It’s amazing to think of the influence that Bob Marley had, considering he didn’t even live to be 40 years old.
Before cancer took his life at the age of 36, Marley positioned himself as the one of the biggest musical icons in history, breaking reggae music worldwide and releasing 13 albums.
Want to dive into Marley’s discography beyond Legend? Check out this list of his 20 greatest tracks.
20. “No Woman No Cry”
Yes, I know we said we’re moving beyond the Legend tracklist. Those songs are coming, but to not include this classic live cut would be three steps beyond egregious.
19. “Johnny Was”
Told ya. The whole of Rastaman Vibration is about as far from the sunshine-y Jamaica tourism campaign sound of Legend as you can get. Those are synthesizers you’re hearing. Marley may be painted as a rootsy savior, but the man could get downright funky when he felt like it.
18. “Try Me”
Marley fans around the world tend to give more weight to his political tracks, and not without reason. He was an absolute force on the political stage, pulling off stunts that Bono can only dream about. But Marley’s love songs tend to get lost in the shuffle. “Try Me,” off Soul Rebels, shows why that’s an absolute shame.
“Exodus,” the title track of Marley’s 1977 album, somehow manages to shine on an album absolutely stacked with hits.
Following an attempt on his life, Marley willfully exiled himself from Jamaica during the country’s tumultuous 1976 elections. This track was inspired by prime minister Michael Manley’s campaign slogan, and the entire album reflects the incredibly violent period in the country’s history.
16. “Punky Reggae Party”
This B-side to “Jammin’” deserves a spot on the list for the premise alone, but it helps that it’s a great song as well.
It’s no secret that early UK punks were inspired by the sound and politics of the dub and reggae records they could find at nearby record shops. This song is Marley giving his seal of approval to the common practice of these punk bands covering reggae acts, and was inspired by The Clash’s take on “Police and Thieves.”
15. “Bend Down Low”
Natty Dread rarely gets its due in spite of the fact that it contains one of the greatest setlist openers of all-time (more on that in a minute).
The organ on “Bend Down Low” sounds like a well-composed ringtone when it starts, but give it a second and it turns into an underrated love-making ode.
14. “Duppy Conqueror”
While Marley is often granted Messiah-like status among those who saw him in his heyday and college freshmen alike, the fact is he was a man with very worldly problems. “Duppy Conqueror” finds Marley focusing on himself, highlighting the perils of fame and the temptations and hangers-on that it breeds.
13. “Rude Boy”
This one’s from back when The Wailers looked and sounded a bit more like The Penguins. Still, Marley manages to show a slight political bent with this song directed squarely at the Rude Boy culture.
12. “Sun Is Shining”
Like many acts of the era, Marley got more and more psychedelic as his career went on. A perfect example of this is the song “Sun Is Shining,” which began its life as a simple song on Soul Revolution and morphed into a dubbed-out trip by the time it was re-recorded for Kaya.
11. “Lively Up Yourself”
Marley used this Natty Dread opener to start off his setlists and make the crowd move, and he’s not alone.
Prince is also known to use this track to get the crowd hyped. When you consider that the Purple One has “Let’s Go Crazy” in his arsenal, it becomes all the more impressive.
10. “Iron Lion Zion”
In case you didn’t know from all the cheap red, yellow, and green trinkets cluttering every flea market in America, Bob Marley was a Rastafarian.
“Iron Lion Zion” was his best song on the subject of his faith, even if it didn’t see release until more than a decade after his death.
9. “Simmer Down”
This ska single asking the Rude Boys of Kingston to cool it a bit was The Wailers’ first hit. Backed by The Skatalites, Marley pushed a non-violent agenda over a track that’s made for anything but being calm.
8. “Three Little Birds”
This song is so simple that it’s practically a nursery rhyme. But that simplicity clearly worked in its favor, as it’s one of Marley’s most famous songs.
Survival as an album doesn’t get much love. Perhaps listeners prefer the sun-soaked songs to the radical and militant tone of this 1979 release. Maybe they prefer the vague revolution-speak of “Get Up, Stand Up.” For my money, this track about Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence is one of Marley’s finest political moments.
6. “Concrete Jungle”
This is Marley’s own “Inner City Blues,” and it’s fantastic.
5. “Waiting in Vain”
It’s about to get real lovey dovey in here. Marley could make a crowd dance or think, but he was at his best when he turned his talents toward love songs. It’s a testament to how good he was at making audiences yearn with him that “Waiting in Vain” is only No. 5 here.
4. “Could You Be Loved?”
Uprising is perhaps the least-loved album from Marley’s ultra-productive career. But even a lackluster album surrounding it couldn’t dim this excellent track’s shine.
3. “Stir It Up”
Let’s keep going with the Marvin Gaye analogy from earlier. If “Concrete Jungle” is “Inner City Blues,” then “Stir It Up” is unquestionably “Let’s Get It On.” This 1967 track written for Marley’s wife Rita is one of the outright sexiest songs he ever released.
2. “Is This Love?”
When Kaya was released, the Wailers caught a lot of flack for “going soft.” The album’s sunny disposition didn’t sit well with folks who wanted the band to continue airing its own politics. Even so, anyone who says he or she can sit through the breezy playing of The Wailers on this track without a smile is lying.
1. “Redemption Song”
This is Bob Marley’s single greatest song and it’s not a particularly close race.
The Uprising track is an expert blend of personal anguish and politics, and its raw production style perfectly encapsulates the vibes of a man facing down his own mortality.
“Redemption Song” is not only one of Marley’s greatest songs, it’s one of the greatest songs, period.