Following a stellar set at Riot Fest & Rodeo in Denver earlier this month, Grammy-nominated reggae musician Julian Marley and his band will perform Bob Marley and the Wailers’ landmark 1977 album, Exodus, in its entirety in Chicago on Friday, September 16. We are honored to count these two performances of one of the most celebrated records of all time as one of our album sets at the festival this year.
Whether you’re a longtime fan, a new listener, or you just want to impress your friends with your music knowledge, here are a few facts you should know about the backstory and impact of Exodus:
- Exodus was written over a period of unrest and violence in Jamaica during the country’s 1976 elections. The conflicts informed the album’s lyrical content, particularly its title track that played on Prime Minister Michael Manley’s campaign slogan, “We know where we’re going,” and urged listeners to take a look at their lives and come together in a “Movement of Jah People.”
- Written after the original three members of The Wailers—Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer—went their separate ways in 1974, Exodus features a new lineup of musicians: Carlton Barrett on drums, his brother Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass, guitarists Al Anderson and Junior Marvin, keyboardists Tyrone Downie and Earl Lindo, and percussionist Alvin “Seeco” Patterson. The trio of singers, Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths, a.k.a. the “I Threes” provided the backing vocals.
- On December 3, 1976, armed men attacked Marley’s Kingston, Jamaica home, in an assassination attempt in which Marley was shot in the arm. Rita Marley was injured as well. This incident added a more literal tone to the concept of “exodus” when the Marleys and their band fled to safety in London. In her memoir, The Book of Exodus, journalist Vivien Goldman (who stayed with the Marleys in the days before the attack) wrote, “Among those who’ve reasoned about Bob’s Exodus, it’s usually held that the album is wholly a product of the traumatic event that was about to take place. But in reality, Bob already sensed that he was living in a time where imminent horror coloured everyday beauty.”
- Safe in London, Bob Marley and the Wailers set to work recording Exodus at Island Studios, with sessions extending from January-April, 1977.
- Musically speaking, Exodus was a departure from Marley’s previous albums, stepping away from traditional reggae to a fusion that included elements more common to blues, R&B, and rock music.
- In an 1977 album review in Rolling Stone, esteemed journalist Greil Marcus praised the musicianship on Exodus, but panned it for most everything else, questioning if Marley had been pressured to create an album that could breakthrough to mainstream American and British audiences before concluding, “The precise intelligence one hears in every note of music cannot make up for its lack of drama, and that lack is Marley’s.”
- Despite Marcus’ mixed enthusiasm–and seeming to answer his questions about its crossover potential (though hardly the motivations for writing it!), the album was well-received upon its release, reaching #20 on Billboard’s Top 200 and #8 on the British charts.
- Aside from the the Legend anthology, released in 1984, Exodus is the highest-selling album of Bob Marley’s catalog. The original pressing of Legend includes five album tracks from Exodus, making it the most highly represented album of the collection.
- The songs on Exodus have appeared in dozens of movies and television shows over the years, including a memorable rendition of “Jammin” sung by Police Chief Wiggum in the 1997 episode of The Simpsons, “The Caine Mutiny.”
- In their December, 31, 1999 issue, TIME magazine named Exodus the “Album of the Century.” Around the same time, Exodus’ final track, “One Love,” with its call for unity and peace, was honored as the “Song of the Millennium” by the BBC.
- Despite the nature of its earlier review, in the 2003 Rolling Stone ranked Exodus #196 on its “500 Albums of All Time.”
- Rankings and critical accolades aside, the reason Exodus remains so beloved across the globe nearly four decades after it was first released is its ability to impact its listeners on a personal level, whether through its themes of love, peace, compassion, and redemption, or simply for the beat.