Reggae music is one of the most innovative, interesting, and creative types of music around.
The genre itself seems to be held to no bounds and no limits, and reggae music typically tends to be highly inventive, imaginative, and spiritual.
Picking the top 27 best reggae songs is difficult as countless wonderful Jamaican artists and songs are out there. We hope you enjoy it.
1) One Love – Bob Marley and The Wailers
Bob Marley is undoubtedly the king of reggae, and his title is well-deserved. Marley’s uncanny ability to churn out megahit after megahit popularized reggae for the masses. Through his short life, he was able to bring people together through his music and will forever be remembered as a singer with a great soul, compassion, and hope for humankind.
So, it’s no surprise that “One Love” kicks off our list of best 27 Reggae songs. The cheery melody and peaceful, bohemian lyrics make it easy to get lost in this reggae song. So easy that many listeners often lose the deeper meaning behind the lyrics.
While the chorus of “One Love” talks about peace on Earth, Marley also warns of deep punishments for others who cause pain and suffering.
“One Love” topped charts in the U.K. and epitomizes what it means to craft excellent reggae music.
2)Legalize It – Peter Tosh
Released in 1976, “Legalize It” seamlessly combined pop and reggae influences to create this mellow yet political song. The song “Legalize It” comes from the album of the same name and is the first album released by Tosh since his leave from The Wailers.
Acting as a producer of the album, Tosh created every aspect of the sound and wanted it to be a political statement against the Jamaican police’s harsh brutality. Though the song has political bones, the melody itself is peaceful, relaxing, and incredibly catchy.
Tosh demonstrates his ability to create an enjoyable musical experience while also conveying a robust political standpoint. All in all, “Legalize It” is a phenomenal reggae song that has undoubtedly earned its place in our list of top 27 reggae songs.
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3) The Tide Is High – The Paragons
While most music lovers will recognize this delightful tune from Blondie, who popularized the song in the 1980s, it was reggae band The Paragons who first crafted this song in 1966.
Originally, reggae singer and songwriter John Holt penned this song. He then performed on the song alongside The Paragons on their album On The Beach With The Paragons.
This catchy song caught the eye of other bands besides Blondie; Atomic Kitten and Debbie Harry also came out with their own versions of “The Tide Is High.” However, the original will always be the best as it has its roots in authentic reggae music.
4) Bam Bam – Sister Nancy
If you know anything about Jamaican or reggae music, then chances are you’ve heard of “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy. Released on her album titled One, Two, “Bam Bam” is so famous that it is sampled to this day despite its release over thirty years ago. Artists such as Jay Z and Kanye West have sampled this mellow song in their hop hop songs.
Sister Nancy initially released the song in 1982, and it was produced by Winston Riley. In a recent interview in 2017, Sister Nancy recalls how “Bam Bam” was a bit of an afterthought used only to finish the album. Thankfully she did! “Bam Bam” is a catchy song that will be enjoyed for many years to come.
5) Three Little Birds – Bob Marley And The Wailers
Maybe one of the most famous Bob Marley songs ever, “Three Little Birds,” made quite an impact in Western music. Recorded in 1977, “Three Little Birds” was released on the album Exodus.
Many Marley fans have wondered what the significance of the three little birds means. According to one of Marley’s closest friends, Marley drew inspiration from the wildlife around his home. Of that wildlife, three birds would sit by Marley’s window every morning, which inspired Marley enough to write a song about them.
The song was a megahit and reached the top 20 in the U.K. charts. Its impact is still felt today as this beloved song continues to be covered and adored by many musicians since its release almost 40 years ago.
6) I Shot The Sheriff – Bob Marley And The Wailers
And another Bob Marley And The Wailers song hits our list with their classic “I Shot The Sheriff.” If you’re surprised, you shouldn’t be: Bob Marley and The Wailers dominated the reggae genre and flexed their musical prowess for decades.
The Wailers released “I Shot The Sheriff ” in 1975, and as you may expect by the title, the song has intended political undertones. After the song gained popularity,
Marley said that the song is about justice and that the sheriff represents the police. It’s a bit of an inside joke because Jamaica doesn’t have a sheriff position, so saying they shot the sheriff is a great workaround for implying that he shot the police without the band ever actually offending anyone.
7) Hold Me Tight – Johnny Nash
If you haven’t heard of the name Nash, you probably would recognize some of his music. He’s most popular for his 1972 hit song “I Can See Clearly Now.”
But Nash’s musical genius isn’t defined by that one song. His other hit song, “Hold Me Tight,” was released from the album of the same name in 1968. “Hold Me Tight” actually kickstarted his career as it soared to the top of Canadian, U.S., and U.K. charts.
“Hold Me Tight” also pulled in at number 37 for 1968’s Billboard Top 100 singles. Nash acted as producer for this hit, alongside Arthur Jenkins, who also arranged the song.
