Written by Marley in 1979, "Could You Be Loved" starts with a spare yet distinctive guitar riff that repeats under the track's relentless beat and one of the best known opening lines in history: "Don't let them fool ya! Or even try to school ya!"
The interpretation of this opener and the other lyrics depends on what you think the song's about. Some think it's a love song. Others say Marley wrote it as a ballad to the poverty and struggle he witnessed, while still others claim he wrote it on a plane from Brazil in response to how much love he received when he performed there. Some even see it as being about a man reaffirming his faith in the face of personal struggle. Those familiar with Rastafarianism and Marley's lyrical style (in which he often referred to himself as "you" while simultaneously referring to everyone else, a concept that comes from the Rasta belief that all are one) believe Marley uses the song to convey an urgent message to himself and others: at all cost, stay mentally and spirituality fit inside Babylon's system.
The true meaning probably lies somewhere in a melange of all these theories.
Followers of Rastafarianism see capitalism, government corruption, and even the gold-backed monetary system as part of "Babylon" and live lives as divorced from it as possible.
By the time Uprising was released, Marley and the Wailers had come full circle. Originally a group of shanty dwellers from Jamaica's slums in 1963, the late '70s saw a different Wailers story - and tax bracket. The group was successful, with the trappings that come with it: money, fame, women. This, according to many, caused Marley to have a growing sense of conflict about success in the very system lambasted in his lyrics. As the Wailers began work on what would be their last album, he was also frequently ill as he had lived with the 1977 diagnosis of the cancer that would kill him a year after Uprising's release.
Lyrics to this song read like a disjointed sermon/prayer, where psalms and Bible verses encapsulated into one liners marry preeminent Rastafarian themes like righteousness and revolution. Some examples:
"Love would never leave us alone" could be a reference to Jah, or God, as "love." When combined with the next line, "darkness that must come out the light" - a reference to the Bible verse, "For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad." (Luke 8.17), the lyrics might mean, "Jah will never leave you, so don't worry about anything oppressing you because Jah will reveal and destroy it." All things done in darkness coming to light is an oft-used allegory in Rasta teachings for good overcoming evil.
"Don't let them change ya! Or even re-arrange ya!" reinforce the opening lines. Both lines could be warnings against allowing agents of Babylon to tamper with the righteousness of Jah's children. Marley's exclamations, "Only the fittest of the fittest shall survive! Stay alive! Yeah!", in light of the lyrics prior to it could certainly be another reminder that spiritual fitness is needed to survive in Babylon's system.
Toward the end of the song, the backup singers the I-Threes sing lines from Marley's first single, "Judge Not," a Ska tune about morality released in 1962: "The road of life is rocky, and you may stumble too. So while you point a finger, someone else is judging you."
These lines are likely based on the Biblical admonishment, "Judge not lest ye be judged." Marley's repetition of this lyric from a previous song may have been done to drive home his point about the importance of morality.
This was the first reggae song to get prominent airplay on major American radio stations. It was first played by Frankie Crocker at the New York radio station WBLS. Thanks to this airplay, the song became one of the Wailers' most successful hits and was later used in several films, including I Love You to Death, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Blue Crush, 50 First Dates and Fool's Gold.
While it's hard to be sure exactly what this song is about, use of the cuica in the beginning of the song - the other instrument in the intro that's not the guitar - lends credibility to the theory that the song has something to do with Brazil. The cuica, or "friction drum" is a Brazilian instrument.
Marley wrote this song with hit potential in mind. He wanted to break into the American market ahead of a big tour that took him into the States (this Uprising tour was his last). He figured that his reggae music would not be easily accepted among mainstream black audiences, so he wrote this song with a faster, almost disco beat.
Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin originated the song in London. He was fooling around on his guitar and came up with the opening guitar riff. Marvin recalled to Uncut magazine:
"Bob said, 'What's that?' I said it was just something I was messing around with, and he said, 'Can I use it?' Then we went to Brazil together with Jacob Miller from Inner Circle, and we completed the song together. We never got any official credit or compensation, but from time to time Bob would quietly give me some money to keep me sweet!"