An Examination of "Classic Albums: The Wailers' 'Catch A Fire'" by Daniel & Seth Nelson
After more than 25 years since its release, The Wailers' "Catch A Fire" album is finally given the proper spotlight. With the recent release of the DVD/VHS versions on the making of the album, as part of the "Classic Albums: The Greatest Records in Rock History" series, Wailers fans can now understand what went into the creation of this landmark album. In short, the film is one of the most, if not the most, essential films ever made about any of The Wailers. To understand why this release is so significant, it is important to review the massive amounts of information and footage contained within the documentary.
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The documentary details how the songs on "Catch A Fire" were created in Jamaica on eight-track tapes, and then subsequently taken by Bob Marley to Basing Street Studios in London, the headquarters of Island Records. The tracks were then overdubbed under the supervision of Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell, using American studio musicians to give the music more of a rock feel, in an attempt to break The Wailers into America. On "Rock It Baby," for instance, a slide guitar, played by Wayne Perkins, was added to achieve this rock sound. Interestingly, Chris Blackwell called the album one of the most overdubbed projects he had ever worked on. The slide guitar adds an almost country-like feel to this song, and accomplishes the rock crossover sound. "Concrete Jungle" also utilizes added guitar playing by Perkins who obtained the suspended notes heard throughout the song with a sustain pedal. Robbie Shakespeare, half of the legendary Riddim Twins duo, was brought in to add bass, for what later became the most overdubbed song on the album, along with "Stir It Up." Tony Platt, the album's remix and overdub engineer, pointed out in the film the significance of this tune, by stating that since it was the opening song to the album, it therefore introduced the world to The Wailers, so it had to be just right to reel the rock audience in and keep them listening. The Wailumentary even details the album's omitted track "High Tide, Low Tide," which Chris Blackwell believed was not right in the overall plan they had for "Catch A Fire."
One of the true highlights of the documentary are the interviews that are shown throughout. Archive interview clips of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley are used to present their voices, but the rest of the interviews are recent and combine the people who knew The Wailers best and those who actually worked on "Catch A Fire." Chris Blackwell and Tony Platt are both interviewed at the monstrous mixing board and comment on each song. The albums' overdub musicians also talk about their parts on the album, including Wayne Perkins, Winston "Sparrow" Martin who played drums on "Stir It Up," John "Rabbit" Bundrick who was the added organist at the overdub sessions, as well as Robbie Shakespeare. What is fascinating about these interviews is that if it were not for this "Classic Albums" film, these individuals would most likely have gone unnoticed by fans because no mention of them is made on the actual album credits. There are other surprise interviews awaiting the viewer, but probably the most important is the incredible chat with Bunny Wailer himself. Bunny not only talks about The Wailers and the album, but also sings "Slave Driver" and "Concrete Jungle" only accompanied by an acoustic guitar, which is truly breathtaking footage.an iration.com creation
The "Classic Albums" documentary incorporates extraordinary video segments that further showcase The Wailers' greatness. Director Jeremy Marre combines Wailers' black and white home videos from 1972, which feature The Wailers at scenes such as a waterfall, rehearsing, and even a sequence of Bunny Wailer driving in the back of a convertible watching the Jamaican countryside pass by. Also fantastic footage of the 1973 Old Grey Whistle Test in London, with all three Wailers together in a pristine quality picture, is yet another of the film's highlights. This performance by The Wailers was the first reggae group to ever play on the show, further proving how groundbreaking not only their album "Catch A Fire" was, but also the band in general. Other rehearsal footage is shown throughout as well as live material from 1973 in Edmonton, London. Bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett is interviewed and shown rehearsing together with organist Earl Lindo, and guitarist Alva "Reggie" Lewis (who was also with The Wailers during their Lee Perry produced-years) on the song "No More Trouble." More modern clips include a rare glimpse at the Bunny Wailer compound, complete with red, gold, and green objects everywhere, as well as the three united hands of The Wailers' original logo greeting the visitor at the gate.
It seems as if "Catch A Fire" was an innovation in many regards; the songs, the artists, the messages, the original Zippo lighter cover packaging for the album, and the ability to reach a wide and diverse audience outside of Jamaica. The Wailumentary touches on all of this and more and clearly shows that in order to reach a wide audience, the formula was correctly followed for this album. Even though the album was not greatly received upon its initial release, the years since have proven that "Catch A Fire" is truly one of the greatest records in musical history, selling well over one million copies. If this is the main message to be gained from this Wailumentary, then certainly another key lesson to be learned is that the album, and The Wailers, were not a one man show in Bob Marley. Instead, it is just the opposite. As Bunny Wailer himself says in the film, "It's all for one and one for all, that's the Wailers code."
The Wailumentary is only 60 minutes in length, but in that time the viewer is taken on a journey into the creation of one of the most important musical documents in history. If you still do not think "Catch A Fire" is this legendary, you owe it to yourself to pick up this "Classic Album" film. On the other hand, if you do agree that "Catch A Fire" is a groundbreaking album, this documentary will enlighten and entertain even the most die-hard of Wailers fans. "Catch A Fire" brought to the forefront Bob, Bunny, and Peter and even though they had recorded for some ten years previous, this album ensured their longevity and appeal to people all over the world. There is so much more on this release that really needs to be witnessed for one's own, and by giving it all away would ruin the many treasures contained within. an iration.com creation
The "Classic Albums: Catch A Fire" is now available on DVD and VHS everywhere, be sure to pick it up.
Credits for "Classic Albums: Catch A Fire": Series Producer: Nick de Grunwald Director: Jeremy Marre Distributed By: Image Entertainment/Rhino