8) I’ve Got To Go Back Home – Bob Andy
Solo star Bob Andy hit the music scene in the mid-1960s with his famous reggae smash hit “I’ve Got to Go Back Home,” a song that has become a bit of an anthem for Jamaicans.
Andy got his start by learning from the best: with an apprenticeship at the musical powerhouse The Paragons. He worked with the band for many years and is the genius behind other great hits like the number one reggae hit “Love At Last.”
9) Many Rivers To Cross – Jimmy Cliff
“Many Rivers To Cross” is one of those quintessential reggae songs admired by many musicians since its creation in the 1960s. In fact, several heavy-hitter artists have covered the iconic song, including John Lennon, Cher, and Annie Lennox.
“Many Rivers To Cross” was initially written by Jimmy Cliff, who wrote the song out of frustrations from breaking into the music scene in the United Kingdom. He had much difficulty as a young artist in the U.K. and expressed his frustrations through his music.
And, it paid off. The song itself has become iconic and immoral to the point where Rolling Stone magazine listed the song as part of their top 500 greatest songs of all time.
10) Now We’ve Found Love – Third World
Like many other popular reggae songs, “Now We’ve Found Love” by the reggae band Third World aimed to share their message of love equality through music.
As you may have guessed, “Now We’ve Found Love” is about love, acceptance, and universal camaraderie. After Third World released this song, they gained quite a large fan base and were especially popular in the United Kingdom.
11) Talk About Love – Pat Kelly
“Talk About Love” is a song released a little bit later than most popular reggae songs on this list as it was released in the year 2000 off of the Vintage Series album.
Although he sadly passed away in 2019, Kelly was quite the force in the music industry. He coined top hits in the early 60s, such as “Talk About Love” and fan-favorite “How Long.” He also joined a rock group called The Techniques in the late 60s and early 70s, where he sang lead on many top-grossing hits.
12) How Could I Leave? – Denis Brown
Released in 1992 off of a live album entitled live in Montego Bay, Brown’s hit reggae song “How Could I Leave?” is just one of many reggae hits that earned him the Crown Prince of reggae none other than rock legend Bob Marley.
Brown was incredibly prolific; he recorded more than 75 albums of reggae. He first rose to the reggae scene in the ’70s and churned out hit after hit for decades after.
13) Redemption Song – Bob Marley and the Wailers
Recorded towards the end of Bob Marley’s life, “Redemption Song” is one of the most popular reggae songs that Bob Marley ever wrote. It’s a simple song, one where it’s just Marley and his acoustic guitar.
Yet, its complexity comes from the rich deep lyrics and message behind the words. The song embodies the feeling of freedom and spreads a message of liberty and emancipation. This is truly a great song about freedom.
The song was released in 1980 and was an instant hit. It also was one of the last songs Marley recorded before he passed away.
“Redemption Song” is still used today for political activism and to help those uplift themselves when they find themselves in difficult situations.
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14) Stealing Love – Carlene Davis
Produced by Willie Lindo in 1981, Carlene Davis’ “Stealing Love” is a gentle, melodic reggae song from the album Big People Music, Vol. 3.
Passionate, sensitive, and full of the hallmark reggae tunes that we know and love, “Stealing Love” is an exceptional piece of music crafted by an extraordinary musician.
15) Mr. Boombastic – Shaggy
Certainly veering more towards reggae fusion than strict reggae, “Mr. Boombastic” soared to critical acclaim upon its release in 1995.
Written by Shaggy, this Jamaican musician gained worldwide acclaim as the song brought immense commercial success in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. The track samples Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and has been deemed a masterpiece by critics worldwide.
16) Satta Massa Gana – The Abyssinians
The Abyssinians released “Satta Massa Gana” in 1976 and sent shockwaves through the music industry, bestowing The Abyssinians worldwide acclaim.
The song has been covered by many great artists throughout the years and is undoubtedly their crowning achievement. It has been adopted by a few religious groups to be used as a hymn during service. Which makes sense since the song translates to “He Gave Praise” and has deep spiritual roots.
17) Johnny Too Bad – The Slickers
Produced by Byron Lee, The Slickers released an excellent reggae hit, “Johnny Too Bad,” which propelled them into the limelight of reggae music in the 60s and 70s.
The Slickers was made up of Crooks brothers, Winston Bailey, Abraham Green, who created “Johnny Too Bad” together. After gaining popularity from a few of their singles, The Slickers toured both the United States and the United Kingdom throughout the 1970s, where they eventually recorded another album entitled Breakthrough.
18) O Carolina – Shaggy
Shaggy hits our list again with his song “O Carolina,” a dancehall style reworking of a classic Jamaican folk song. Based on the 1959 ska song Carolina, “O Carolina” was a certified hit, so much so that the song was nominated for a British Music Award and hit number one song for a while in the United Kingdom.
Off his album Silver and released in 1993, “O Carolina” is a reggae hit for every music lover.
19) A Place Called Africa – Junior Byles
Like all art, the best type of music comes from a personal place, where the artist writes something from the heart that many can relate to.
