There are two things that make this track special.
First of all, it was in the sessions that created ‘Don’t Rock My Boat’ that the Reggae Beat of the ’70′s was effectively created.
Although they had released many singles since their first in 1963, it wasn’t until 1969 that The Wailers first recorded with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry behind the controls of the mixing desk. The Perry-produced sessions were a revelation and a landmark. Rougher and less polished than the Wailers’ or Bob Marley’s later recordings for Island Record, they also have none of the Rock leanings (such as the lead guitar figures) of the later work. What they do have however is the first fully developed Reggae Beat. It feels like all the various, often wonderful, musical styles and experiments of Jamaican music in the ’60′s finally get distilled into the way forward that everyone been looking for all along. Delivered in beautifully pure unadulterated form. No need for superfluous effects or solos because they had discovered the rhythm. And in the first glow of discovery The Wailers (and even Lee Perry who would warp it to within an inch of its life over the next 10 years) decided to leave it in all its naked new-born glory.
If that wasn’t enough, the second reason this track is special is Bob Marley’s vocals. For me this is also the first time we hear the fully developed Bob Marley vocal performance. His vocals seem to joyously dance over and around the rhythm providing wonderful syncopation. But his voice can sound melancholy, moving and powerfully emotive even when dancing. Aged just 24, with these sessions he seemed to find his true self - singing sad over wonderfully uplifting and danceable rhythms. It’s a potent and, I’d say almost unique, mixture that he’d develop for the rest of his career and would make his songs over the next decade so often so intense and riveting.
Maybe Lee Perry spotted this at the time because he released the sessions on vinyl in basic 2-channel format so that you can (almost) isolate the vocals from the rhythm track by turning one speaker off. Which means you can listen to Bob singing his vocals in isolation. When you do you’ll find that, amazingly, the rhythm and the dancing are still there in voice alone. And of course the melancholy and emotion come across even more powerfully in the unaccompanied version. Listening to his vocal in isolation is such a spine-chilling experience that I’ve posted a vocal-only version as well (on the next post today).
‘Don’t Rock My Boat’, like many of the tracks from these sessions, is less political or militant than many of Marley’s later and more famous tracks. But I would argue that this song and others he recorded in these sessions are possibly more powerful because of the human emotions they capture. He must have believed they had power too because later in his career he re-recorded many of these tracks for his subsequent albums. ‘Boat’ for example appears as ‘Satisfy My Soul’ on the album, ‘Kaya’, which wasn’t released until 1978. At the time it was felt to be a little light-weight compared to say the militant ‘Exodus’, but in hindsight it’s one of his most powerful albums – and it’s full of songs written and first played out in these early sessions.
Finally, now that we have a few Jamaican reggae tracks listed I’ve opened up The Genius Of Jamaican Reggae Vault where they will be filed in addition to their listing in the year of recording or release.
The sessions are available on many compilations. However the only one I know for sure that exists in the original 2-channel format is the 2 CD set ‘Soul Revolution Volumes 1 and 2′ which I think is not currently available new: Amazon