Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer and songwriter who fused ska, rocksteady, and reggae music in a way nobody had ever heard before. A pioneer of the reggae genre and a global figure that was a Rastafarian icon, Bob Marley became integral to the island of Jamaica’s culture and a massive political activist.
Despite a career cut short by illness, Marley remains one of the best-selling musicians of all time and a legendary figure. In this article, we’ll go over 35 of the best songs Bob Marley produced in his career.
1. No Woman, No Cry
No Woman, No Cry is one of the songs that come up most often in any discussion of Bob Marley’s best songs. Though it’s widely believed he wrote the song and melody himself, the songwriting credit was given to Vincent Ford instead. Ford ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, the ghetto Marley grew up in. By giving him a songwriting credit, he made sure Ford received royalty payments on the song, ensuring that the kitchen could remain open. The live version of the song made it onto Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, ranking at number 37.
2. Redemption Song
Redemption Song very well may be the best work Bob Marley ever did. It was the final song on Bob Marley and the Wailer’s 12th album, Uprising. When he wrote the song sometime in 1979, Bob Marley had already been diagnosed with cancer but was keeping his pain a secret.
More than any other song he wrote, this one saw him explore his own mortality, which matches his minimalist approach in making it a solo acoustic song with no accompanying instruments. It also made Rolling Stone’s list of the best songs of all time, coming in at number 66 and being named one of the best political songs of all time as well.
3. Three Little Birds
Three Little Birds is undoubtedly one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs. You might not recognize it by the title, though, as it gets confused as being called Everything’s Gonna Be Alright or Don’t Worry About A Thing because of how often it repeats those lines. It may be the most iconic Bob Marley song of all time and one that you’ll definitely find yourself humming along to randomly throughout the day.
4. Get Up, Stand Up
Get Up, Stand Up originally appeared on The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’, but it would go on to be recorded numerous times for live albums. It’s generally considered one of Bob Marley’s greatest songs, finding a place near the top of any list you check from a major publication. The song was certified silver in the US, but it was a top-40 hit in the Netherlands.
5. Positive Vibration
Bob Marley didn’t have a big hit in the US until his Rastaman Vibration album. Positive Vibration was the song that led the charge for him, though, discussing that living in anger is akin to saying prayers to the devil. It came across as a plea for peace during troubled times, being recorded during the turmoil in Jamaica stemming from the death of the living god Haile Selassie in Ethiopia.
6. Buffalo Soldier
For quite a while, Buffalo Soldier was Bob Marley’s best-known song. It remained hidden until the posthumous release of his Confrontation album in 1983. The term ‘buffalo soldier’ referred to the black cavalry regiments that served in the US during the American Indian Wars. He took their fight for survival and framed it as a symbol of black resistance and liberty, creating what would end up being one of his strongest political statements, even after his death.
7. Satisfy My Soul
Satisfy My Soul had a few different working titles, chiefly being recorded in 1970 under the name: Don’t Rock My Boat. It would eventually appear on Marley’s Kaya album in 1978 and be released as a single from the album. After rising to number 21 on the UK Singles chart, it became one of his best-known songs and found a place on his Legend compilation.
8. One Love
The idea of “one lo”’ isn’t unique to Marley, but he’s the one that popularized the concept outside of Jamaica. The One Love song was a top-five hit in the Netherlands and the UK, also topping the charts in New Zealand. The Jamaica Tourist Board has used the song for years in advertisements for the islanders well. The most famous version, and the one you’ve likely heard before, was first released on the Exodus album in 1977.
Recommended: Songs about islands
Jamming was another one of the greatest songs from Exodus in 1977. It was a hit release the first time, and it was a hit release again when it was rereleased 10 years later as a tribute to Marley. “Jamming” refers to getting together and celebrating in Jamaica, making the song all about fellowship, having a good time together, and getting along. It was a huge hit in the UK, reaching number 12 on the Dance chart, nine on the Hip Hop/R&B chart, and nine on the UK Singles chart.
10. Could You Be Loved
Could You Be Loved was another song on the Uprising album that came shortly before Marley’s death. It was a sweeping hit in Europe, finding a spot in the top 10 in nine countries. It was even included in Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, ranked at number 363 on the revised list that came out in 2021.
11. I Shot The Sherif
Pretty much everyone has heard the Eric Clapton version of I Shot The Sherriff” from 1974, but it was Bob Marley who actually wrote the song. It’s one of his songs that has been debated since it was released, with the artist saying some parts are true and parts are fiction but never revealing which is which. While it was sort of an outlaw-style song that helped Marley’s image, it wasn’t ever about shooting an actual sheriff. It was more of a metaphor for fighting against the wickedness and the corruption that comes with power.
12. Waiting In Vain
Sometimes we fall for someone, knowing they will never love us back, but we still wait on them. That’s pretty much the premise behind Waiting In Vain. It was Bob Marley’s way of venting his frustration at waiting to be with a lover and feeling like he was waiting for no reason since he doesn’t know if it’ll work out. Its single release scored Marley a hit on the UK Singles chart, peaking at number 27.
13. Sun Is Shining
Sun Is Shining eventually became one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs but was relatively unknown during his lifetime. It is weird for me to read that after seeing that it appeared on Soul Revolution Part II, African Herbsman, and Kaya, all of which were produced while he was alive. No matter, the song gave Bob Marley his highest-charting single in the UK by debuting at number three on the UK Singles chart and also rose to number one on the US Dance chart.
14. Natural Mystic
Natural Mystic was probably one of the best album openers of all time. It feels like it takes forever to get started, almost like the song is traveling toward you from the horizon. Additional horn sections added to the song later gave it more of an ominous feeling, making the song juxtapose the light and cheery tracks on the album.
