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Bob Marley and the Wailers 

The Complete Upsetter Singles / 1970-1972 Plus Dubs (Purple Pyramid)

People started talking all kinds of mumbo-jumbo about Bob Marley almost before he was cold in the ground. But before he was a conveniently agreed-upon symbol for vague ideas about good times and world peace, he was an uncommonly sharp writer of deceptively simple pop songs.

These early singles are frankly stunning documents, imagining pop music as a tightly enclosed space within which the possibilities for play are infinite. The tunes themselves take their cues mainly from doo-wop, varying moods smoothly not only from song to song, but often from verse to chorus within a single number; the opener, "My Cup," features one of the saddest minor shifts known to man (on the phrase "now that I/Realize"), made sadder by the joyous major heights from which it drops.

The pop-candy brilliance of the songs and the sweet urgency of their delivery would be reason enough to recommend The Complete Upsetter Singles, but the second disc, comprising the singles' B-sides, seals the deal. Faced with the need to give a single a B-side, but not wanting to squander another potential A-side, early Marley producer Lee "Scratch" Perry would mess around with the bass or put the drums through an echo chamber, dropping out most or all of the vocals. The result, of course, was an entirely new and inestimably important genre -- dub -- whose salad days are here heard in all their raw, thrilling glory: playfully experimental, magnificently bass-heavy, and deeply psychedelic. Taken together, these two discs make for one of the most unexpected pleasures of the year.

More by John Darnielle


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