It is nearly impossible to imagine a time when reggae was not part of the cultural currency. Though Bob Marley and the Wailers cannot be said to have invented the style, they certainly brought it to the world stage, and this album was the torch that lit the way. Catch A Fire hit with the force of a revelation when it was released in 1973, and though Chris Blackwell tailored its sound with a rock audience in mind, the album was still unlike anything that had ever come down the pike. Ironically, even given its relatively full production and electric guitar solos, Catch A Fre sounds more organic and rootsy than any of the Wailers' subsequent releases. While the percolating rhythms and burbling bass lines of the Barrett brothers, and the sweet, impeccable harmonies of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer soothe and move, Catch A Fire also introduces the conscious, politically minded themes that would remain at the center of Marley's songwriting for the rest of his career. Concrete Jungle, one of the towering standout tracks, addresses the trap of inner cities, while Slave Driver and 400 Years take on racial / historical issues. Yet Marley's penchant for gorgeous love songs is evident here too on his all-time classic Stir It Up. Even after everything that followed, and the cult of idolatry that formed around Marley, this remains soulful, message-driven music that goes straight to the blood. Utterly essential.