Song Lyric Sunday — Reggae

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday theme, Jim Adams has given us “raggae” music, which is popular music of Jamaican origin that combines native styles with elements of rock and soul music and is performed at moderate tempos with the accent on the offbeat. I know relatively little about reggae music, but I am somewhat familiar with Bob Marley and the Wailers and the song I’m going with is “I Shot the Sheriff.”

“I Shot the Sheriff” was written by Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley and released in 1973 with his band Bob Marley and the Wailers on the album Burnin’. This song tells the story of a man who shoots a sheriff who had been harassing him, but is wrongly accused of killing the deputy. Marley said that some of the song is true, but would not say which parts. At one point, Marley said his intention was that he wanted to say “I shot the police,” but the government would have made a fuss so he said “sheriff” instead. But it was the same idea: justice.”

Eric Clapton recorded this song in 1974 and his version was a number 1 hit in the U.S., the only number 1 of his career. Clapton’s recording gave Marley a big boost, as it exposed him to a rock audience.

In the 2001 documentary The Life Of Bob Marley, Esther Anderson, who was Marley’s girlfriend, claims she helped write this and that it is about birth control. She said Marley substituted the word “sheriff” for “doctor,” and that the lyrics “Sheriff John Brown always hated me / For what, I don’t know / Every time I plant a seed / He said, ‘Kill it before it grow’”are actually about Marley being very opposed to her use of birth control pills.

Here are the lyrics to “I Shot the Sheriff.”

(I shot the sheriff
But I didn't shoot no deputy, oh no! Oh!
I shot the sheriff
But I didn't shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh, oo-ooh.)
Yeah! All around in my home town,
They're tryin' to track me down;
They say they want to bring me in guilty
For the killing of a deputy,
For the life of a deputy.
But I say

Oh, now, now. Oh!
(I shot the sheriff) the sheriff.
(But I swear it was in self defense.)
Oh, no! (Oh, oh, oh) Yeah!
I say: I shot the sheriff oh, Lord!
(And they say it is a capital offense.)
Yeah! (oh, oh, oh) Yeah!

Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I don't know,
Every time I plant a seed,
He said kill it before it grow,
He said kill them before they grow.
And so

Read it in the news:
(I shot the sheriff.) Oh, Lord!
(But I swear it was in self-defense.)
Where was the deputy? (oh)
I say, I shot the sheriff,
But I swear it was in self defense. (oh) Yeah!

Freedom came my way one day
And I started out of town, yeah!
All of a sudden I saw sheriff John Brown
Aiming to shoot me down,
So I shot, I shot, I shot him down and I say:
If I am guilty I will pay.

(I shot the sheriff,)
But I say (But I didn't shoot no deputy),
I didn't shoot no deputy (oh, no-oh), oh no!
(I shot the sheriff.) I did!
But I didn't shoot no deputy. Oh! (oh)

Reflexes had got the better of me
And what is to be must be,
Every day the bucket a-go a well,
One day the bottom a-go drop out,
One day the bottom a-go drop out.
I say

I, I, I, I, shot the sheriff.
Lord, I didn't shot the deputy. No!
I, I (shot the sheriff)
But I didn't shoot no deputy, yeah! So, yeah!

16 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday — Reggae

  1. babsje April 23, 2023 / 3:08 am

    Great choice, great post. There’s also the Chevvy Chase cover of I Shot the Sheriff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango April 23, 2023 / 7:37 am

      Haven’t heard that cover. I’ll have to go find it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lauren April 23, 2023 / 6:42 am

    I never heard the story of the girlfriend’s viewpoint. Hmmmm?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. newepicauthor April 23, 2023 / 6:56 am

    That abortion connection makes a lot of sense. I like this version better than the Clapton cover. I guess we will never find out who shot the deputy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lou Carreras April 23, 2023 / 7:15 am

    This was my theme song in grad school—which says a lot about that experience. while I watched the video the years dropped away and took me way back. thanks! great choice Fandango!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango April 23, 2023 / 7:46 am

      Any opportunity to be transported back to your youth, even for just a minute, is worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Marleen April 23, 2023 / 3:01 pm

    It’s such a story, and covered intriguingly by many people if they are hearing the story and not just putting phonemes to notes.

    Liked by 1 person

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