26. Van Halen - Eruption / You Really Got Me

I'm fully willing to accept the criticism that I'm totally cheating on this one.  I've already talked about cover songs and that I didn't really want to put them on my list.  "Hallelujah," by Jeff Buckley was the first.  "You Really Got Me" is the other one.  It was originally recorded in 1964 by The Kinks and reached #1 in the UK and was named #82 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Songs list, so it's no slouch.  For me, though, the Van Halen remake is superior.  And although I'm sure they'd never admit it, in their heart of hearts, I bet The Kinks would agree.  So cheat #1 is that this is a cover song.  Cheat #2 is that I'm including a whole other song in addition to it being a cover.  "Eruption" is actually the first track on 1978's Van Halen album (the band's debut album).  The second track is "You Really Got Me."

So how on earth can I justify either of these blatant cheats?  Since I already covered (yes, pun intended) that topic in my "Hallelujah" post, I'll address the second one.  Yes, technically, they are two different songs, but the first time I heard "You Really Got Me" on the radio, "Eruption" was played immediately before it, with the gap of just a second or two between them.  In the late 70's, the songs were often played together on the radio and although albums had track listings back then, it always sounded to me like "Eruption" was some insanely crazy awesome mind-blowing change-the-world-forever guitar introduction to "You Really Got Me."  Also, the copy of Van Halen that I had was recorded on a TDK 90 minute cassette with no label, taped by my brother Scott from his album.  He didn't bother to label anything, he just tossed the case to me and said something akin to, "Here.  Now stop buggin' me."  So although the 40 year-old me acknowledges the stretch (okay, cheat), the twelve year-old in me is putting on my dad's huge headphones with the 20' cord, getting ready to have my mind blown yet again.  And  that 12 year-old would say, "Don't make me angry.  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

The world's greatest guitar solo actually starts off with an Alex Van Halen drum fill (Guitar Player magazine actually rates Jimmy Page's solo in "Stairway to Heaven" as #1, while having "Eruption" at #2.  I'm no expert, but they're just plain wrong).  There's another small bit with drums and some accompaniment by bassist Michael Anthony, but it's a guitar solo, start to finish.  And that guitar solo changed the way I and many of my contemporaries (and by that I mean other teenage boys) listened to music forever.  The Beatles weren't my band.  Nor The Rolling Stones, The Who or even Led Zeppelin.  For the first time ever, I heard a band that could become my band.  It was me getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, and discovering a band while they were still relatively new.

Once Eddie starts to really cut loose, you're constantly barraged with sonic innovation.  The guitar sound, his technique, the speed at which he played was all something that had never been heard before.  The sound came from the Frankenstrat, the guitar that has become maybe the most recognizable guitar on the planet (at least in the pantheon of rock music).  It was his attempt to combine the two best features of great guitars.  He wanted the body of a Fender Stratocaster but the pickups from a Gibson, akin to putting the engine of a Ferrari into a Porsche.  He had to carve out some extra space and MacGyver it all together to get the guitar he wanted, hence the "franken" moniker.  In case you're not sure if you know it, you do.  Here it is:

I showed this photo to my wife, Jennifer and asked her, "Sweetie, what's this?"  I didn't want to ask any leading questions in my highly scientific experiment.  "What, your computer?" she said.  "No, the picture.  What's that?"  She paused, trying to figure out what I was trying to get her to say, but I didn't flinch.  Finally she said, "That's Eddie Van Halen's guitar, right?"  I smiled, nodded and knew my work was done.  Jennifer likes music (and knows more about it than most women, partially, I think, because she's married to a huge music geek and has a music geek for a dad), but doesn't pay much attention to guitars, drums or any of that stuff.  But she knows what Eddie Van Halen's guitar looks like.  And that's why I love her.

