AllMusic Review: After the success of 1974’s Natty Dread and 1976’s Rastaman Vibration, Bob Marley was not only the most successful reggae musician in the world, he was one of the most powerful men in Jamaica. Powerful enough, in fact, that he was shot by gunmen who broke into his home in December 1976, days before he was to play a massive free concert intended to ease tensions days before a contentious election for Jamaican Prime Minister. In the wake of the assassination attempt, Marley and his band left Jamaica and settled in London for two years, where he recorded 1977’s Exodus. Thematically, Exodus represented a subtle but significant shift for Marley; while he continued to speak out against political corruption and for freedom and equality for Third World people, his lyrics dealt less with specifics and more with generalities and the need for peace and love (though “So Much Things to Say,” “Guiltiness,” and “The Heathen” demonstrate the bullets had taken only so much sting out of Marley’s lyrics). And while songs like “Exodus” and “One Love/People Get Ready” were anthemic, they also had less to say than the more pointed material from Marley’s earlier albums. However, if Marley had become more wary in his point of view (and not without good cause), his skill as a songwriter was as strong as ever, and Exodus boasted more than a few classics, including the title song, “Three Little Birds,” “Waiting in Vain,” and “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” tunes that defined Marley’s gift for sounding laid-back and incisive at once. His gifts as a vocalist were near their peak on these sessions, bringing a broad range of emotional color to his performances, and this lineup of the Wailers — anchored by bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, drummer Carlton Barrett, and guitarist Julian “Junior” Murvin — is superb, effortlessly in the pocket throughout. Exodus was recorded at a time when Bob Marley was learning about the unexpected costs of international stardom, but it hadn’t yet sapped his creative strengths, and this is one of the finest albums in his stellar catalog. — Mark Deming
AllMusic Review: Natty Dread is Bob Marley’s finest album, the ultimate reggae recording of all time. This was Marley’s first album without former bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, and the first released as Bob Marley & the Wailers. The Wailers’ rhythm section of bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and drummer Carlton “Carlie” Barrett remained in place and even contributed to the songwriting, while Marley added a female vocal trio, the I-Threes (which included his wife Rita Marley), and additional instrumentation to flesh out the sound. The material presented here defines what reggae was originally all about, with political and social commentary mixed with religious paeans to Jah. The celebratory “Lively Up Yourself” falls in the same vein as “Get Up, Stand Up” from Burnin’. “No Woman, No Cry” is one of the band’s best-known ballads. “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” is a powerful warning that “a hungry mob is an angry mob.” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block)” and “Revolution” continue in that spirit, as Marley assumes the mantle of prophet abandoned by ’60s forebears like Bob Dylan. In addition to the lyrical strengths, the music itself is full of emotion and playfulness, with the players locked into a solid groove on each number. Considering that popular rock music was entering the somnambulant disco era as Natty Dread was released, the lyrical and musical potency is especially striking. Marley was taking on discrimination, greed, poverty, and hopelessness while simultaneously rallying the troops as no other musical performer was attempting to do in the mid-’70s. — Jim Newsom
AllMusic Review: Catch a Fire was the major label debut for Bob Marley and the Wailers, and it was an international success upon its release in 1973. Although Bob Marley may have been the main voice, every member of the Wailers made valuable contributions and they were never more united in their vision and sound. All the songs were originals, and the instrumentation was minimalistic in order to bring out the passionate, often politically charged lyrics. Much of the appeal of the album lies in its sincerity and sense of purpose — these are streetwise yet disarmingly idealistic young men who look around themselves and believe they might help change the world through music. Marley sings about the current state of urban poverty (“Concrete Jungle”) and connects the present to past injustices (“Slave Driver”), but he is a not a one-trick pony. He is a versatile songwriter who also excels at singing love songs such as his classic “Stir It Up.” Peter Tosh sings the lead vocal on two of his own compositions — his powerful presence and immense talent hint that he would eventually leave for his own successful solo career. More than anything else, however, this marks the emergence of Bob Marley and the international debut of reggae music. Marley would continue to achieve great critical and commercial success during the 1970s, but Catch a Fire is one of the finest reggae albums ever. This album is essential for any music collection. — Vik Iyengar
All songs were written by Bob Marley, except where noted.