The 20 Best Reggae Songs of All Time
There are a few things in this world that put you in a better mood than listening to reggae music. On the happiness scale this genre is way up there, perhaps second only to videos of soldiers coming home to their dogs!
For most people thinking about reggae conjures up images of Bob Marley swaying gently in time with the chilled out drum beat with his iconic dreadlocks and rastacap adorning his head. But reggae music has so much more to offer.
In these trying times all of us could use some uplifting reggae music in our lives, so we have made a list of the 20 best reggae songs to ever bless our ears. If you haven’t delved into the world of reggae until now, here’s what you have been missing out on.
1. “One Love” by Bob Marley
Bob Marley is the undisputed king of reggae; and this iconic song will melt the heart of even the most hardened cynic. The lyrics call for unity, acceptance and, of course, love among all humankind and the relaxing melody fills you with hope and joy. To put it simply: depression *exists, Bob Marley’s One Love “I’m about to end this man’s whole career”.
2. “Pressure Drop” by Toots and the Maytals
Warning! Listening to this song will awaken an irresistible urge to book a summer vacation in Jamaica. It is simply impossible not to imagine yourself lying on a sandy beach under an oversized umbrella sipping on a fruity cocktail when it is playing. The tune is delightfully lighthearted and the lyrics are easy to remember; listen to it once and you’ll be humming it while doing your laundry for months on end.
3. “Rivers of Babylon” by The Melodians
This iconic song has been reworked many times (most notably by Boney M), but the original 1970s version by The Melodians is still the best. The lyrics were adapted from the sacred texts of the Hebrew bible. But regardless of what your religion is you will be bobbing your head when you hear the delightful melody; that is a promise.
4. “Cherry Oh Baby” by Eric Donaldson
If Shakespeare had been Jamaican he would have probably written a love sonnet called “Cherry Oh Baby”. If you want to express your love for a special lady in your life in a truly reggae fashion then grab a get a hold of some musicians and serenade your love with this iconic song.
5. “Satta Massagana” by The Abyssinians
If you like your reggae with an extra splash of jazz you are in luck. These men know how to use their brass instruments, let me tell you. Just like many other reggae songs the lyrics are religious in nature, but the tune is so good that no matter your persuasion you won’t be able to resist dancing slowly around your bedroom singing into your hairbrush.
6. “Red Red Wine” by UB40
People who broke up with their girlfriends in the early 80s were lucky because they had “red red wine” to console them (both the alcoholic beverage and the song). Despite being sung by English boys from Birmingham the song hit #1 in the charts in the 80s and it has definitely earned its way in our reggae top 20. So if you are going through a heartbreak and you are too young for the red wine, try “red red wine” instead. It is more effective in boosting your mood and there is no hangover.
7. “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle
This song needs no introduction if you are a Will Smith fan. Popularized by the movie that has the same name “Bad Boys” is the perfect reggae song to listen to if you want to be hit with the full force of the 90s nostalgia. And listening to this reggae classic while driving will make you feel like an undercover cop tailing a criminal. Long story short, the song just makes you feel as cool as a cucumber even when you are doing some mundane tasks.
8. “The Tide Is High” by The Paragons
Originally recorded by the trio in 1960 the song was later reworked by a British pop group Atomic Kitten; but please do yourself a favor and listen to the original, it just cannot be beaten. The song perfectly captures the spirit of the 60s love songs and sprinkles a generous serving of reggae sound on top. If this song is not playing on my wedding day during my first dance, I’m not going.
9. “Get Up Stand Up” by Bob Marley
Even the most mellow reggae musicians get fed up with oppression and poverty at some point. This was the case with the reggae icon Bob Marley who wrote “Get Up Stand Up” after he witnessed heartbreaking living conditions of the people in Haiti. The chant motivates the crowd to take control of the situation, but, despite the strong message delivered by the song, the reggae melody just can’t help being characteristically chill.
10. “Welcome To Jamrock” by Damian Marley
One of the most successful attempts to merge reggae and rap. Damian Marley has certainly made his father proud. The song delivers a powerful message, although most non-native speakers probably won’t know that unless they read the lyrics, since they are quite hard to understand.
11. “One Blood” by Junior Reid
Released by the American reggae artist in the early 2000s “One Blood” certainly paints a vivid picture of what his life was like during that time. If you like NWA but wish they incorporated more reggae sound into their work then this song is what you have been looking for.
12. “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & the Aces
Back to the iconic 60s we go! If Quentin Tarantino has not used this song in one of movies yet he definitely should. With the characteristically 60s sound and the lyrics that reference biblical events the “Israelites” reached top of the charts in 1969. Listen to it once and you’ll agree that this honor was well deserved.
13. “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh
It took US government almost 50 years since this song was released but they have finally taken Peter Tosh’s request to heart and legalized it. We assume you don’t need to be told what “it” is. The tune is what you’d expect from a classic reggae song, nice and mellow; considering what the song is about how could it be otherwise?
14. “Revolution” by Dennis Brown
Freedom is not free, and if we want equality and to be treated fairly we need to stand up and demand it. Dennis Brown understood these simple truths, which is what inspired him to perform this powerful song. The song was released in the mid-80s and the struggle this classic reggae song tells us about still goes on.
15. “Unchained” by Bob Andy
Recorded in the late 60s this reggae classic would be perfect for dancing with your crush on your first date if the lyrics were not so heavy. While the smooth sound of saxophone in the style of Kenny G urges you to sway your hips, the words referencing oppression tell your brain to rise up and fight for freedom. Conflicting messages, but somehow Bob Andy makes it work.
16. “Blessed” by Buju Banton
Not all great reggae songs are from decades ago. “Blessed” released in 2020 perfectly combines contemporary hip hop style with reggae. That’s probably the best gateway song to get the new generation hooked on reggae music.
17. “Santeria” by Sublime
If you have not listened to this song while driving along the golden beaches of California in a convertible you have not lived. This is yet another one that merges reggae and modern sound, the young ones are particularly going to love it.
18. “Many Rivers To Cross” by Jimmy Cliff
There are reggae songs for all occasions; for those times when you fall in love, are enjoying your vacation, want to start a revolution to protest the injustice, and this one is suited for saying goodbye to your loved one that one last time. But despite the sad lyrics and melancholic melody the song still fills your soul with warmth; the way only a truly great song can.
19. “Sound of the Sea” by Stick Figure
For more early 2000s reggae music with a Californian twist we turn to Stick Figure. If you want to relax and reminisce about your childhood on the golden coast you cannot find a better soundtrack than “Sound of the Sea”.
20. “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy
From the lyrics perspective this song is like the final boss in a video game for English speakers! But that does not matter; the tune is so awesome you will try to sing along anyway. Or, alternatively, just close your eyes and be transported to the streets of Jamaica with this classic reggae beat. Sister Nancy definitely holds her own against her male reggae counterparts.
These are some of the best reggae songs all fans of the genre must know about, but it is definitely not all. Reggae music is an inexhaustible source of emotion, with a unique sound and lyrics that cover a wide range of complex issues. If you have been living under a rock and have never heard of reggae this is your lucky day; just follow the links to get initiated, thank me later.