It's the Mona Lisa of guitars (cue Jennifer's rolling eyes while she says "Good Lord...") and its unique sound gave Eruption that never-before-heard quality that still sounds fresh, thirty-two years later.  The technique he used was also revolutionary, specifically his tapping on the neck of the guitar.  Now playing the neck of the guitar was nothing new, classical guitarists had been finger tapping necks of guitars since the Baroque period.  Even in rock songs, Steve Hackett of Genesis used to do some one hand finger tapping, with impressive sonic results.  What Eddie revolutionized, though, was the process where he used two hands in his fingering technique.  It's most prominently heard just about a minute in where the sonic resonance completely changes.  You hear so many notes so quickly that your brain struggles to process them.  Then there's the speed.  Throughout the entire song, the speed with which Eddie plays has your ears and brain frantically trying to play catch-up.  To this day if someone says they're great on the guitar, the real question is, "Yeah, but can you play Eruption?"  If the answer is yes, and they actually can, then they are in fact great on guitar.  If not, then they can go back to practicing on "Freebird" first and then trying again.  When it's finally over, less than two minutes later, you're breathing heavy just from listening to it, and if it were'nt for the awesomeness about to start, you'd go back and listen to it again.

That awesomeness is the opening refrain of "You Really Got Me."  It starts with a guitar sound that was so new at the time (and still sounds fantastic).  I love the fact that you can hear just the tail end of the echo, as if Eddie's playing across the room from the microphone.  There's a crisp sound to the distortion, giving it some real body.  It's probably how people felt back in '64 when the original came out.  Van Halen's pace is a bit quicker and (no offense to anyone in the Kinks), all the musicians are more talented.  Ted Templeman's production gives the song (and the whole album) a crisp, edgy feel with lots of body that still stands up today.  Not just with "You Really Got Me" but also "Jamie's Cryin'," "Feel Your Love Tonight" and the terminally underrated (and also a cover) "Ice Cream Man."

Eddie's guitar not only has the full distortion on, but he lets loose some squealing wails that he not only sustains, but also plays them back down the neck of the guitar, adding some great texture.  Just in case you were bored, he throws in some harmonics along the way to really blow your mind.  The guitar solo is actually pretty abbreviated for a hard rock song, keeping the song under three minutes.  But with Eddie's blazing note per second speed, it's jam packed full of sonic intensity.

When you add the rhythm section on top of it, the song's instrumentation completely comes together.  The drums and the bass get to play around some during the song, while holding down the rhythm fort, so it's more fun for them to play.  Alex spends most of the song keeping one crash cymbal or another in a constant state of movement.  The explosions of high end treble explode out of the speakers, matching the intensity of Eddie's guitars.  The rest of his drumming is pretty straightforward, solid and supportive, just what you want in a drummer.

If there's a more unselfish band member than Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony, I can't think of him or her.  And I've spent the last twenty minutes firing all my neurons trying to discover one.  It's almost a challenge to me at this point.  But for me, spending more than twenty minutes on one single thing is asking a lot, so I just went with it.  He is, and here's why.  He's the guy that plays along with the guitar riff to give it that extra thump and sings the harmonies that no one else wants to touch.  Just listen to what he has to do on "I'm on Fire."  Mariah Carey'd have trouble hitting those notes.  His bass lines serve the song and are pretty basic.  But next to Eddie Van Halen, pretty much everything's basic.  But after playing Guitar Hero:  Van Halen, I realized that I'd been selling Michael short.  If you play the bass on many Van Halen songs, there's a complexity to the bass line that can easily be missed.  Like Scottie Pippen when he played next to Michael Jordan, Michael Anthony just isn't Eddie Van Halen.  And who is?  

And I haven't even gotten to the vocals or the lyrics.  David Lee Roth has the greatest rock voice I've ever heard.  (My wife, Jennifer, would argue that it's Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, and although I still stand He can hit both low notes with authority and that great gravelly voice, yet also hit high notes and do those amazing squeals throughout the song where his voice hits a vocal register that you wouldn't think was possible.  This is most apparent when the song breaks down into the bridge, Dave does some real vocal gymnastics, hitting those squeals and screams, matched with moans and groans, giving a vocal complexity that you don't normally see in rock songs.  And to give a fair shake to the huge Sammy era Van Halen fans, sure, Sammy doesn't have as great a rock voice, but he still does have a great one.  And he can play the guitar 100,000 times better than Dave, so it probably more than evens out.

