Bob Marley & The Wailers – Stir It Up. This is a song I must have heard thousands of times, yet I never get tired of it. When my daughters were infants, I played it as a lullaby (often with other songs from Legend). Over and over again, the guitars, bass, organ, drums, backing vocals and vocals would play and interweave, leading up to that moment at 3.33 when the wah wah lead guitar soared off on the solo, peaking and riding the wave driven on by the solid bass and rhythm guitar. Every time there is something new to hear, some fresh detail to pick out. This time, it’s things like the phrase “blaze a fire”, the fact that there is a separate lead guitar under the wah wah, plucking away, that the organ and the wah wah often merge in sound. And, as I listen to it for the umpteenth time, I notice that the drums aren’t an ever-present presence during the song, apart from the dramatic roll at the beginning of the song.
It really is a three dimensional song, with every instrument confidently filling the space, interlocking and interweaving in a rhythmic and melodic bliss. A bit like the teacher who fills a glass bottle with stones, then pebbles, then sand, and then a student pours in beer – just when you think the song is filled up, there’s something more to take up the previously unnoticed space – and depending on how I listen to it, different instruments come to the fore or settle back to the background.
This is probably because of the number of times I have listened to it – each fresh hearing takes a different pathway through the sound. And sitting here at my desk, I’m missing out on one of the biggest joys of the song – dancing to it, usually with a small child in the crook of one arm. I do wonder if, in years to come, this song will evoke deeply laid down memories from early, pre-verbal days for my daughters. There could be worse songs to have that place in their lives.
Three dimensional. In my head, I have a physical space where the different instruments are separated out, in a kind of synaethetic mix of sensation, fluttering or ooh-ing, oozing or purring, bumping or rattling, with Bob Marley in the middle of the room, conducting the sound with his lyrics, drawing out the outlines of the aural soundscape like a Magic Eye picture.
As I focus on a particular moment of the song, a characteristic of the skanking guitar, backed by the booming bass, a snatch of chorus becomes a solid feature of the song – something I can listen out for as a landmark the next time round. Thus another small piece of the jigsaw of the song is put in place, another face of the exquisite jewel is polished to reflect the light.
And one silly question to end on – why does he sing “Steer it up”, not “Stir it up”?