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

“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.

“No Woman, No Cry” song has such a lasting impact because, especially in the live recordings, you can clearly hear the emotion that Marley was trying to convey.

“No Woman, No Cry” Lyrics Meaning

As is the case with many of his songs, Bob draws inspiration from his own life in the lyrics, taking his personal experiences and transforming them into a message of unity and positivity.

It starts with a gently-sung chorus, before Marley sings the first verse:

‘Cause, ’cause, ’cause I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown
Oba, observing the hypocrites, yeah
Mingle with the good people we meet, yeah
Good friends we have had, oh good friends we’ve lost along the way, yeah
In this bright future you can’t forget your past
So dry your tears I say, yeah

First verse to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”.

Marley recalls sitting in the government yard in Trenchtown, Jamaica, the ghetto where he grew up, watching out for dishonest people and spending time with the genuine ones.

Many of the dearest friends he’s had have now been lost, but ather than dwell in sadness about that, Marley suggests we remember them fondly, because the future is bright.

There’s no reason to cry, he says, and we hear another chorus before the second verse:

Eh, Said, said, said I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown, yeah
And then Georgie would make the fire light, I say
A log wood burning through the night
Then we would cook corn meal porridge, I say
Of which I’ll share with you, yeah
My feet is my only carriage
And so I’ve got to push on through
But while I’m gone

Second verse to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”.

Bob once again recalls the old government yard, and this time with a different memory attached.

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.

After this, however, Bob must leave, because staying on the move is all he’s got, so he’s got to keep going. This is likely a reference to his lifestyle of constantly being on the road, and leaving his family at home.

While he’s gone, however, he hopes that his woman will not cry, as he reminds us in the chorus. Then, in the bridge, he offers some more reassurance:

Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
Everything’s going to be alright
So No woman, no cry
No woman, no cry, I say
Oh little, oh little darling, don’t shed no tears
No woman, no cry, eh

Bridge to “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley.

This repetition of “Everything’s going to be alright” later served as the basis for Marley’s 1977 hit song “Three Little Birds”, which is all about how — you guessed it — everything’s going to be alright.

Who wrote “No Woman, No Cry”?

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.

Enjoy the famous 1975 live recording from The Lyceum below, and check out another version from 1977 below that.

“No Woman, No Cry” (6/4/77)