For a song like this lyrics are completely secondary.  You've got a single message - "You are so hot that I have to be near you at all times."  They're repetitive and sophomoric, thereby making them perfect for Diamond Dave to sing.  He doesn't understand vocal nuance or using his timbre to add to the subtext of his symbolic lyrics.  Dave wants to get laid, and he wants to get laid now.  Anything that doesn't propel that goal forward is a waste of his time.  So these lyrics work perfectly for him:

Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I don't know what I'm doin', now
Oh yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can't sleep at night

The song ends with a flurry of guitar notes before fading out Alex's 3,412th crash cymbal.  You're exhausted, but in that great way, and it only took four minutes.  So when you cue up "Eruption" again, following into "You Really Got Me," you've got the time.  So I'm putting in my new awesome stereo bluetooth headphones and cranking it up one more time.

Two videos - one of the album version, and another one from the iconic rock "Us Festival" in 1983.  The sound quality on this one is pretty crappy, but it's a great Van Halen performance and one not to be missed (and they add "Happy Trails" at the end).  And if I could pull off chaps with no jeans on underneath, I - well, I probably wouldn't, but the fact that DLR can just be chalked up to the wonders of fashion.

(Fun Fact #721:  While I think Van Halen's cover outshines the original (obviously!), I do have to give a lot of credit to The Kinks and specifically, guitarist Dave Davies.  In 1964 there weren't any pedals you could buy that had distortion settings on them that you could tweak to get that great fuzzed out sound.  No amplifier knobs, no modified pick-ups, nothing.  Dave knew the sound he wanted, but there was no equipment that could replicate it.  So he took a razor blade to the speaker cone of his amplifier, creating an opening for more air to escape, and at a much higher velocity.  The resulting increase in air flow caused the paper around the cut to vibrate frantically, resulting in the fuzzed out, distorted sound that you hear on the record.  Never before had that sound been heard coming from a guitar, and every time he needed to replicate it, out came the razor blade.  A little added fun fact:  at the time The Kinks recorded "You Really Got Me," Dave Davies was only seventeen years old.  Mind-Blowing Coincidence #4 - When Van Halen recorded their cover of "You Really Got Me," Eddie played with the finesse of a veteran.  His age, though?  Also seventeen.)

(Fun Fact #116:  In 1999, the Recording Industry Assosication of America (RIAA for short, and yes, the same people who sued thousands of music fans for downloading music) unveiled a new certification for records, Diamond Status, certifying sales of a staggering 10,000,000 copies.  Van Halen has two of its albums with this exclusive status, their 1978 debut album, Van Halen, and their 1984 album, um, what was that one called?  Just for fun I checked to see how many of the songs on my list came from Diamond Status albums.  19 of them.  I'm not sure if that's a good sign or a bad sign, but I was just curious)

(Story of My Youth #11:  As a fourteen year-old growing up with an older brother, the majority of the music I liked was music that he liked.  Scott would play records that he had discovered and some I'd like and become a fan of, while others didn't interest me as much.  We both, however, really liked Van Halen, and were anticipating the release of their record 1984 with bated breath.  For the first time, though, it was me who actually bought the record with my own money, rather than Scott buying it and me begging to listen to it.  We returned from Moby Disc and sliced through the plastic, putting side A onto the record player.  The title track started to fill the room and Scott and I looked at each other.  I'm not sure if Scott said, "What the fuck is this?" but it was either that or a very close approximation.

