed. Yes, I bought the LP which is why my copy is a first day LP with Zippo lighter cover. There are just 20,000 of them. I was showing it to someone ten years ago and tore the flame (and very carefully repaired it). I bought it. It is one of my all time favourites, and given a choice, I’d have to take it, even over Bob Marley & The Wailers Live At The Lyceum.

Catch A Fire is an album with a DVD documentary in the Classic Albums series and a full De-Luxe double album edition on CD. It is also an album that stands up there with Blonde On BlondeThe BandAstral WeeksPet SoundsWhat’s Going OnSergeant Pepper. It is indeed one of the greatest albums of all time.

The Wailers had been around. Richard Williams, in the Classic Albumsdocumentary, said he bought his first Wailers single, Put It On, in 1966. Tellingly, that has some intricate lead guitar at the beginning, very much in later style. Put It On is first rate, even if the bass guitar part would work with Hang On Sloopy. It was redone on Burnin’. The riff is nearly the same on Mr. Brown (1970), which in turn shares bits with Duppy Conqueror … the backing track was originally intended for Duppy Conqueror. The drone on Mr. Brown and the spooky lyric gets it on to Halloween compilations. It uses a basic Jamaican “riddim” (rhythm). It was written by Glen Adams of The Upsetters. The version of Mr. Brown on the Trojan Explosion compilation sounds better than the Songs Of Freedom version. The other early one to check is Nice Time from 1967.

In the same Classic Albums documentary Richard Williams said that until Catch A Fire reggae was not taken seriously and was just ‘Fatty Bumbum’ in public perception. That’s plain wrong. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon had put focus on reggae, and there had been major reggae hits from Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Bob & Marcia, The Pioneers, Harry J. All Stars, Dave & Ansil Collins and Johnny Nash (who was American). Catch A Fire wasn’t even the first credible reggae album as a whole. That was Jimmy Cliff in 1969. The “serious” breakthrough was the film The Harder They Come and Chris Blackwell of Island only turned his attention to The Wailers when Jimmy Cliff jumped ship. However, Catch A Fire was a new height, and Chris Blackwell was the man who made it happen. He gave The Wailers £4000 to record the basic tracks in Jamaica … all now available on the De Luxe Edition CD. Stir It Up in particular had been previously recorded in 1967, but the 1972 version is vastly superior. Then Blackwell decided to tweak them in London for a Western rock audience by overdubbing organ, clavinet and synthesizer from Rabbit Bundrick, and slide guitar from Wayne Perkins. Bob Marley was present at the overdubs, and Rabbit Bundrick describes him showing him the choppy keyboard rhythms. Production is credited to Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell.

So why is the first impression sought after? We were at the height of the die cut sleeves phenomenon. Chris Blackwell of Island was so committed to this one that no expense was spared. It swivelled open and …

The trouble was that it cost a lot – even the hinge had to be costed in. The inner sleeves had to be cut at an angle, then that flame kept getting caught in the lid at the top and bending or breaking before it got out of the shop – no one in Britain used sealed sleeves. Discs behind the counter. Sleeves in the display racks. So … they stopped producing that sleeve and replaced it. Perhaps they feared a Zippo lighter might encourage smoking, so they changed it to this:

Catch A Fire: Bob Marley & The Wailers, Island 1977 pressing
Catch A Fire: The Wailers 1977 pressing

After all, it was now always ‘Bob Marley & The Wailers’ not ‘The Wailers’ and that went on the sleeve (though not on the centre label).

Value? Rare Record Price Guide 2022:

Catch A Fire: The Wailers, ‘Zippo lighter’, ‘pink rim, palm tree’ £250
Catch A Fire: Bob Marley & The Wailers – second sleeve. Less than £15.

The 1973 single Concrete Jungle / Reincarnated Soul … books at £10
The 1975 single Stir It Up / Rat Race was withdrawn … and books at £15

Much as I love my Zippo lighter copy, a word for the De Luxe Edition CD.

De Luxe Edition 2 CD set. Tuff Gong / Island 2011

The genius decision of Chris Blackwell was to make it an LP to compete in the prog / rock market. So it was sweetened in the UK by adding the guitar and keyboards.

John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick was a Texan keyboard player, who had worked on Johnny Nash’s reggae excursions, Wayne Perkins was the Alabama guitarist who had been working at Muscle Shoals with a range of artistes, notably Jimmy Cliff, Chris Blackwell’s original choice to pitch as a Third World superstar. Perkins overdubbed lead guitar on Concrete Jungle, Stir It Up and Baby We’ve Got A Date. The De Luxe Edition CD has two CDs… first the original Jamaican versions of the songs on CD1, then the Island versions which became Catch A Fire.

Catch A Fire: De Luxe Edition … two extra tracks on the original Jamaican version

Some people don’t like the sweetening, hence the De Luxe Edition with the raw versions. I think they were a touch of production genius, and they did help the appeal to a wider audience. The great breakthrough moment was The Wailers performing Stir It Up on TV on The Old Grey Whistle Test in Britain on 1st May 1973.

The Wailers at this point … and remember it’s credited to ‘The Wailers’ not Bob Marley, comprise Bob Marley (guitar, vocal), Peter Tosh (guitar, organ, piano, vocal), Aston Family Man Barrett (bass), Carlton Barrett (drums), Bunny Livingston aka Bunny Wailer (percussion, vocals) with the studio addition of Rita Marley and Marcia Griffith on backing vocals. Robbie Shakespeare played bass on Concrete Jungle, Tyrone Downie played organ on Stir It Up and Concrete Jungle, and Tommy McCook added flute. Plus Rabbit Bundrick and Wayne Perkins in the studio.

Side One opens with Concrete Jungle a considered choice, thought by many to be the album’s finest song. They deliberately started the track and the album with Wayne Perkins’ guitar. Listen to the way the organ part swells and builds, then the prog rock lead guitar. Robbie Shakespeare’s bass line is central and we’re into the full reggae rhythm. The slavery days connection is up and running.

No chains around my feet, but I’m not free,
I know I’m bound here in captivity …

… in Concrete Jungle, then straight to Slave Driver with …

Every time I hear the crack of the whip,
My blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship
How they brutalised our very souls …

And into 400 Years it takes it back to the original Spanish slave colony in Jamaica …

400 Years (400 Years 400 Years)
And it’s the same philosophy …

All three were assembled in line, and opened the album. They’re in quite a different order on the original Jamaican recordings on the De Luxe edition. From there we’re into life and sensuality, but the uncompromising ‘slavery days’ message is right up front.

Slave Driver has the actual ‘catch a fire’ chorus, then two Peter Tosh songs, 400 Years and Stop That Train, closing the side with Baby We Got A Date. Side Two goes from the sublime Stir It Up to Kinky Reggae, No More Trouble and Midnight Ravers. Good. I typed that without having to check, the sign of a truly great LP. The Wailers were more than just Bob Marley, so let’s give Peter Tosh ‘s 400 Years a shout. I thought hard about the unadorned Jamaican version. Definitely get the DeLuxe edition, but I haven’t found a track that I prefer to the overdubbed versions. Maybe it’s familiarity. There are two fine outtakes, High Tide or Low Tide and All Day All Night.