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John Lennon Thought Bob Marley “Lost It” Later In His Career

Beatles founder John Lennon admired Bob Marley’s early work but felt that the Reggae legend “lost it” later in his career. The English singer was critical of Marley during a recorded studio session in August 1980 for his last album, Double Fantasy, a joint project with his wife, Yoko Ono.

During the session, Lennon’s band had difficulty capturing the ‘Reggae feel’ that he desired for Borrowed Time, a song that he was inspired to write two months earlier in Bermuda, where he had heard Bunny Wailer’s line ‘living on borrowed time’ from The Wailers’ Hallelujah Time (1973).

In an attempt to guide them, he called for his handbag and queued up The Wailers’ Get Up, Stand Up (1973). Lennon told his band that the song’s guitar and bass synergy was a model to emulate, but he also remarked that Marley—who had released his Uprising album earlier that year with songs such as Could You Be Loved, Redemption Song, and Bad Card—was past his prime. 

“Does anybody know Get Up Stand Up?” he asked the room. “You buggers!”

“…It’s one of Bob Marley’s very early pieces, and you can hear the guitar and the bass doing not only work together but some very smart complimentary stuff. It’s more clever than what we’ve got, but we’ll give you an idea of how beautiful it can be,” Lennon said.

He continued: “’Cause Bob Marley has now lost it, you know what I mean.  [He] don’t have it no more, but this is when he had it. Take a listen. It’s a different song altogether and a different riddim, but just hear how Reggae was before they got smart. (When he was really smart)”.

After playing the song, Lennon added, “I just wanted you to hear something beautiful, to get you in the field of what…that it’s not just jiggy, jiggy.”

Written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Get Up, Stand Up originally appeared on The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’, but there are several versions by Bob Marley and The Wailers. Following the Wailers’ breakup in 1974, solo versions of the song by Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were also released in 1977.  In 2022, the 1973 version of the song was certified Silver in the UK, recognizing over 200,000 units sold in the country.

Between 1974 and 1980, Marley released six albums: Natty Dread (1974), Rastaman Vibration (1976), Exodus (1977), Kaya (1978), Survival (1979), and Uprising (1980).

Meanwhile, despite his efforts to infuse Borrowed Time with a ‘Reggae vibe,’ Lennon ultimately set the song aside.  Double Fantasy was released in November 1980 without the track, and Lennon was shot and killed a month later.

The song, still incomplete, was later included on the 1984 posthumous album, Milk and Honey.

Marley, who met Lennon and George Harrison during the 1970s, had always spoken highly of The Beatles, expressing admiration and respect, and he often recounted The Wailers’ cover of their song, And I Love Her (1965).

“The thing was we meet and shake hand and say great — them dude they nice. I really like meet them all and sit down and chat with them. They’re bredrens… just love roots. Them guys are roots. Them guys are all right, ya know. There is like a king and queen, ya know — those guys are roots,” he said in an interview featured in the book, ‘Rock Lives.’

Marley passed away in May 1981 after a private battle with cancer, six months after Lennon’s murder.

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