This became Marley's first hit when it was released as a single from his album, Live!, which was recorded at the Lyceum in London in 1975. It was a hot July night, and they gave a rousing performance. This tour was a breakthrough for Marley and The Wailers. Their previous tour went horribly, as audiences outside of Jamaica did not appreciate his pure Reggae. He polished and tightened his sound for this tour in order to compete with the slick arena acts that were popular at the time, and got a great response. Glowing reviews led to sold out shows in the US, and by the time the tour hit London, they were a huge success.
Marley developed a powerful stage presence on this tour, and added musicians like Family Man Barrett and Al Anderson to sweeten the sound. The audiences on the tour where the live version was recorded were evenly mixed between black and white people. Marley was one of the few artists to have mass appeal that transcended race. The song became a highlight of Marley's concerts as the crowd always joined in. It is very easy to sing along to.
The original line of the song is "No, Woman, Nuh cry." Nuh is Jamacian for "don't," so what is meant by the lyric is No, Woman, Don't cry... He's leaving and reassuring her that the slum they live in won't get her down, that everything will be alright and "don't shed no tear." (thanks, Thom - Plymouth, United Kingdom)
The original version on Natty Dread was nothing like the live performances. It was shorter and sped-up, with little of the energy Marley brought to it in concert.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, the "Government yard in Trench Town" refers to the Jamaican public-housing project where Marley lived in the late '50s.
Marley wrote this, but gave a composer credit to Vincent "Tartar" Ford, one of his friends from Jamaica who helped him out when he was very poor and ran a soup kitchen in Kingston. By giving Ford the credit, Marley was helping out an old friend by trying to divert royalty checks his way. This was common practice on Marley's later output, as he listed friends and band members as composers, since murky contracts would have made it very hard for him to collect his own royalties (it's unclear how much money ever made it to his proxies). Ford is also listed as the songwriter of "Rastman Vibration."
The female vocals were by backing group the I-Threes, made up of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Bob's wife, Rita Marley. Griffiths went on to sing "Electric Boogie," which became a line dance favorite in America.
Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group the year before this was released. They were upset at the way Marley was given top billing.
This was included on Legend, a compilation album released three years after Marley's death. It was a #1 album in the UK.
Dakota Moon's lead singer and guitarist, Ty Taylor, appeared on the reality TV series Rockstar INXS and did a cover of this song. (thanks, Annabelle - Eugene, OR)
The Brazilian Tropicalia singer Gilberto Gil recorded this for his 1979 album Realce, putting a Bossa Nova twist on it. Gil later became Brazil's Minister of Culture. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Aston "Family Man" Barrett, bass player of the Wailers, told NME June 30, 2012: "The song is about the strength in the mama of course, strength in the ladies. And we love a woman with a backbone. Something like a wishbone! They have to be like a she lion! Woman strong, you know, not depending on the man. Of course the man is there to help you, then for every successful man, there is a good woman."
In his book Lyrics By Sting
, the singer admitted he borrowed the chords to this song for The Police's debut album track "So Lonely