Bob Marley and The Wailers’ ‘Burnin” Nearly Featured 3 Bunny Wailer Songs

You didn’t see the name Bob Marley and The Wailers on the cover of the group’s first two Island LPs for a simple reason. At that point, they were still “The Wailers,” the band Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingston had formed in the early ’60s. And they stayed that way until the release of Burnin’ (1973).

Not long after Burnin’ hit record stores, Livingston and Tosh took their leave of the band. Marley got his headline billing; The Wailers (somewhat confusingly) remained the name of Marley’s backing band; and Tosh and Livingston embarked upon their solo careers. (Livingston assumed the name Bunny Wailer at that point.)

While many consider the shift to Bob Marley and The Wailers inevitable, it didn’t seem that way on Burnin’. Along with two songs written (at least in part) by Tosh, the album featured another two from Bunny. And it almost included a third Bunny track. That would have matched the number of new Marley compositions on the LP.

Bunny Wailer would have matched Bob Marley with 3 new songs on ‘Burnin”

Bunny Wailer looks off-camera in 1988
Bunny Wailer in Notting Hill, London, August 1988 | David Corio/Redferns)

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After The Wailers’ very commercial Island debut, the band put all its powers on display on Burnin’. It was a group that featured three heavyweight songwriters, and two were showcased on “Get up, Stand up,” the opener co-written by Marley and Tosh.

The pair shared lead vocals on that potent track, and it was followed by a complete change of pace in “Hallelujah Time.” Though credited to Bunny’s partner Jean Watt, no one doubts that Bunny wrote this track, on which he took lead vocals.

With Marley’s backing vocals audible, Bunny showed off his impressive vocal range and songwriting ability on “Hallelujah Time.” From there, three Marley tracks (two of which were new) closed side 1 of Burnin’. But Bunny returned for the second track of side 2.

After Marley reprised “Small Axe” (originally recorded by The Wailers in ’70), the sweet sounds of Bunny’s voice filled the speakers on “Pass It On,” a reworking of a very early song. (Bunny also credited that track to Watt.) “Reincarnated Souls,” Bunny’s third new composition, didn’t make the record’s final cut.

Bunny’s ‘Reincarnated Souls’ had been the working title of ‘Burnin”

Bob Marley plays guitar with 2 bandmates behind him in 1975
Bob Marley and The Wailers perform on stage at the Odeon, Birmingham, UK, July 1975. | Ian Dickson/Redferns

The title of Bunny’s third song was “Reincarnated Souls,” a stirring track that first turned up as the B-side of the “Concrete Jungle” single in the U.K. Bunny later included it on his 1976 solo LP, Blackheart Man.

On his Wailers version (credited to Watt), a funky opening gives way to The Wailers showing off their vocal group skills on “Reincarnated Souls.” Then Bunny steps in. While recording the LP, the title of this Bunny tune was the working title.

That changed once “Reincarnated Souls” didn’t make the final album cut. At that point, the Wailers’ second Island LP took on the name from the Marley side 1 composition “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” which seems more appropriate.

The original Wailers was one of the deepest bands of the era, regardless of genre. If Bunny had gotten his third song on Burnin’, he would have matched Marley for new songs, further highlighting that depth.