Much in the same way that the opening musical strains of "Eruption" blew my mind in that awesome way that it can be blown as a twelve year-old with limited musical knowledge, "1984" blew my mind in reverse way.  Keyboards on a Van Halen song?  And these keyboards.  At least Rush tried to make their keyboards rock a little.  This was like Eddie just discovered that keyboards existed and wanted to show off his new discovery to the world.  But this was crap that I could've written at 14.  Hell, my younger brother, Todd, 12, could've done it, and done it better.  And this was Eddie F-in' Van Halen!  It would be like Martin Scorsese following up Raging Bull with that "Don't squeeze the Charmin" commercial.  To make matters worse, Eddie had extensive piano training as a child and even won numerous competitions.  So he should've known better than to think this piece of crap was so important that it not only needed to be on their highly anticipated album, but it needed to open their highly anticipated album, like putting the trailer for The Adventures of Pluto Nash before The Fellowship of the Ring

As the lame keyboards began to fade, Scott and I still shared a look that encompassed shock, disappointment, nausea, I think, and anger.  Then came the introductory keyboard part for "Jump" and Scott just stood up, shook his head and searched for more words of disgust, which eluded him.  Finally, he looked at me and said, "Well, at least you were the one who bought it" and left the room.  Of course "Jump" became Van Halen's largest hit ever, becoming their only #1 Billboard single.  And I'm sure that the "1984" song has become "the thing that you don't talk about" at Van Halen reunion mixers, much like Cousin Oliver in "The Brady Bunch", Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars, or the Nikki/Paulo subplot on "Lost."  We all just agree to try to forget it ever happened.  I'm sure Eddie doesn't want to talk about it (Eddie, I beg that you not talk about it), but for that 1 minute and 8 seconds back in January of '84, and for years afterward, me, my brother and his friend, David Yagoubian, lambasted the decision that was "1984," the song.

Scott has since listened to the remainder of the album and "Drop Dead Legs" ended up becoming of his all-time favorite Van Halen songs.  I've always believed that any Van Halen is good Van Halen (I'm like Switzerland on the whole Dave/Sammy debate, I don't take sides), and thought the whole Gary Cherone thing would be awesome (unfortunately, it wasn't).  So this may be the last we speak of "1984," but I thought you deserved to know.....)

27. The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again

(Preamble to #27, or I like to call it #20g.  "Won't Get Fooled Again" is the first song on my list that I think deserves to be in the Top 20.  The problem is, I've got 27 songs that I wanted in my Top 20 and I'm not enough of a math whiz to make that work.  With all of the songs up to now I have been satisfied with their position.  Starting with this song, though, I feel bad for the 7 that ended up just outside that mythical "top 20," because they all deserve the honor.  I guess I shouldn't worry too much though, because I doubt Pete Townshend is losing much sleep over the fact that he only made #27 on my list.  I doubt anyone other than me has suffered any sort of angst over the ranking of any of these songs.  So as pompous and preposterous as my opening statements are, I just wanted you to know that there are some great songs coming up and I love them all.)

For some reason, when the all-time great rock & roll bands get discussed, The Who never seem to get the recognition that they deserve.  For so many people it's boiled down to a Beatles/Rolling Stones debate and everyone else can just suck it.  It's like breaking down the greatest baseball player of all time to either Babe Ruth or Ted Williams and not considering the at least dozen other players that you could make a good argument for.  Now I'm not saying that The Who are the greatest rock & roll band ever, because we all know that it's Ratt - I'm just saying that they deserve more time in the argument.  I've always wondered if Townshend had had a McCartney to his Lennon rather than the other way around that I'd be making my argument now for a Beatles song.

The Who were a great band (I use the past tense because the band that played at this year's Super Bowl wasn't really The Who, just like a Beatles reunion wouldn't be the Beatles at this point).  They recorded some great songs and really pushed the envelope of what was considered rock at the time and changed what you could do with a rock & roll song.  You couldn't rock and have keyboards in your song for the most part until The Who really brought a rock sound to a keyboard.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" is probably the best example of how The Who changed the way rock & roll could be done.  With that amazing keyboard intro, which they had the balls to let go on for the entire first thirty seconds of the song, it changed the way rock fans listed to rock music.  The Who wasn't going down the progressive rock path, they were blazing their own trail that was, at its heart, a rhythm and loud guitar kick you in the ass sound.  I know it sounds like I'm downplaying their versatility in doing numerous styles of music, but I'm not.  I'm just UPplaying their tremendous rock side.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" has been called an anti-revolution song, holding true to conservative values, but that's oversimplifying the message that Pete Townshend put together lyrically.  It's a song that's much more complex than that.  The lyrical message certainly contains parts that have problems with revolutions and revolutionaries:

