Archive | Feb 19, 2015

Certain Songs #111: Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Brain Washing”

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Album: African Herbsman.

Year: 1971.

What even is this song? That was my thought when I first heard it in the early 80s. After being blown away by both Catch a Fire and Burnin’, I went both forwards and backwards with Bob Marley and the Wailers, but landed hardest on African Herbsman, which is basically a compilation of songs they recorded with the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry. 

Despite – or maybe because of – the much poorer sonic quality as compared to Catch a Fire & Burnin’, I was nearly as enthralled by these records as I was those impeccably produced records. And “Brain Washing” accounted for much of the enthrallment.

Seriously: the bubbling, infinitely circular bass line that Family Man Barrett uses to drive this song has no ken in modern music. With an organ chirping like a robin in the background and somebody’s – let’s say Marley’s – guitar coming in at the end to square the bass circle, “Brain Washing” is so hypnotic musically I never even knew what was about until I read the lyrics to write this post.

For years, I would only catch snatches of what Marley was singing, which was snatches of nursery rhymes and fairy tails:

Cinderella and her long lost fellow
In the midnight hour, she lost her silver slipper
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
While Jack and Jill had themselves a fall

But the chorus, which I never caught, makes it so much deeper:

It’s just the poor’s brain washing
And I don’t need it no longer, I don’t want it no longer

In other words: instead of just singing snatches of fairy tales, Marley is basically saying “stop believing in fairy tales, they ain’t going to come true!” And suddenly a song that I’d ever believed was musically deep becomes lyrically deep as well.

And once again, with that bassline, it doesn’t even matter.

Fan-made video for “Brain Washing”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #110: Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Trenchtown Rock”

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Album: African Herbsman.

Year: 1971.

It’s the manifesto, and one of the greatest thesis statements any musician has ever put out there:

One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain.
One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain.

And then, for the rest of the 2:58 of “Trench Town Rock”, Bob Marley & The Wailers demonstrate exactly what they’re singing about, joyously trading off vocals. Bob is so totally painless, he’s practically scatting while Peter and Bunny chant “grooving grooving grooving grooving!”

But of course, it’s deeper than that: music is physical, and by pleading and begging to be hit with music (at one point, Bob even asks to be “brutalized,”) he’s basically saying that he prefers the violence of being hit by music than the violence being hit by anything else. 

Music is a drug. Music is a defense. Music is life.

Fan made video for “Trenchtown Rock”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever