Bob Marley loved love songs.
Ever imagine Bob Marley as a Motown crooner?
Bob Marley did. A lot. For most of his life, he aspired to sing like the radio heroes of his youth. Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. The Drifters (listen to ‘Magic Moment’ and ‘Please Stay’). Chuck Jackson. Ben E. King. Wilson Pickett. Little Richard. Little Anthony. The Platters. Johnny Ace. James Brown. Marley heard and mimicked all of these old schoolers as he built his vocal cords and daydreamed of singing his way out of poverty.
He continued to sing by these influences throughout his career. Yet, when heard against the exotic soundscape of reggae, Marley’s rhythm-and-blues stylings don’t exactly jump out in the listener’s mind as such. This became the source of one of his enduring professional and personal frustrations. He initially assumed that the American R&B radio stations that had inspired him would naturally play his singles. He was wrong. They refused. He had heard their inspirational call, produced what he thought were inspirational responses, but could not lure them into giving him much if any airplay. So, he campaigned for airplay. He deliberately added R&B instruments and sounds to his later songs. He planned tours to visit urban venues on the R&B circuit and to conduct interviews with DJs at R&B radio stations. He even wrote lyrics (Roots Rock Reggae) that blatantly pleaded with the stubborn radio station owners: “Play I on the R&B / want all my people to see”!
His campaign did eventually bear the sought-after fruit, but the harvest was mostly posthumous. The U.S. marketplace that rejected Marley during his lifetime flipped after he was gone and has warmly adored him ever since.