“A Place Called Africa” is no exception. As the story goes, Byles questioned his mother one day why they lived in Jamaica with so much suffering and where they lived through so much prejudice instead of living in Africa where they are originally from.
A bit of a personal story, Byles wrote this song as he grappled with his roots and tried to understand why he and his family were suffering in Jamaica when they could be in Africa. He connected with listeners by integrating his pain into the lyrics and song itself, which propelled this song to be such a top-grossing reggae hit. For more family songs, check out our top list now!
20) Innocent Blood – Culture
Heavy-hitter vocal group Culture came to prominence in 1977 with their impressive ability to sing serious issues in ways that uplifted listeners and gave listeners strength. Their song “Innocent Blood” is no exception.
A lesson in Black history, Jamaican history, slavery, and imperialism, Culture sings this reggae song in a way that entertains and uplifts.
21) Black Woman – Judy Mowatt
This 1980s reggae hit is sung by none other than Judy Mowatt, one of Bob Marley’s I-Threes (the backup singers to Bob Marley) and a member of the 1960s band The Gaylettes.
Mowatt serenades listeners with her lush, soulful voice, and she sings of female empowerment and how the world often is stacked against black women.
It’s not all despair: Mowatt has a unique ability to shine a light on the struggles but to put a positive spin on it, which is why “Black Woman” strikes such a chord with so many listeners.
Like most other music, “Black Woman” has strong gospel undertones, which creates a sweeping, powerful vibe that epitomizes what it means to empower those through music. Mowatt is indeed a powerful, formidable singer.
22) Better Must Come – Delroy Wilson
Wilson is a soulful, powerful singer in Jamaican and reggae music. His career spans over an impressive four decades, and he churned out hit after hit, most notably the track “Better Must Come.”
The song, which was released in 1972, is an anthem of hope. It uplifts listeners and urges them to push through obstacles to come out victorious on the other side.
This track is different than most of his other works, which usually center around love and romance. He spices things up with “Better Must Come” and shifts the focus to a more political and powerful message, which turns out to be just as effective as his other music.
23) Sweet and Dandy – Toots and Maytal
There’s more to Jamaica than struggle and injustice, and Toots And Maytal set out to craft a song that paints a picture of everyday life in Jamaica. They wanted to create a song that painted a picture of ordinary life, of sweet moments, of marriage.
And that’s exactly what they did. In their song “Sweet and Dandy,” which was released in 1969, Toots and the Maytals sing about an ordinary, beautiful wedding. From wedding cake to wedding arguments to the vows, it’s all here in “Sweet and Dandy.” If you feel like you need a reggae song that lifts you, check it out! Undoubtedly, “Sweet and Dandy” is one of the best love songs out there.
24) Police and Thieves – Junior Murvin
As you might guess, “Police and Thieves” is a song about crime in Jamaica. However, it’s a unique song because it presents both sides in equal light of two sides of the same coin. The song turned out to be a megahit in London and became a bit of an anthem for riots during the Notting Hill Carnival in London.
25) Champion Lover – Debroahe Glasgow
If you love reggae songs full of female empowerment, desire, and passion, “Champion Lover” by Debroahe Glasgow is the song for you.
As it turns out, many music fans fell in love with this song, as it was an incredible smash hit when it burst onto the music scene in 1989. It was remade just a few years later and became a second hit, but you simply can’t beat the original with all of its female glory, female lust, and female passion.
26) Blackheart Man – Bunny Wailer
Bunny Wailer released his hit reggae song “Blackheart Man” in 1976, and it became an instant classic. The song, which has a gentle, folky melody, swooned audience members and propelled Wailer into musical genius territory. But the song struck a chord with audience members for other reasons besides its beautiful melody.
The song also details what it was like to grow up in Jamaica around the Rastas, where he and other children were told to avoid them because of their religious beliefs.
In “Blackheart Man,” Wailer reflects on the situation with empathy and grace and how he now identifies some of these Rasta beliefs. If you’re looking for a mellow reggae song with commentary on an interesting Jamaican religious dynamic, check out this song!
27) Word of the Farmer – Gregory Isaacs
Another song that focuses on slavery, Isaacs paints a picture of a man who works the soil and has his master take all of the fruits of his labor.
Emotional, affecting, and poignant, this 1978 song understands the true suffering of slavery and aims to share this experience with its listeners. While it may be tough to listen to, the song is nonetheless terribly important and incredibly worthwhile to listen to.
It’s impossible to narrow down the entire reggae music genre and boil the hundreds of magnificent songs to a list of best 27. However, these songs listed above are impactful, insightful, uplifting, and entertaining. The genre itself has so many timeless classics that resonate in the heart of the listener as well as deliver powerful messages that attempt to push towards change and prosperity for all. This really gives reggae a unique and warm feeling to the attentive listener, which really makes the genre beautiful in many respects. Hopefully, this list offers a broad and diverse range of what it means to be an exceptional piece of reggae music.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.