Bob Marley is truly one of those larger-than-life artists whose music crossed borders and influenced the world. With the Bob Marley: One Love biopic coming to theatres on February 14, with Kingsley Ben-Adir in the lead role, Exclaim! is looking back and ranking Marley's discography.
The 1984 best-of compilation Legend is the biggest-selling reggae album of all-time — but its tracklist is dispersed throughout more than a dozen studio albums, making it the perfect jumping-off point to dive into Marley's discography more comprehensively.
There is arguably no more iconic live performance than the groundswell of crowd energy generated by "No Woman, No Cry" on the Live! album, but we will strictly be looking at official studio albums in this ranking.
From his start as a soulful rocksteady crooner with the original Wailers, his label moves and recordings across the pond, Marley has truly traversed many eras of Jamaica's musical evolution and laid the foundation for its cultural resonance. Although his albums vary in style and substance, fans can always count on Marley to deliver at least one memorable anthem per project.
13. Confrontation (1983)
Released after Bob's passing from skin cancer in 1981, this posthumous collection of demo recordings and studio session leftovers was never going to match Marley's established discography. However, standout gem "Buffalo Soldier" helps salvage this otherwise unmemorable project.
12. Survival (1979)
Bob Marley had reached the peak of his popularity, especially in the UK. Having left Jamaica for good, it seems Survival was rushed by the label. Although it ranks low on this list, the message and melody of "Africa Unite" and the political cover artwork adds to the album's canonic relevance.
11. Best of the Wailers (1971)
The Wailers were hot off their success with Lee Perry's Upsetter label and had released the hugely successful "Stir It Up" single. They wanted to take advantage of their momentum, so they switched labels and released a hodgepodge album that's not a compilation as the title suggests. Peter Tosh shines on "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and the slow burner "Caution" is a sleeper favourite, but this middle-of-the-road release is not impactful in the context of Marley's discography.
10. The Wailing Wailers (1965)
The Wailers debut is a collection of rocksteady and ska songs. Although not very cohesive, and with some unfortunate covers like "What's New Pussycat," The Wailing Wailers showcases the raw talent Marley, Tosh and Wailer already had. Again, one song, the original version of "One Love," single-handedly raises the album's quality quite a bit.
9. Soul Rebels (1970)
The Wailers started defining their style when they worked with legendary producer/engineer Lee "Scratch" Perry. Although Soul Rebels suffers from some redundancies and lacks a truly monumental hit, it establishes the group's mystical sound. Marley had fully embraced his Rastafarian faith and was looking to freely express his new sound, and with this album, he launched an astonishing new phase of his career.
8. Kaya (1978)
After a slew of political, spiritual and highly conscious records Marley shifted gears for a laid-back album of good vibes. The joyful "Is It Love" and smoker's anthem "Kaya" are just some of the party songs on this soulful album, that is the perfect gateway drug for reggae non-believers.
7. Rastaman Vibration (1976)
The title track and rasta chanting techniques are already reason enough to make Rastaman Vibration a bonafide classic. However, Marley notably included more rock music touches to the record to keep up with the times. This creative gamble proved to be the correct decision, as the album would become Marley's only Top 10 record, as well as providing him with the charting single, "Roots, Rock, Reggae." While Marley's music was widely appreciated, he still had a hard time reaching the mainstream while he was alive.
6. Soul Revolution Part II (1971)
This is the album where the Wailers truly hit their stride and Lee Perry worked his magic to get the most out of the group. "Don't Rock My Boat" introduces sweet hooks, "Sun Is Shining" propels Marley's golden vocal tone to illuminate the track, and "Lively Up Yourself" is a prime example of perfectly crafted song structure. Ultimately, this album is a testament to the Wailers' formula of roots reggae with a ting of psychedelic soul and the stylistic stamp of their sound.
5. Uprising (1980)
Uprising is Bob Marley's last studio album, and coincidentally his most spiritual. Marley's fiery spirit is present throughout, from the cover artwork to the tracklist — and this ode to Jah hits all the right notes. The seminal recording truly puts listener's into a trance, and the vulnerable "Redemption Song" speaks directly to the soul.
4. Catch a Fire (1973)
Bob Marley & the Wailers' breakout album made them true superstars with their own aesthetic. We can't ignore the influence if producer Chris Blackwell the overdubs and studio musicians that padded the album's sound made it more universally accessible. Authentic and raw with a refined sound and imagery, the album solidified the mythical status of Bob Marley as a musical phenom and reggae ambassador.
3. Natty Dread (1974)
Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh are legends in their own right, and each played an essential role in establishing the Wailers' sound. On Natty Dread, however, Bob Marley decided to go at it solo and released one of his most critically acclaimed and cohesive projects.
"Rebel Music" is a highlight and is the type of song Marley wanted to steer his sound towards. He achieves the perfect balance of songwriting depth and pop-like joviality with "Lively Up Yourself." The emotion-filled, iconic "No Woman, No Cry" confirms Bob was always meant to fly on his own and destined for musical greatness.
2. Exodus (1977)
Bob Marley narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Kingston in 1976 and relocated to London. This fuelled the aptly titled Exodus, an album widely regarded as his best work. There is no denying the number of sublime songs packed into the project
The ubiquitous "Jamming," the romantic "Waiting in Vain," the enchanting "Three Little Birds" and timeless "One Love / People Get Ready" are the bricks on which this classic album lays its foundation. An argument could be made that this is the greatest pound-for-pound Marley LP, but the difference in its worldwide impact is why we ranked it as a runner-up.
1. Burnin' (1973)
From the scorched cover art to its genre-defining hits, it's only right that a full-band Wailers album tops the list. This was actually the second album released by Marley and his band in 1973, but it finds them in rare form, in a moment where they could do no wrong.
Eric Clapton's cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" reverberated around the world — but once new listeners made their way to Marley's album, the anthem "Get Up, Stand Up" would turn them into life-long coverts.
Bouncy basslines, powerful melodies and soulful vocals build the core of the album, as Bob Marley transformed from Wailers vocalist to full-on band leader. This is a record that was shared and passed around like a proverbial spliff, helping reggae conquer the musical landscape. This is the essential Marley recording, and a truly desert-island unequivocal masterpiece.
Bob Marley: One Love is in theatres February 14.