The Meaning of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”

Bob Marley live in November 1979. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“No Woman, No Cry” is one of the more touching and memorable songs in Bob Marley’s catalogue, if not the most powerful. The song was originally released in 1974 on the album Natty Dread, but it’s actually the live version recorded at the Lyceum in London in 1975 that people remember the most. It was released as a single from the album Live! and has since been engraved in the hearts of many fans of reggae and music of the soul in general.

The live recording of “No Woman, No Cry” features a slower tempo, with Marley and his Wailers taking the time to draw out the emotion in the song. This seems to be the way the song was meant to be played, and it really draws out the message present in the lyrics.

The meaning of “No Woman, No Cry” has to do with keeping your head up through hard times. Some have wrongly assumed that the lyrics have a different meaning entirely, referring to keeping women out of your life to avoid crying, but this is not the case at all. The song is meant as an encouragement and a reminder of the things that life is worth living for, a beacon of hope shining through the darkness.

The lyrics provide imagery from Bob Marley’s early life in Trenchtown, Jamaica, making reference to real people in his life. He sings of his old friend Georgie, who hung around with Bob Marley and Rita Marley when they had first started to see each other, and would make cornmeal porridge and gather to enjoy it together.

Bob Marley and Rita Marley in 1978. Photo by Ginny Winn/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While it is assumed that Bob Marley wrote the lyrics to “No Woman, No Cry” himself, the writing credits for the song are actually co-credited to Vincent Ford, also known as Tata.

According to Rita Marley’s memoir, No Woman, No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley, Bob gave Tata songwriting credits to this song as a way of honoring him and the impact he had on Bob’s early life. Bob was reportedly living in Tata’s kitchen for a time, which Rita recalls is actually the first place that the two made love.

It is also suggested that Bob Marley had other motives for giving songwriting credits for “No Woman, No Cry” and several other songs in his discography to people other than himself. He was signed to Cayman Records from 1967 to 1976, and they assumed ownership over anything for which he was credited as the songwriter.

Since Marley was not actually credited as the songwriter, this denied Cayman Records both ownership and royalties over the track. There was a legal dispute in which Cayman Records claimed that since Marley was assumed to be the real songwriter, they should be owed royalties dating back to the song’s inception, from both Island Records and the songwriters who were credited and had been receiving part of the royalty payment. This dispute was finally resolved in 2014, and Cayman Records lost.

As is the case with many of his songs, Bob draws inspiration from his own life in this song, taking his personal experiences and transforming them into a message of unity and positivity. The song has such a lasting impact because, especially in the live recordings, you can clearly hear the emotion that Marley was trying to convey.

While not as popular as some of the more straightforward and easygoing Bob Marley songs like “Three Little Birds” and “Is This Love”, “No Woman, No Cry” stands as one of the most heartfelt songs written by the man responsible for bringing the joys of reggae music to the masses, and for that reason we honor it.

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