Bob Marley & The Wailers – Iron Lion Zion

Release Date: Sept 92
Chart Position: 5

I have mixed feelings about this song. Structurally it’s standard Marley fare, lovely melody, big chorus, simple rhymes. Great pop music basically. But the production! Ruined it!
Tinny drums, obvious beats. And who’s idea was it to smother the song in that awful sax solo? Ugh.
The I-threes are in fine voice though, I love their ‘running like a fugitive’ refrain (similar to the end of ‘Could you be loved?’). Bob too sounds great. Good video also, loads of him playing footy (no Danny Baker though?). I also liked the cartoon bit where the lion turned into Bob; that was rude.
It was a big hit with the owners of the market stall I worked on (they’d often belt out the chorus on a Saturday afternoon) and my Dad, although he changed the words to “Iron, like a Lion, la-la Lion.”
Score: 7/10

Although this was the beginning of Neggae, I still can’t bring myself to like it. For a start someone’s let a wannabe Kenny G loose all over it and cheapened the whole song into Coffee Table reggae, I’m sure it went down a storm in Godalming but this is supposed to be the King of political reggae, not something you can giveaway free with the Mail on Sunday magazine. Obviously the vocals are great but that’s the least you should expect. It’s basically the type of song Glenn Hoddle would play whilst telling Gazza he wasn’t in the World Cup squad. Now the video, the archive footage is great, then suddenly it turns into a Twinings tea advert, with Monet inspired animation of a Lion bounding round the globe, I preferred Willy Fogg. At the time I didn’t mind it when it popped up on Top of the Pops, I never anticipated the cultural tidal wave this little swell of Reggae would produce.
Score: 5/10 (the mark’s only that high because it was the spark that ignited the fire.)

Sorry to start this great journey on a negative, but I am not a fan. I know I should like it, its Marley, it’s in tune with everything else great from that era, good base line, etc……but I just don’t. I feel it is simply not strong enough versus some of the great tunes we need to cover. As said it has the ingredients to be a great song, however it feels repetitive after just 30 second and goes nowhere. Instead of developing as the song goes on I find it bores me.
I am undecided about the video. I think it works but then on reflection it feels as if it is something a Visual and Performing Arts student has knocked together at the last minute for their dissertation. They are clearly desperately trying to gain extra credit by demonstrating their strength in using multiple media types however this turns it into a lazy mish mash of nonsense. They deserve an ‘F’. Having said that though some of the old footage of Marley is pretty cool.
Marley has given us some of the greatest pop tunes of all time however this is not his best. Presumably that is why he never shared it with us and left locked up in a cupboard somewhere until somebody else found it and released it 11 years after his death…….they should have left it there getting dusty!
Score: 3/10

It kind of says something about a song and a video when the only plus points you can draw are Sir Bob having a kick about with his chums (he did have some tekkers). The live concert footage is also nice but sadly, I’m not a fan of this one.
I remember it being released and I’m sure it charted well, but much like any posthumous release this cannot be seen as anything more than a marketing exercise. When a song is released in a new format 11 years after the death of the artist it is always going to sound false when tampered with. This was clearly a money spinner to promote the Songs of Freedom greatest hits CD.
Songs released immediately on death always seem to be left in their original format. Probably because there is no time to re hash a classic and meet public demand. George Harrison’s My sweet Lord for example, straight in at number one the week of his passing on respect, nostalgic value and Itunes downloads alone. Songs that are released years later from beyond the grave are a completely different animal. The Beatles Free As A Bird for example, same musicians, some producer, John Lennon’s eerie vocals. Different era, different technology at their disposal, different sound altogether.
Even with the same musicians, the same producer and an original master tape of Bob Marley’s vocals it would be near impossible to catch the essence of the Wailers well into the 90s.  Lets not forget that, unlike Free as a bird,  Iron Lion Zion was actually finished when Bob Marley and the Wailers were in their prime, yet not released as a single. I actually prefer the original.  Then there’s that god awful Sax that seems to have been chucked in for good measure. Who’s idea was that?
The proof’s in the pudding and if you listen to the original I’m sure that you’d agree that some things are just best left alone.
Score: 3/10 for me (purely for the start of the neggae trend that followed).

As the years go by listening to Marley is an extremely easy and enjoyable thing to do. I look for the positives, however, this particular song and video almost have me lost for words. I get the song but it never seems to get out of first gear. Very repetitive and if I have a choice on the cd this song gets skipped. The sax doesn’t bother me, gives it an island stylie maan! The best part of the video was Marley dancing on stage to begin…that sums up who he is and that’s what I love about his style. I could do without the cartoons and more football. Maybe a lion playing with an iron football in Zion?
Score: 5/10



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