Reggae Music Songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s

1. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Three Little Birds”

Bob Marley celebrated the mystical beauty of nature through much of his music, such as on Exodus – which Time magazine named one of the top 100 albums of all time.

Three Little Birds is an engaging song that conveys its message of hope through its simple lyrics: “Every little thing’s going to be alright”. This timeless tune has even been turned into a children’s book and off-Broadway musical!

Kacey Musgraves has performed a stunning acoustic version of this Bob Marley and The Wailers classic at several live shows, which will appear on the soundtrack for upcoming Bob Marley biopic One Love. Additionally, she recorded an extended version for an EP with other prestige artists to be released by Rounder Records later in 2024; its album will then also be made available.

2. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Redemption Song”

Bob Marley recorded this acoustic ballad on an Ovation Adamas guitar alone at that time; its message and tone recall Dylan’s work. In 1992, it appeared on Inner Circle; additionally this version is also found on compilation CD The Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers. ++

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone were updated as of 4/20/20 and charts provided here were last revised on this date.

3. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “I Shot the Sheriff”

Original released in 1973, this song was intended as a protest against injustice and corruption. Although its lyrics seem to advocate violence, Marley wrote it from a position of self-defense rather than anger.

Marley’s only Billboard number-one single, it increased his global profile while also introducing reggae music to rock audiences that weren’t familiar with it before this point.

Eric Clapton took this song even further with his cover version, which reached #1 on the US Hot 100 in 1974. While maintaining the reggae beat, Clapton added more prominent organ and guitar elements for added impact compared to its original recording. Clapton’s rendition still sounds great today but may lack its initial impact.

4. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “One Love”

Fans familiar with “One Love,” from Exodus album, know it was originally recorded in 1977 by Curtis Mayfield (due to copyright issues from record label), although its lyrics actually derive from The Impressions’ song titled “People Get Ready”.

As part of his Rastafari faith, Marley placed a prominent focus on Ethiopia as a holy land and concepts such as redemption and peace – two influences evident in “One Love,” where he calls for unity across religions, races, borders and political affiliations.

Bob Marley: One Love features Kingsley Ben-Adir as the late reggae icon and explores how he attempted to use music to unite Jamaica, though his efforts ultimately proved short-lived when rival politician Edward Seaga unseatted Manley in 1980.

5. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Uprising”

Though Marley passed away almost forty years ago, his music remains influential to reggae fans and musicians to this day. Its themes of love, peace and freedom continue to empower people against oppressive regimes.

Uprising was one of the last albums featuring The Wailers before their disbandment, and contains some of their finest compositions. Although predominantly religious in tone, Uprising also explores secular themes while emphasizing finding spirituality within an otherwise material world.

Marley left behind several descendants, such as musicians Skip and YG, American football player Rohan and model Selah. To honor Bob Marley and his legacy, Rizzoli has recently published Bob Marley: Portrait of the Legend – featuring 150 photographs taken by photographer Michael Ochs – available on Amazon and is an essential read for fans of reggae music.

6. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Jah Love”

When I purchased my ticket to see the Commodores at Madison Square Garden in 1980, it listed two opening acts – rapper Kurtis Blow and reggae superstar Bob Marley as opening acts. At that time, Rolling Stone and other mainstream rock publications had begun including Jamaican music as an element of coverage; however many African-American audiences resisted its presence, along with Rastafarianism that it propagated.

The Wailers’ combination of powerful vocals, ingenious production and spiritual message resonated deeply with me even as a high schooler. Chris Blackwell’s Island Records had worked to lure white rock press members with trips to Kingston’s Trenchtown ghetto and lessons in Rastafarianism; yet their music largely avoided commercialization by adopting an anti-commercial and quasi-bohemian aesthetic; one which disapproved of white institutions while accepting their record purchases nonetheless.

7. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “I Shot the Sheriff”

The Wailers were a Jamaican reggae band founded by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer that is widely credited with giving reggae its first international breakthrough with their 1973 album Catch a Fire.

Eric Clapton covered “I Shot the Sheriff”, from their 1972 album Burnin’, on his 1974 version which became a smash hit and earned him his only US #1 hit during an incredible career with Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominoes.

Though its lyrics reference gunfire and sheriffs, Marley intended for his song to send the message that no single authority should possess absolute power over another individual – an important theme in Rastafarianism and cited often by supporters of Ice-T’s 1992 track “Cop Killer”. Reggae was slow in becoming popular globally so Marley wanted to ensure he was spreading its influence appropriately.

8. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Uprising”

Uprising was Bob Marley & The Wailers’ final album released before their deaths and is considered an important and powerful work of music. The songs on Uprising speak out on social issues while encouraging unity and equality; tracks like “Redemption Song,” “Could You Be Loved,” and “Zion Train” showcase this sound both musically and lyrically, while Al Anderson’s brilliant guitar work adds another dimension of sound to this powerful work of art.

Uprising showcases Marley and the Wailers at their finest; its mix of religious and secular themes creates an impressive and provocative message. Dean MacNeil provides a wonderful analysis in his book The Bible and Bob Marley: Half the Story Has Never Been Told (Cascade, 2013), wherein he examines two main ways that Marley uses biblical references: with Proverbs themes as wisdom sources and in searching for spirituality within an otherwise material world.

9. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Jah Love”

At a time when rock music had become stagnant and formulaic, reggae stood out as being soulful and spiritual. Its quasi-bohemian aesthetic and deep doubt about white institutions (known as Babylon) still welcomed white record buyers while remaining skeptical.

Chris Blackwell was an ambitious white Jamaican label owner at Island Records who set out to tell reggae’s cultural movement story through an expeditionary approach – flying journalists out to Jamaica so they could smoke ganja and learn Rastafarianism; trips were regularly made to Kingston’s Trenchtown area as part of this coverage safari-like approach.

In 1980 I watched Marley play The Garden opening for The Commodores – an influential hard-funk band led by Lionel Richie that had since evolved into adult contemporary ballad purveyors with its smooth act reminiscent of Vegas lounge shows; their audience eventually dispersed when Richie began performing his signature ballads.

10. Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Uprising”

His music remains an international call for peace, equality and love without regard to race or religion.

Marley’s music was designed to liberate those on the margins through songs like “Survival”, “Uprising”, and “Confrontation”. Nearly four decades after he first sang them out loudly against regimes he sang against, their words still echo true today in our world where injustice abounds despite some having fallen.

UMe and Tuff Gong International in Kingston pressed 12 limited edition vinyl albums which feature individual numbers and are being made available until December 15th, according to MENAFN. They aim to honor Bob Marley who passed away May 11, 1981 at 36 years old leaving three children from his first marriage (Rita Anderson) as well as two adopted sons and one granddaughter behind.