A hot summer in 1968 slowed down ska in Jamaica and created reggae. The music style then spilled over into Europe relatively quickly and graced the world with songs full of messages about politics, peace, and love. Who does not know the famous Reggae singer Bob Marley and knows at least one of his songs?
However, there are many more famous reggae songs that you should definitely know as a reggae fan.
(You can find a Spotify playlist at the end of this article.)
1. Israelites – Desmond Dekker & the Aces
We start with the first world hit of reggae music. Even if today by far not as well known as some other tunes on this list, Israelites by Desmond Dekker in 1969 was simply the first song of its kind to make it to number 1 in the German singles charts.
The song deals with the tiresome topic that many know: Too much to live, too little to die. You hump and you hump and then you live like a poor church mouse.
The artist got the idea for the song during a walk when he listened to a couple talking about money problems. In particular, its lyrics are about the enslavement of blacks in America. The lyrics are written from the point of view of a man who has been abandoned by his wife and children because he had little money left and could no longer provide for them.
He becomes a criminal and from now on constantly fears being caught by the police.
2. One Love/People Get Ready – Bob Marley & the Wailers
In the second place follows the first Marley title. Bob belongs to Reggae like Kurt Cobain to Grunge.
Shortly after an attempt on his own life and just before the general election in Jamaica, Bob Marlay releases “One Love” in 1977, promoting coming together in love, for we are all part of one heart after all. The powerful message of this classic song is still covered over and over again today. Marley has taken inspiration from The Impressions and their title “People Get Ready”!” fetched.
To honor the song written by Curtis Mayfield, the title was added later on.
3. Kingston Town – UB40
Originally recorded in 1970 by Lord Creator, the song only became popular in 1990 in the version by UB40. It stayed in the German charts for 36 weeks and reached the top 5. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica and the song describes a place full of peace and freedom, which was a rather utopian image of the capital at that time.
But there has been no lack of visions in reggae yet.
4. Sweat (Ah La La Long) – Inner Circle
We make a huge leap in time and end up at the Summer hit of the year 1992. The song stayed in the German charts for 32 weeks, 12 of them at number 1. This makes it the most successful reggae song in the German singles charts of all time. Lyrically, the title certainly leaves a lot of room for Performeration and especially a lot of room for ambiguity: I want to make you sweat.
Let’s not get into the details here.
5. I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash
In 1972 the song was released and reached number 1 on the charts in the USA. Shortly after this song was covered by several artists.
Among others also by Jimmy Cliff, who even made the list of the “Billboard Hot 100” charts with his own version again. However, this time at number 20. Since Johnny Nash has already collaborated with Bob Marley in the past, you can recognize the Bob Marley Reggae Style in his song.
6. Sunshine Reggae – Laid Back
Another number 1 hit in the German charts was Sunshine Reggae by the Danish duo Tim Stahl and John Guldberg. The song stayed at the top for six weeks and coined the name of a subgenre of reggae that only spreads positive messages. It was the summer hit of 1983 and the only number 1 chart success for the band so far.
The duo is still active today and released their latest album in 2019.
7. No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley & the Wailers
In Germany, this song only made it into the charts in the versions of Londonbeat and the Fugees, and even otherwise it never reached number 1 worldwide, but it is and remains one of the best and most famous songs by Bob Marley. Therefore it must not be missing from this list.
At this point, the big misunderstanding of the title should be cleared up once again: No Woman, No Cry does not mean that you have no trouble without women but wants to say that the dear wife should please not cry.
8. Two Sevens Clash by Culture
Two Sevens Clash is the debut album of Culture, which was recorded in 1976 with the producer Joe Gibbs. One year later the album was released. The title of the song refers to the date of the 7. July 1977, because Marcus Garvey made a prediction in which he claimed that on 7. July would come to chaos when the “seven” meet (seventh day, seventh month, seventy-seventh year).
Because of this apocalyptic statement, the song got a lot of attention in the Caribbean homeland and even schools and companies closed their buildings for this day.
9. 54-46 That’s My Number – Toots & the Maytals
Rolling Stone Magazine named the band’s lead singer Toots Hibbert one of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Toots & the Maytals are credited with naming the genre reggae with their 1968 song “Do the Reggay”.
The song “54-46 That’s My Number” is about Hibbert’s time in jail, where he served 18 months for marijuana possession.
10. Pressure Drop – Toots & the Maytals
To continue the story of one of the first reggae bands, here is a song from the soundtrack of the 1972 movie “The Harder They Come”, which introduced reggae to the world. The soundtrack is considered one of the 10 best soundtracks of all time according to Vanity Fair.
Toots & the Maytals never made it into the German charts, but they contributed significantly to the genre and therefore belong to the 20 best reggae songs of all time.
11. The Harder They Come – Jimmy Cliff
And since we are already at this cinematic highlight, Jimmy Cliff may not be missing either. The leading actor sang the title song of the film’s soundtrack.
In this movie, Jimmy Cliff plays the role of a young man who wants to become a singer. Today, the film is considered one of the pioneers of reggae music. Jimmy Cliff has made it into the German charts a few times, most recently in 1994 with Hakuna Matata from Disney’s The Lion King.
Otherwise, you know him from “Your Love keeps lifting me up (higher and higher)”, “I can see clearly now” or “Reggae Night”.
12. Stir It Up – Bob Marley & the Wailers
Time for the next song by Bob Marley. Released in 1973, this was the first Marley song to gain fame outside of Jamaica, albeit in Johnny Nash’s version. Marley himself was denied fame for his songs until “No Woman, No Cry”.
In Germany, only the version of the Black Sorrows made it to number 53 in 1994. Contentwise you could understand it as Lovesong understand. The second verse starts with “I blow the wood to make your flame blaze” – just a very special kind of love.
