Perfect Sound Forever


Nuff Lyrics:
The Story of "Trenchtown Rock"
by Eric Doumerc
(August 2023)

One good thing about music,
when it hits, you feel no pain.
One good thing about music,
when it hits, you feel no pain.
So hit me with music,
Hit me with music now.
So hit me with music,
Hit me with music now.
I say Trenchtown Rock: don't watch that.
Trenchtown Rock: big fish or sprat.
Trenchtown Rock: you reap what you sow.
Trenchtown Rock: and everyone know.
Trenchtown Rock: don't turn your back.
Trenchtown Rock: give them so much rock.
Trenchtown Rock: never let the children cry.
Trenchtown Rock: 'cause you got to tell Jah Jah why.
You're grooving in Kingston 12,
Grooving in Kingston 12.
No want you fe galang so,
No want you fe galang so,
You want come cold I up,
You can't come cold I up.
Oh, I'm a groover!
One good thing about music,
When it hits, you feel no pain.
So hit me with music,
Hit me with music now.
Brutalize me with music!

"Trench Town Rock" was released in the early summer of 1971 on The Wailers' own Tuff Gong label and according to Stephen Davis, it "turned Bob Marley into a national hero" thanks to its "lilting melody, pulsating 'riddim' and proud language." Indeed, the song's unforgettable bassline was to make it a major reggae anthem and Marley used "Trench Town Rock" to open his memorable concert at the Lyceum in London in 1975. The live recording of that concert was largely instrumental in launching Bob Marley's career in Europe. But the importance of the song transcends that fact and lies in the fact that "Trench Town Rock" is a very good example of what the poet Linton Kwesi Johnson called "reggae lyricism," with its call and response pattern, its resort to proverbs and its powerful social message. The song also contributed to building Marley's legendary status among musicians in Jamaica, as Stephen "Cat" Coore recalled in an interview published in The Beat: "Even before Bob got big, we Jamaican musicians used to hold him in reverence, because of the kind of songs that he did, like "Trench Town Rock". They were so outrageous and so commanding."

"Trench Town Rock" was a number one hit in Jamaica and remained at the top of the charts for five months. U-Roy recorded his own version, "Kingston 12 Shuffle", over the same rhythm, with Peter Tosh on melodica. The song featured the Barrett brothers (Aston on bass and Carlton on drums) and Tyrone Downie on keyboards. It was recorded at Dynamic Sound.

The song is built on a feature of African and Afro-Caribbean music known as the call-and response pattern, as the group calls out "Trench Town Rock" and the lead singer answers them. This formal characteristic reinforces the themes of unity and solidarity contained in the lyrics. "Trenchtown Rock" also reflects the mood of the times and the new thematic concerns that were creeping into reggae lyrics, that is poverty, life in Kingston's slums and social inequality more generally.

According to Stephen Davis and Peter Simon, the song was inspired by a brutal riot that broke out in Trench Town in 1967 and Bob Marley started working on it in the same year. The words "grooving in Kinsgton 12" refer to the postal zoning which was 12 for West Kingston.

The originality of the Wailers' lyrics can be seen in the resort to punning and wordplay as Marley played on the various connotations of the verb "to hit" and of "rock." Indeed the line "hit me with music" could refer to the idea of being hit by the power of music, instead of being hit by truncheons. So the message could have been that, instead of using truncheons to repress riots, the governement (at the time Hugh Shearer's Jamaica Labour Party government) should have used different methods to bring back peace.

The line "give them so much rock" is proof of Marley's love of wordplay as the word "rock" could refer either to the power of the music or to social unrest.

The point made by the Wailers seems to have been that even though it was a ghetto, Trench Town was "groovy", could "rock" and hit people with the power of music instead of the police's truncheons..

Interestingly, the longer version of the song, which had also been released on a now hard-to-find 45 and which was made available to the general public on the 1992 Songs of Freedom boxed set, contained a few more lines at the end which went: "Don't call no cop! We can thrash things ourselves. Got no stocks on no shelves, but, let me tell you, behave yourselves!" These lines seem to reflect the Wailers' status as the spokesmen for their community: they were trying to convince Jamaican society that the poor could "behave themselves" and refrain from using violence to make their voices heard. The line "Got no stocks on no shelves" may be a reference to the fact that a number of shops were looted during the 1967 riot.

The song was released in the summer of 1971, a few months before Jamaican people were due to go to the polls to elect the new government (in February1972). The song's social and cultural themes and its championing of a lower-class area which was supposed to be a no-go area for many Jamaicans seemed to imply that the Wailers sympathised with the views defended by the People's National Party, led by the charismatic Michael Manley at the time. The Wailers were among the recording artists who joined the PNP's "Caravan of Stars" (later known as he PNP Bandwagon) and toured Jamaica in support of Manley's party. Other artistes like Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, the Chosen Few, Max Romeo, Judy Mowatt, and the deejay Scotty took part too.

According to David Katz, Lee "Scratch" Perry described "Trench Town Rock" as "prophecy," as the song heralded the band's rise from the ghetto of Trench Town to international stardom. It certainly announced the arrrival of a major force on the reggae scene and it still hits hard today.


Davis, Stephen and Peter Simon. Reggae Bloodlines - In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica. Doubleday, 1977.

Davis, Stephen. Bob Marley - The Definitive Biography of Reggae's Greatest Star. London: Granada, 1985.

Johnson, Linton Kwesi. "Jamaican Rebel Music." Race and Class 17.4 (1976). Katz, David. Solid Foundation - An Oral History of Reggae. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003.

Steffens, Roger. Interview with Stephen "Cat" Coore. The Beat no. 3, Vol.11 (1992).

Steffens, Roger. So Much Things To Say - The Oral History of Bob Marley. New York : Norton, 2017.

Also see...

An excerpt from Richie Unterberger's Bob Marley book

And see this article about Bob Marley's legacy

Marley's song "Rat Race" in detail

A closer look at the Wailers' album Burnin'

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER