Last weekend saw the world celebrate what would have been the 76th birthday of Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley. Born on 6th February 1945, Marley became emblematic of reggae as a genre playing a significant role in its popularisation.
He, alongside Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, huge legends in their own right, formed what is arguably the greatest reggae band of all time, Bob Marley and the Wailers.
By the time he died of cancer (though conspiracy theorists suggest otherwise), aged only 36 in 1981, he had become not just a world-famous music artiste, but also an icon who inspired millions around the globe with his deep political and religiously conscious music.
He sang about a variety of subjects and ended up becoming one of the twentieth century’s most legendary acts before leaving behind a legacy that can only be described aptly as golden.
Since it is literally impossible to list all of his greatest tunes because of the simple fact that there are too many of them, we’ll only look at six of the best songs ever made by the Jamaican. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive and is merely a cross-section of the stunning artistry of a truly great man.
The best 6 songs from Bob Marley and the Wailers
1. Buffalo Soldier
Where best to begin but with what is perhaps Marley’s most recognizable song. Anybody with even the most cursory knowledge of reggae would instantly know it just by listening to the introduction.
Written with the help of Noel Williams AKA King Sporty, it was recorded in 1978 but released five years later as part of the posthumous album, Confrontation. The song tells the story of cavalry regiments of the US Army, comprised of black soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars.
Marley’s lyrics on this one are memorable for calling on black people to learn and understand their history if their resistance to oppression was to be successful.
2. I Shot the Sheriff
Released as a single from the 1973 album Burnin’, the song features Bob Marley narrating the story of someone confessing that he shot the sheriff, a man known as John Brown but only in self defence after clarifying that the sheriff always hated him and was aiming to shoot him down. He, however, denies shooting the deputy, as he is apparently being accused of doing so.
Marley said the song was a call for justice, decrying the unprofessionalism of the police, although his former girlfriend Esther Anderson later came out to claim the song, particularly the lines “Every time I plant a seed, he say kill it before it grow”, had been inspired by his frustration with her doctor, who gave her birth control pills.
It has the added distinction of being the last single Marley did with Tosh and Bunny before they embarked on solo careers.
3. One Love
In my opinion, the most timeless of all his releases, given its eternal relevance. One of his biggest hits, it was initially recorded as a single in 1965, before being reworked on and released as a reggae song on the 1977 album Exodus.
It tackles the issue of global unity and calls on everybody to love and unite with each other in order to “feel alright”. He warns of consequences of if we don’t “get together to fight this Holy Armageddon”, ending the second verse by declaring that, “There is no hiding place from the father of creation.”
4. Waiting in Vain
This was a showcase of Tuff Gong’s more tender side, as he informed his lover of his desire to learn if the feelings he had for her were mutual.
He tells of his patience in waiting for her to decide, declaring: “It’s been three years since I’m knocking on your door, and I still can knock some more” before asking, “Is it feasible, I wanna know now”, indicating his need to find out where he stood in her life.
It was also taken off Exodus and was reportedly dedicated to Marley’s love interest at that time, Cindy Breakespeare, who would eventually become the mother of Damian “Jr Gong” Marley.
5. Redemption Song
The final track of the Wailers’ twelfth album, Uprising. It is widely considered his magnum opus and is a personal favourite.
Interestingly, it can’t even be characterised as a reggae song and is in fact officially categorised as a folk song thanks to its instrumentation being comprised of nothing but an acoustic guitar accompanied by vocals, wholly strummed and sang by Bob himself.
Lyrically, it samples parts of a speech by the great Pan Africanist, Marcus Garvey, which goes by the title “The Work That Has Been Done”, with the call to “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” going down in history as one of the greatest lyrics of all time.
6. No, Woman No Cry
It does seem like all Bob Marley ever made was classics, but this one is more classic than most, thanks in no small part to its uniqueness.
It’s most popularly known version is a recorded live performance at London’s Lyceum theatre in 1975, though the original version was recorded a year earlier as part of the album Natty Dread.
It’s a very personal song and tells the story of Bob Marley’s childhood in Trenchtown, located in Kingston, Jamaica. It is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Marley as he tells a woman, presumably a figurative description of a mother, not to cry, as “…everything is gonna be alright”.
So, which of the above songs deeply move you? Or do you have something else in mind from the legend himself that speaks louder to your soul? Let us know about your favourite Bob Marley song by hitting that comment button below.
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Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.