15. Stir It Up
Stir It Up may very well be Bob Marley’s greatest love song. Yes, he talked about love all the time, but most of it was the rasta vibes, not romantic love. This one was different, written for Marley’s wife Rita soon after they were married, and it became Marley’s first song to bring him widespread commercial success.
16. Soul Rebel
When Bob Marley was getting started in the music industry, reggae was still in its infancy. Soul Rebel wasn’t just a defining song for Marley but a defining song for the entire genre. It first appeared in 1968 as one of the progenitor reggae songs firmly rooted in soul music.
17. Rasta Man Chant
Rasta Man Chant would become one of Malrey’s most iconic songs and one of the most popular songs among Rastafarians today. Used for spiritual grounding, it’s still sung in countries following the religion despite being written in English, giving the artist one of his all-time timeless songs.
18. Slave Driver
Slave Driver is one of the most damning condemnations of the slave trade you’ll ever hear, at least in a song. It was one of the best tracks on the Wailers’ debut album, and it truly felt like a song that could start a movement.
19. Turn Your Lights Down Low
Turn Your Lights Down Low was originally included on Marley’s Exodus album in 1977, but a duet remix of the song featuring Lauryn Hill would later be released in 1999. That version would earn a nomination at the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and was a number-one single on the UK R&B Chart.
20. Bend Down Low
Bob Marley and his wife Rita started their own record label in 1966 and this rocksteady groove was the first single to come out of that production. It would eventually return to prominence after being included on his Natty Dread album.
21. Small Axe
Bob Marley took on a lot of social issues, but one of the problems nearest to his heart was the struggles his people faced under colonialism. Small Axe was an anthem of independence on a local scale, too, a sort of rallying cry against the record labels that had monopolized the music industry in Jamaica.
22. No More Trouble
No More Trouble is probably the best example of Bob Marley foraying into American funk and R&B. Despite the ominous, almost negative vibe within the song’s music, Marley kept pushing towards being positive rather than fall prey to the inherent doom you could feel in the song. It was a standout of 1975’s Rastaman Vibration and a tale of resiliency.
War was lifted almost word for word from a speech given to the United Nations in 1963 by Haile Selassie. Bob Marley split up the speech into verses, keeping all the venom and ire, and emotion packed into a declaration against war and the rights violations that caused it worldwide.
24. Lively Up Yourself
Everybody loves waking up to a little morning action, and that’s pretty much what Lively Up Yourself was all about. It would be recorded several times, in varying lengths, that recounted different tales of his escapades and added in horn sections and climaxes that weren’t in the original cut of the song.
25. Burnin’ and Lootin’
Bob Marley is today a symbol of peaceful resistance, but not all of his political takes were so universal and light. Burnin’ and Lootin’ was a darker take on oppression, seeing the rage boil over into a violent revolution and a long struggle against the ones oppressing. Marley himself had been stranded in Trenchtown during the writing after the neighborhood was sealed off by police in response to violent actions.
26. Put It On
Put It On is probably the Bob Marley song that was recorded and rerecorded most often. It was one of the first songs the Wailers did in 1965 and was reborn as a defining reggae song for their 1973 Burnin’ album. Whether you listen to the ska or the reggae versions, it’s still one of his most powerful songs.
27. Simmer Down
The Wailers almost didn’t get a recording contract when they first auditioned with Studio One. When the band realized the producer wasn’t sure about signing them, they begged to play one more song for him, and it turned out the be this one. Simmer Down was the Wailers’ first hit song and the one that earned them recording time in the first place, which was fitting, as the ska jam carried an anti-violent message that would recur throughout their time together.
28. Natty Dread
Natty Dread was one of the songs that wound up making Marley a folk hero and one of the rare times his guitar riffs were recorded instead of Al Anderson’s. It was a warm song rather than one that kept people at arms-length, reminding us that the fire of revolution cleanses as much as it destroys.
Exodus was an iconic, seven-minute rallying cry from Marley to all the other Rastafarians out there. It was his reminder to them that they could change their lives if they wanted and didn’t have to be satisfied with the way things were. It wound up being his only top-20 R&B single, which was ironic since it was about being unsatisfied rather than having good vibes.
The title track of Marley’s 1978 album, Kaya, was an ode to a very choice variety of the herb. It’s got that sweet, dreamy stoner vibe that helped make Marley so popular in the US with certain listeners and was honestly just one of his best songs.
31. Stand Alone
Marley didn’t produce a ton of love songs, but the ones he did were great. Stand Alone is one of the more slept-on tracks from Soul Revolution that was the best example of Marley stepping into a Motown melody.
32. Guava Jelly
Guava Jelly was a standalone single from Marley that came from the same jam session that gave us Trenchtown Rock. It wasn’t ever a big hit single, but it would be one of his most covered songs, seeing Barbra Streisand and Sublime among the artists to pick it up.
33. Kinky Reggae
Kinky Reggae is another song that largely got lost over the years, mainly because it was stuck on side two of the Catch A Fire album. A lighter groove would take the song over on its reappearance as part of Marley’s Babylon By Bus LP.
34. African Herbsman
African Herbsman was sort of a continuation of Rastafarian founder Marcus Garvey’s movement that urged believers to return to Africa. The soulful and funky song was pulled from Indian Rope Man by Richie Havens and was one of the Wailers’ best songs from their time working with Perry.
35. Concrete Jungle
The first track on Catch A Fire, Concrete Jungle, let the world know exactly what the Wailers felt about coming up in Trench Town’s housing project. A hauntingly angry song, the rage and desperation that was an underlying tone of the song mirrored the angst running through funk music at the same time.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.