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong

And after all of the fighting, all of the blood, what are they left with?  The leaders of the revolution promised change and progress, but have they delivered?  Townshend has his doubts:

There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right

Then there's the iconic line that is so often quoted, that it's become almost trite, but you have to remember it was genius at the time:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

It's a reference of the old axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  So eventually, the revolutionaries will become the establishment that they fought desperately so long ago.  But the deeper message that can get lost among all the hyperbole is that even if you grant the premise that revolutionaries will turn into their own establishment, there may have been progress along the way.  So when the next revolution comes along, or what Chairman Mao called his "permanent revolution," it will start from a spot further along the cultural evolutionary scale.  Townshend addressed this in a post on his website in 2006:  
It is not precisely a song that decries revolution - it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets - but that revolution, like all action can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see.  I am just a song-writer. The actions I carry out are my own, and are usually private until some digger-after-dirt questions my methods. What I write is interpreted, first of all by Roger Daltrey. Won't Get Fooled Again - then - was a song that pleaded '….leave me alone with my family to live my life, so I can work for change in my own way….'. But when Roger Daltrey screamed as though his heart was being torn out in the closing moments of the song, it became something more to so many people. And I must live with that.

His candor and the fact that he accepts responsibility for a song that he helped create is refreshing.  There are so many artists who try to distance themselves from songs they've done in the past, but Pete has always faced criticism head on, both defending his songs while also accepting that criticism is an unavoidable partner to the songwriting and performing process.

It's astonishing to me how much I've written about this song and I haven't even gotten to the bulk of the music yet.  It's not a negative reflection on the music, it's a celebration of the overall strength of the song.  As interesting as the lyrical content may be, the music may be even more interesting.  Starting with the now iconic keyboard riff that opens the song and is played throughout the song.  I always had the image of Townshend sitting there at the keyboard, frantically playing all sorts of keys to get this intricate keyboard sound.  In reality, though, it's a Lowrey organ that is processed through a synthesizer that oscillates each of the notes, giving it that definitive pulsing rhythm.  It's brilliant in its simplicity and adds such depth to the song right off the start.  I'd never heard a keyboard lay such a strong rhythmic foundation before.  Keyboards were always atmospheric and mood builders, but here they help lay the rhythm before you even hear the drum or bass.

But every aspect of the music in "Won't Get Fooled Again" is brilliant in its own way.  Townshend shreds on the guitar with a surprisingly heavy sound (especially for 1971) and keeps up the pace throughout the song.  There's anger in that guitar and you can feel it through the speakers.  I've always thought that Keith Richards and Pete Townshend were pioneers in not only playing great guitar, but getting you to feel what they were playing.  When you add the hyperactive way he plays the guitar live with all of the windmills and running around, it adds even more depth to the emotion of his guitar playing.

For the rhythm section of bass player John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, this isn't a song where they hold back, either.  Everyone is letting loose, yet it still doesn't sound like too much going on.  The sonic profile and the lyrical content can handle this much instrumentation.  No one in the history of rock & roll played the drums as hard as Keith Moon.  They used to have to put him across the room from the microphones in the studio so it wouldn't be unlistenable distortion.  I can feel his intensity at the end of the second keyboard break where he really lets it loose.  Entwistle, on the other hand, is a bassist that I apparently have always underrated.  When I watched the live video of "Won't Get Fooled Again" that I posted below, I noticed that Entwistle was dancing all over the strings and frets on his bass.  His sound can get lost if you don't pay attention, but if you do, you'll hear some serious bass playing going on.

