Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Bob Marley & the Wailers – “One Love”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #5 on British charts in December 1977
In his last interview, John Lennon mentioned that the Beatles heard Caribbean music in the late sixties. The instrumental bit in “I Call Your Name,” he said, was a conscious attempt, for example, to record ska. Bob Marley scored his first significant international hit with “No Woman No Cry,” recorded for 1972’s Catch a Fire, but whose version on Live!! became a part of the Ford/Callaghan ether. It took a while for this music to settle in any but the biggest American cities with the best record stores. Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” might have been many Yanks’ intro to Marley. By the time Marley and his Wailers released 1977’s Exodus he was ready for global stardom, and its impact was immediate; more songs from Exodus appear on 1984’s evergreen Legend than from any other Marley album.
I considered “Jamming” for this feature, but its blandness has assumed the texture and hue of a tablecloth and as useful: set out the hummus and corn chips, mop the floor, wait for guests to arrive. Plus, “jamming” means “hanging out,” and who can object? “One Love” has that delightful skank — the whole point of songs like “One Love” is to create an atmosphere in which the listeners can remove their shoes and socks and hang with the band — but the tension goes out of the song after the first refrain. Universalist sentiments make my skin crawl in the best of times, despite the progress I’ve made since accepting my liberalism in the late 2000s (I had more trouble admitting I was a radical progressive than I did my sexuality). Reggae and I aren’t simpatico, but I can accept Natty Dread and Kaya for the thorns hidden among the blooms; Marley had a talent for making leisure sound ominous.
In a paper presented at the Experience Music Project Pop Conference in 2007 and reprinted in Stylus Magazine in 2007, Michaelangelo Matos had an explanation for Legend‘s ubiquity: “Its one-stop-shop convenience—all the Island hits, just as you remember them—and generous playing time (around 53 minutes) made it a bargain in the vinyl era.” Taken in context, “One Love”‘s title plea is Marley’s urging himself to believe humankind wasn’t as awful as he’d observed. It’s not his fault white people have accepted “One Love” as a post-hippie balm, especially in the traumatic mid-seventies, but the knowledge doesn’t palliate my own resistance. Taut, shrewdly chosen, and sequenced like a motherfucker, Legend introduced millions to Marley, concerned like any epitaph with the smilingest face.