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'Every Little Thing's Gonna Be Alright,' Bob Marley’s Song '3 Little Birds' Said So

Music | May 11, 2019

Bob Marley, 1980. Source: (Photo by Sigfrid Casals/Cover/Getty Images)

You know the famous reggae song -- the one where Bob Marley assures us that "Every little thing's gonna be alright" -- but that's not the title. "Three Little Birds" is one of Bob Marley's best-loved tunes, even though the title doesn't seem like the most important lyric and is often forgotten. What was so important about the birds? Why do they get the title of the song when the bottom line (no matter who says it) is their advice to "Don't worry 'bout a thing" because "every little thing's gonna be alright?"


When Marley Recorded 'Three Little Birds'

Bob Marley bringing political rivals Michael Manley (left), Jamaica's prime minister, and Edward Seaga, leader of opposition, together during the Smile Jamaica Concert. Source: (bobmarley.com)

Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" is the fourth track on side two of his ninth album, Exodus, the release of which capped a crazy year for Marley. The 1976 LP Rastaman Vibration was the album that "broke" Marley in the U.S., rising to #11 on the album chart. In December 1976, Marley was the victim of a politically motivated assassination attempt, in which he sustained two gunshot wounds. Despite nearly dying from his grievous injuries, Marley performed for 90 minutes at the “Smile Jamaica Concert” two days later. He bravely performed in hopes of quelling political tension between rival factions in Jamaica. In late December, Marley left Jamaica for the U.K., where he completed the recording and production of the album to be called Exodus

Inspiration

Single jacket art for 'Three Little Birds.' Source: (discogs.com)

There are two stories about the origin of "Three Little Birds," and we may never know which is more factual (and it's possible both are equally true). In one of the many books about Marley, his friend, Tony "Gilly" Gilbert says there really were three little birds that inspired Marley. According to Gilbert, they were canaries, “Bob got inspired by a lot of things around him, he observed life. I remember the three little birds. They were pretty birds, canaries, who would come by the windowsill at Hope Road [Marley's home in Kingston, Jamaica]."

The I-Threes performing on the 'Exodus' tour. Source: (discogs.com)

The competing explanation of the song's title involves Marley's backup singers, the I-Threes (or I-Three): Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley, and Marcia Griffiths. Of Marley’s three back-up vocalists, Griffiths is the most unequivocal that “Three Little Birds” referred to them, “After the song was written, Bob would always refer to us as the Three Little Birds. After a show, there would be an encore. Bob would still want to go back and he would say, 'What are my Three Little Birds saying?”

Bob Marley in promotional photos from the 2012 documentary 'Marley.' Source: (IMDB/Magnolia Pictures)

“Three Little Birds” may not be the most covered song in history but a diverse range of artists have given it a shot, including Maroon 5 and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Not every celebrated musician would enjoy one of their masterpieces making its way to animated rodents but Bob Marley was the exception. Marley wanted nothing more than to spread his message of love and peace far and wide, “If puss and dog can get together, why can’t we love one another?”

Still Going Strong

A Young Bob Marley. Source: (jamaicans.com)

Amazingly, even though “Three Little Birds” hit stores over 40 years ago, it’s still going strong today. The Will Smith Movie, I Am Legend prominently featured the song and the peaceful message it extolls. Oddly enough, it's been used as both psych-up and consolation music in pro baseball: Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox used it as his walk-up music during their 2013 title campaign and the Milwaukee Brewers play it for their fans after home losses. Evidently, even in 2019 a message of peace, love, and understanding still resonates. 

In 2006, Marley's eldest daughter, Cedella Marley, co-wrote a book based on the song. That story was later turned into the musical "Three Little Birds," which originated at the Adventure Theater MTC in Maryland in 2013, then enjoyed a short run on Broadway in New York City the following year.

Tags: Bob Marley | Reggae | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!