To top it all off, you have Roger Daltrey's searing (and soaring) vocals.  You couldn't pick a better singer to perform a song about revolution.  I love Townshend's quote about that Daltrey "screamed as though his heart was being torn out" because it's so appropriate.  His vocals match the emotional intensity of the rest of the band's playing.  And for my money, his "Yeah!" scream at the end of the second keyboard break is the greatest scream in the history of rock & roll.  Sure, Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin are up there, but this scream is drenched in emotion.  I can't imagine how his vocal chords hold up to performing it live night after night.  Daltrey's voice is pretty versatile, but he's at his best when he's leaving restraint at the door and giving his all.  This song is the perfect example of that.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" clocks in at nine minutes in length, but it keeps you captivated the entire time.  It would be like going to see a great action movie, like The Dark Knight, having it be five hours long, and you weren't bored for a minute of it.  It's almost unheard of that a song can rock this hard for this long, but also maintain its frantic emotional pace throughout the entire song.  "Won't Get Fooled Again" is a song that has long been underrated for me, in the fact that I haven't listened to it nearly enough.  I'm going to make up for that mistake and cue it up again - for the ninth time!

Two videos for this entry.  The first is The Who's live performance from their documentary The Kids Are Alright, which has all of the trademark Who elements in it:  Townshend's windmill, Daltrey's mic spin, Entwistle's flying fingers and Moon's booming drums.  A classic live performance.  The second video is one I found that is an interview with Townshend about how the keyboard sound came together.  It's fascinating if you're a music geek like me.

(Fun Fact #67:  There's a really cool story about the bass that John Entwistle used on the Who's Next album, which features "Won't Get Fooled Again."  During some downtime in the studio, Entwistle was bored and pulled out a half dozen basses that were all broken to some extent and started futzing with them.  Armed with a screwdriver and a soldering iron, he took them apart, looking for parts that he might be able to salvage.  When he realized that with the parts from five of those basses he could create one single functioning bass, he went to work.  The result was, in Entwistle's words:  "The neck, pickups and circuitry are from a ‘dead’ slab bass, the tailpiece from a Jazz bass, the pickguard from a black P bass and the machine heads from 2 white P basses...Two hours with a Phillips screwdriver and a soldering iron and I was ranting around my hotel room screaming “It’s alive, it’s alive!”  It was hence knows as Frankenstein.)

28. Bob Marley - No Woman No Cry

When it comes to Bob Marley as a musician and songwriter, it's so hard to get past all of the ancillary stuff that goes along with it.  Bob Marley has become Bob Marley©, an industry all unto himself.  The amount of t-shirts, black velvet posters and logoed bongs sold each year is staggering, considering Marley died almost thirty years ago.  The red, green and yellow color scheme isn't associated with a country anymore, it's associated with Bob Marley. He's become a symbol of a culture, a religion (Rastafari) and a musical style (reggae).  But all of this belies one simple fact:  he was an amazing songwriter and performer who deserves most of the kudos he received.

It's so easy to get caught up in everything else that you diminish what he accomplished as a musician.  He, along with Peter Tosh and others, pioneered reggae music and brought it out of Kingston, Jamaica and spread it all over the world, but that happened because of the songs he wrote, it wasn't  the reason for them.  He painted vivid pictures lyrically and married them with an infectious rhythm that became reggae.  He wasn't looking to change the world, he just did.  And the reason he did is because his songs resonated with people around the world who didn't grow up like I did.  They didn't have nice houses and supportive parents.  Ends meet was something that they aspired to, rather than something that was a bunch of steps lower down the ladder.  His music spoke to the downtrodden who wanted, against all odds, to look and move up, rather than take things as they were.

"No Woman No Cry" is the one song that speaks most to these people.  And the fact that it can speak to me as well shows the universality of its themes and the poignancy of its lyrics.  There's no one less suited to the lyrical content of this song than me, but the lyrics do speak to me.  The music, too.  Starting off as a hymn of sorts, with the strong church organ laying the foundation for a song of loss, yet also of hope that "everything's gonna be alright."  The definitive version of "No Woman No Cry" isn't the album version, but the live version that was put on Bob Marley's greatest hits album Legend.  This version has a slower rhythm to it and his vocal performance is much more soulful.  You can feel the pain and the hope in his voice throughout the song.

