No Woman, No Cry
Bob Marley & the Wailers
Writer(s): Bob Marley, Vincent Ford (see lyrics here)
First Charted: September 27, 1975
Peak: 1 CL, 1 CO, 8 UK, 97 AU, 3 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 0.68 US, 0.4 UK, 1.08 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 343.6 video, 195.84 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
There’s an argument to be made that no artist did more for his genre than Bob Marley did for reggae. In 1975, the genre “had been bubbling out of Jamaica through white rock & roll for three years or so” TC but “was confined to…Jamaica…and a few white fans.” TC “Partly it was the politics and the Rastafarianism that put the public off reggae music at first,” TC but music critic Toby Creswell argues that Bob Marley & the Wailers’ 1975 live gig at London’s Lyceum on July 18-19 “was a turning point in the history of music.” TC
Their previous tour didn’t go well because non-Jamaican audiences didn’t appreciate pure reggae, but after Marley and his band tightened their sound, they received glowing reviews and sold out shows in America. By the time they got to London, they were a huge success SF attracting an audience that was half black and half white, some who were avid followers of reggae and some who were just curious. LW Steve Smith, who co-produced the live recording, said of the first night that “the intensity and the vibe were just nuts.” TC As a result, the second night’s show was recorded. The result was what Smith asserted to be one of only three great live albums, alongside Ray Charles at Newport in 1958 and James Brown at the Apollo in 1962. TC
The highlight of the show was arguably “No Woman, No Cry,” “the ultimate sing-along” TC in which Marley “merges the personal, the political and the spiritual.” LW The original studio version appeared on the 1974 Natty Dread album, but the live version released from the Lyceum album was a top-10 hit in the UK, thanks to Island Records marketing Marley “as a new breed of Third World rebel.” LW The title has been misinterpreted as “if there is no woman, there is no reason to cry,” WK but the real message is “woman, don’t cry.” WK The narrator is “leaving and reassuring here that the slum they live in won’t get her down.” SF
Critic Paul Williams said, “Song in general, song in its truest form, creates a willingness to hear by its attractive qualities; it captures, holds, and reshapes the attention of its listener, through its sincerity and integrity it opens up to new truth.” PW “This transcendently beautiful song” PW “cuts clean to the heart of the matter in a few words, a few notes, a few moments of vibrant soul-stirring clarity.” PW “Vocalist/preacher Marley takes on the classic…masculine role of father, husband, elder brother, offering strength and hope to daughter/wife/sister.” PW The “humble radiant wild holy man” PW “gave us something that makes a difference in our struggle. He reminds us of the dignity of our lives.” PW
In a display of his own dignity, Marley gave Vincent Ford a songwriter credit so that royalties would support his friend’s soup kitchen in Trenchtown, Jamaica. WK
First posted 4/13/2021; last updated 11/24/2022.