13. The Tide Is High – The Paragons
Even if the song makes you think of Atomic Kitten or Blondie, the original version was recorded in Jamaica in the 1960s. And it was done by a very talented vocal trio. Blondie heard it on a cassette tape, recorded it with her band, and helped the song to worldwide fame 13 years after its creation.
In the original, they sing “I’m not the kind of man who gives up just like that”. Blondie turned it into “I’m not the kind of girl”.
14. Satta Massagana – The Abyssinians
A true anthem of reggae that followed the fate of many original works: first it was recorded, then not released. But the label still had the rights.
At some point, the band bought back the rights to their music for 50 dollars and released the track. But since it was written before reggae was big, it didn’t appear in any charts, of course. When you listen to it, the sound comes to you thanks to numerous Cover versions and re-releases very very well known.
The title translates from Ethiopian Amharic as “He has blessed us” and is basically a sung verse from the Rastafarian Bible. The band eventually achieved fame and even cooperated with Sade over the years.
15. Everything I Own – Ken Boothe
And again a reggae song, where only the cover version reached world fame. In 1987, Boy George made it into the German singles charts for 13 weeks, reaching number 8 with “Everything I Own”. In Great Britain, Ireland and Norway it was at number 1. This was some 13 years after Ken Boothe recorded the original. The song is about grief.
The chorus roughly translates to “I’d give anything to see you one more time.”It’s that deep feeling that you have when someone you love has passed away.
16. Montego Bay – Freddie Notes & The Rudies
Released by Trojan Records in 1970, the song reached #3 in the UK singles chart, #5 in Canada, and #7 in Australia. The song was written by Bobby Bloom among others. The cover version by John Stevens made it to #1 in New Zealand in 1980.
The content is about the city of Montego Bay in Jamaica. The Rudies later renamed themselves Greyhound and went on to score many more reggae-pop chart hits, including a reggae-heavy cover of “Moonriver,” originally written by Henry Mancini for the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
17. I Shot the Sheriff – Bob Marley & the Wailers
“I Shot the Sheriff” is a popular Marley song, but only Eric Clapton’s version made it into the German charts for 16 weeks in 1974. Clapton’s version even made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame. By the way, the song came out only a year after the original. To this day it is probably the most famous track about police violence. Marley sings: “I shot the sheriff, but it was in self-defense”.”
18. Legalize It – Peter Tosh
Marijuana is a big topic in the reggae genre. Peter Tosh’s song promotes the medicinal and healing properties of the herb.
No wonder that the album of the same name was banned in Germany between 1980 and 2005. Due to the many illegal sales of the album at that time, true success is difficult to estimate. But it is still today the anthem of the movement for the legalization of cannabis. Peter Tosh himself is considered a gifted musician who learned to play guitar just by watching him.
He was also one of the founding members of the Wailers together with Bob Marley.
19. Aufstehn! – Seeed
The gentlemen of Seed are probably the most famous and maybe even the best German reggae combo. The highest position in the singles charts is only the 5. But they managed to do that twice – in 2006 with “Ding” and a year before with “Aufstehn!”.
The song is about a comfortable start into the day respectively. a push back into active life after a lazy period combines the chilled beats of reggae with a fulfilling message. No one less than Cee-Lo Green gave the Berliners a helping hand with this trick. Cee-Lo himself, however, did not achieve his first chart success until five years later.
20. Night Nurse – Gregory Isaacs
Gregory Isaac is one of the best voices in reggae music. The vocalist could warble love songs as soulfully as he could motivationally call for protests in his songs. In the course of his career, he has recorded over 50 albums. For many, “Night Nurse” is still considered the best of his songs.
But even this reggae classic was only a chart success in Germany in the cover version. Sly And Robbie feat. Simply Red made it into the charts with “Night Nurse” for 6 weeks in 1997.
21. Here I Come – Dennis Brown
If Bob Marley had a favorite singer, it was Dennis Brown. The boy grew up on Orange Street – the music district of Kingston in Jamaica. As a child, his neighbors gave him a few pennies to sing in their garden, and at the tender age of eleven, the “Boy Wonder” was already performing with well-known US artists. “Here I Come” is considered his masterpiece to this day.
The song is about love, forgiveness, and being a good person. Even the strong opening line, “Love and hate can never be friends,” shows the deep poetic gift Brown possessed at a young age. He wrote the song at the age of 20.
In addition to 75 albums, he also produced 13 children in his short life of only 42 years.
22. Redemption Song by Bob Marley
Translated Redemption Song means “redemption song. He wrote this song in 1979, not long after he was diagnosed with cancer. On the 9. In the first album of Bob Marley, he mainly deals with his mortality.
However, it is especially evident on the last track, i.e. Redemption Song. A special feature of the song is that Bob Marley recorded it as a solo at that time. He accompanies himself with an acoustic guitar.
In his song, he calls for people to put aside their self-imposed constraints.
23. Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley & the Wailers
We conclude the songs presented here in more detail with a song by Bob Marley. And at this point is not by chance any song.
It is the title with which Marley ended almost all his concerts. It is also the last song he ever sang on a stage. This was on 23.
September 1980 in Pittsburgh. “Get up, Stand up” is ranked #296 on Rolling Stones magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. To this day, the song serves as a symbol of resistance movements and freedom fighters. In 2005, it was performed at the worldwide Live8 concerts by Bob’s wife Rita Marley, their son Stephen Marley, and the Black Eyed Peas in Philadelphia.
The places 24-100 of the best reggae songs:
Each song is linked to its music video by its title.
Most popular reggae songs Spotify playlist:
These are just some of the most popular reggae songs. Which song do you think deserves the first place?