The rhythm of the song is deeply rooted in reggae, putting the emphasis on the first and third beats, rather than in rock/pop music where the second and fourth beats are the primary focus.  The drums merely act as the oars, slowly propelling the song forward, accented with consistent splashes from the high hat cymbal.  The bass line matches the loping pace, swinging you back and forth, reminding me of the motion of an elephant.  It's a plodding rhythm, but not with that negative connotation that "plodding" usually has.  There are enough pauses rhythmically that the guitar and vocals can add their flair throughout the song.  The guitars, especially at the end, really add to the song, giving it a sorta reggae Eric Clapton feel to it.  It's reggae in beat but pure singer/songwriter at heart.  With a normal beat and culturally appropriate lyrics, it could be a Cat Stevens or Jackson Browne song.

The lyrics, though, are what make it such a personal love letter.  He uses phrases and lyrics that don't mean much to me, growing up in suburban Los Angeles, but are tailored for his love in West Kingston, Jamaica.  Even the title, "No Woman No Cry" is misunderstood by virtually everyone.  I always assumed (never paying attention to any of the lyrics really) that it meant that if you don't have a woman in your life, you won't get the pain associated with it that would make you cry.  That sentiment couldn't be further from the actual truth.  The line, "no woman no cry" should actually be read as "no woman nuh cry."  Nuh would translate to "don't," meaning that he's telling his love not to cry and that everything's gonna be alright.  It's akin to everyone who thinks that the line, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" is Juliet asking Romeo where he is.  As I learned in high school, it's actually Juliet asking Romeo why he's Romeo.  Her family and his were sworn enemies and their love for each other was as forbidden as Puff Daddy's daughter in love with Snoop Dogg's son.  So Bob Marley has a lot in common with Shakespeare (especially the dreadlocks). 

The lyrics are Bob reminiscing about earlier times, both good and bad, telling stories to his love:

Good friends we have had, oh good friends we've lost along the way
In this bright future you can't forget your past
So dry your tears I say

The way he's arranged the lyrics give the song a conversational feel that also harkens to pure poetry.

Remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown
And then Georgie would make the fire light
Log wood burnin' through the night
Then we would cook corn meal porridge
Of which I'll share with you

Finally, as he sings about times when he'll not be there to help dry her tears himself.  He realizes that those times will be tough for both of them, but in the end, things will be better:

My feet is my only carriage
So I've got to push on through
But while I'm gone...
Everything's gonna be alright

It becomes a mantra.  "Everything is gonna be alright."  He's assuring her without a doubt that with each other, they'll make it through anything.  It's reassuring without being pandering.  He acknowledges the struggles, but keeps hope in the future and that even though he's gone, he will return, and good times will come with him.  The pure talent it takes to marry pain with hope, loss with optimisn, absence with consolation, is so evident in Marley's heartfelt lyrics.  He's telling us all it's okay to cry, but don't dwell in it - dry your tears, because everything's gonna be alright.

(Fun Fact #420:  While doing research for this post, I just assumed the green, yellow and green color scheme was the one on the Jamaican flag that ended up being associated with Bob Marley.  The color  scheme for Jamaica, however, is green, yellow and black.  The green, yellow and red color scheme is actually the national colors of Ethiopia, the birthplace of the Rastafari movement.  When the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, visited Jamaica, they had been in a crippling drought.  During his visit, though, the skies finally opened and the rains began again.  Some attributed it to his presence and christened him as the country's messiah, a divine being, and began a religion based on his teachings, calling it by his birth name, Ras Tafari.  Selassie never claimed his messiah label and said that no one should worship him, but he did preach along the lines of his already established Orthodox Christian beliefs, and others took his teachings and build on them, adding many other practices, among them smoking LOTS of marijuana and growing dreadlocks.  Rastafari is still an established religion, with approximately one million worldwide members.)