The Story of... 'No Woman No Cry' by Bob Marley

15 September 2020, 17:15

Bob Marley - No Woman, No Cry
Bob Marley - No Woman, No Cry. Picture: Getty/Island

By Tom Eames

'No Woman No Cry' was one of Bob Marley's most famous songs, and was a rare occasion where a live recording was more famous than its studio original.

But what is the song about and who wrote it? Here's all the fascinating facts behind the iconic reggae ballad.

Read more: Bob Marley's greatest songs ever, ranked

  1. Who wrote 'No Woman No Cry'?

    Bob Marley wrote the song for the Wailers album Natty Dread released in 1975.

    The studio version of the song used a drum machine.

    However, Bob went uncredited for the song at the time, as he was feeling charitable for this one...

  2. Who was songwriter Vincent Ford?

    Bob Marley
    Bob Marley. Picture: Getty

    Although Bob Marley is assumed to have written the song on his own, as its lyrics are highly personal, it was actually credited to Vincent Ford.

    Ford was a friend of Marley's who ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, the ghetto area of Kingston, Jamaica, where Marley grew up.

    This meant that all royalty payments received by Ford allowed his work to continue.

    The album's liner notes list multiple songwriters, including other family friends and band members, but all songs were written by Marley. At the time, Marley was involved in a contractual dispute with his former publishing company, Cayman Music.

    Marley didn't want his new songs to be associated with Cayman, and it had been speculated that he had put them in other people's names to avoid the contractual restrictions, and as a way to "provide lasting help to family and close friends".

    Marley's former manager Danny Sims later sued to gain royalty and ownership rights to the songs, saying that Marley had written the songs but had assigned the credit to Ford, to avoid commitments made in previous contracts.

    A 1987 court sided with the Marley estate, assuming full control of the songs.

    Ford died aged 68 in 2008, in Kingston.

  3. What is the song about?

    The title 'No Woman, No Cry', means 'Woman, don't cry'. The title alludes to telling a woman not to cry.

    The lyric has been misunderstood by those outside of Jamaica to mean something like "if there is no woman, there is no reason to cry", or having secret feelings towards women.

    In the song, Marley mentions the Government Yards of Trench Town, a public housing project in Kingston where he grew up. The lyrics also include references to cornmeal porridge, a popular breakfast in Jamaica.

    Wailers bassist Aston 'Family Man' Barrett told NME in 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."

  4. The live version was more popular

    Its best known version is a live performance, which was released as a single from his album, Live!, which was recorded at the Lyceum in London in 1975.

    It was recorded on a hot July evening, with the Wailers giving a rousing performance. This tour helped Marley and The Wailers break into the mainstream.

    The original version on Natty Dread is quite different from the live performances. It was much shorter and sped-up, with Marley bringing a totally different energy to the concert versions.

  5. How did it perform in the charts?

    The live single originally reached number 22 in the UK in 1975, providing a breakthrough in the country.

    It reached number 8 upon a re-release in 1981 after his death.