Bob Marley & the Wailers / The Wailers

The Best of the Wailers

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An album title that would cause considerable confusion in the future, The Best of the Wailers was not a roundup of the group's current singles nor a career-spanning look back at what the band had accomplished so far. Instead, it was a ten-song set of what was then new recordings all overseen by producer Leslie Kong. In May 1970, when the Wailers entered Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston, Kong was an all conquering hero, the man who had brought Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, and the Maytals to international fame. The Wailers were, in contrast, at a low point, their own hopes kindled by Johnny Nash dashed, while a series of sessions with other producers yielded little of consequence. Perhaps Kong could work his magic on them. Kong's studio band, the Beverleys' All Stars (aka Gladdy's All Stars), led by pianist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson, laid down sumptuous reggae backings that rippled with melody. The rhythms, while rock solid, were less emphatic and jumpy than their competitors, with the arrangements interweaving Gladstone's glorious piano, Winston Wright's effervescent organ, and Hux Brown's Western-flared guitar. The All Stars' superb backings powered innumerable hits, and the band served the Wailers equally well, giving a luminescent quality to all the songs here. Of the ten numbers, the harmony-drenched "Soul Shakedown Party" was the standout, although the delicate and equally harmony-laden "Soul Captives" comes close. Peter Tosh's powerful "Stop the Train," Bob Marley's equally forceful "Caution," and the romance-laced "Do It Twice" were all just as memorable. Kong was apparently so impressed with the strength of the music, he decided that Best Of best summed it up. The Wailers felt otherwise. It was obvious the producer was spread too thin, and once the sessions were over the Wailers moved on, hooking up with Lee Perry, and the band was peeved when Kong finally decided to release this set, especially with that title. Legend has it that Bunny Livingston warned the producer to change it, noting the album was only the best if Kong wasn't going to be around long enough to hear anything better. And so it proved, for a week after Best Of's release in August 1971, Kong, only 38, died of a heart attack.

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