One Love – Bob Marley

A well-known song about unity, peace and universal love. But for many listeners the deeper message it brings is lost in the overwhelming chorus.

One Love is a reggae song by Bob Marley & The Wailers from their 1977 album Exodus. It was first recorded in a “ska style” by Marley’s original group, The Wailers in 1965 and was released as a single. In 1977, Bob Marley & the Wailers released the updated version on the Exodus album which became the definitive rendition and made #5 in the UK.

The song contains an interpretation of The Impressions‘ song “People Get Ready” written by Curtis Mayfield. The original recording of the song does not credit Mayfield’s song and is simply titled “One Love” because copyright law was not enforced for Jamaican recordings at this time. Instead, when the famous 1977 version was recorded for  Jamaican-British label Island Records, it was titled “One Love/People Get Ready” and credited Mayfield (as Island wanted to avoid copyright problems) and it gives co-authorship credits to both Marley and Mayfield.

Even though this song is very well-known and its message is widely acknowledged, some lyrics have a deeper meaning.

Marley’s idea was that everyone in the world should stop fighting and become one – a similar sentiment to John Lennon‘s “Imagine” and George Harrison‘s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).

Marley wrote this song amid the turmoil of the Jamaican elections in December 1976, remembered as some of the most violent times in the country. Marley had supported Michael Manley when he won the election in 1972 and became Prime Minister of Jamaica, but four years later – when Marley was by far the most popular person in Jamaica – he refused to take a political stance as the country was divided between Manley’s People’s National Party  (PNP) and the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) headed by Edward Seaga.

Marley tried to stay politically neutral while offering peace and shelter however he could. Of course, both parties tried to have Marley on their side, especially Manley who was the sitting Prime Minister at the time and tried to regain Marley’s support.

As Vivien Goldman, at the time Island Records’ PR officer following Marley in those days, remembers in an article in 2006 for The Guardian, when Marley’s plan for a free concert became know, both JPL and PNP parties tried to gain his support. As a result, and without Marley’s approval, the “Smile Jamaica” show was “billed as a collaboration between the Wailers and the government’s cultural office” she wrote. This angered Marley a lot, because he clearly saw how their initiative “had effectively been co-opted by Manley’s PNP“. In other words, they succeeded in transforming a Bob Marley’s concert in “a promotional gig in the very territorial spirit Bob was trying to discourage.” Diane Jobson, Marley’s lawyer, recalls how he said:

Diane, dem want to use me to draw crowd fe dem politricks.

The consequences of this “politrick” caused Marley serious troubles. As Goldman wrote:

Bob had encouraged his Hope Road home in Kingston to become a ‘safe house,’ a neutral zone, in which youths caught up in the turmoil of the warring political factions could hang out and reason away from the old violent mindset. At a certain point, Bob’s utopian vision of the yard as sanctuary was bound to collide with street conflicts. He was in a delicate position, and to add to the irony, the enemies Bob was trying to reconcile were often relations, old neighbours and schoolmates.

This “delicate position” eventually led also to an attempted murder in his own home in Hope Road, two days before the concert. Nonetheless, the concert proceeded, and an injured Marley performed as scheduled, two days after the attempt. When asked why he didn’t rest despite his traumatic experience, Marley responded:

“The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

The members of local band Zap Pow played as Bob Marley’s backup band before a festival crowd of 80,000, while members of The Wailers were still missing or in hiding, fearing they could be victims of similar attacks. His courageous performance was captured on video in its entirety. From the gritty footage, you can almost feel the tension in the air that night.

Given the premises and the context in which Marley wrote One Love, the request for unity, universal love, brotherhood and peace gains even more power. And there is a deeper meaning behind the song than a “simple” call for unity. Some of the lyrics are about oppression and how sinners will pay for their evil deeds in the end. For many listeners, the deeper message is lost in the overwhelming chorus.

One Love! One Heart!|Let’s get together and feel all right|Hear the children crying (One Love!)|Hear the children crying (One Heart!)…” These words remind us that we as a people are one, and we should share the same sense of love for each other, having one heart. It echoes the national motto of Jamaica: “Out of Many, One People”. The possibility of social unity and peace is possible if we all come together and celebrate our humanity. The children, who are innocent by definition, are suffering (crying) for the oppression and conflict spreading around the world.

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One Love!)|There is one question I’d really love to ask (One Heart!)|Is there a place for the hopeless sinner|Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs?…” As stated above, these lyrics (along with those at the end of the fourth verse) are derived from the song “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. In this case, Marley is tackling the issue of salvation, which has been hotly debated in the Christian tradition since the time of Jesus (causing also major divisions in the church). By asking the question, Marley is challenging believers to question their own beliefs and ask themselves how powerful God’s love is: is it powerful enough to save even the worst sinner?

As it was in the beginning (One Love!)|So shall it be in the end (One Heart!)…” Going on with one of the themes of this song, retribution of sin and wickedness, the evils committed by those of us failing to assist the march of love and unity will be visited upon by vengeance in due time by the natural order of things. These lyrics seem to refer again to God, defined in the Bible’s Book of Revelation as the “Alpha and Omega”, the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. And moreover, in the New Testament (Matthew 13:49):

So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just

Have pity on those whose chances grows thinner|There is no hiding place from the Father of Creation…” Other lyrics from the song “People Get Ready“. We have to have pity and feel sorry for the ones that are doing wrong, because they can’t hide their wrongdoings from God.

One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin’, give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin’, let’s get together and feel all right
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (one love)
There is one question I’d really love to ask (one heart)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?
Believe me

One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (one love)
So shall it be in the end (one heart)
Alright, give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Let’s get together and feel all right
One more thing

Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (one love)
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (one song)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation

Sayin’, one love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
I’m pleading to mankind (one love)
Oh, Lord (one heart) whoa

Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Let’s get together and feel all right

Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Let’s get together and feel all right

One Love – Bob Marley
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Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
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