Bob Marley's 15 greatest songs, ranked

16 July 2021, 09:40 | Updated: 30 July 2021, 11:47

Bob Marley
Bob Marley. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Bob Marley was a Jamaican legend, reggae pioneer and Rastafari icon who changed the face of music in his short life.

Born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, Bob Marley died just 36 years later on May 11, 1981.

His musical career spanned from 1962 till his death, and he released 13 studio albums and countless classic singles.

Bob Marley performs in London
Bob Marley performs in London. Picture: Getty

Gold's Hall of Fame: Bob Marley

Bob Marley's stature and influence means that he never really went away, but as last year marked the 75th anniversary of his birth and this year the 40th of his tragic passing, the love for all things Bob is only growing.

This autumn, Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical opens in London, with a stunning cast retelling the story of his life and performing his music.

To celebrate, we've rounded up and ranked 15 of Bob Marley's very greatest songs.

  1. Stir It Up

    Like many if his songs, 'Stir It Up' was recorded by Bob Marley more than once. First written way back in 1967, he recorded it with his band The Wailers for a single release that year.

    After Johnny Nash covered it in 1972, Marley and the Wailers gave it another go for the following year's breakthrough Catch a Fire, and the song became the band's first international hit.

  2. Punky Reggae Party

    The crossover between punk, dub and reggae may not have seemed obvious at the start, but that fusion was always in the air.

    After The Clash covered Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves' early on, Bob Marley sent vibes back in the other direction in this Lee 'Scratch' Perry-produced track that namechecks bands from both sides.

  3. Sun Is Shining

    'Sun is Shining' has been round the houses a few times. It popped up on Bob and The Wailers' Soul Revolution (1971) and African Herbsman (1973,) before being re-recorded for 1978's Kaya.

    It had a whole extra life in 1999 when crossover remix credited to Bob Marley vs. Funkstar De Luxe became a massive hit in the US and UK.

  4. Three Little Birds

    Originally on 1977's Exodus, 'Three Little Birds' got a belated single release three years later and went top 20 in the UK.

    One of Bob's poppiest, most accessible hits, it's either about Bob's backing singers the I Threes, or some actual real-life birds, or maybe a bit of both.

  5. One Love / People Get Ready

    Yet another song Bob Marley had several attempts at. The first take was a ska version released as a single and included on The Wailing Wailers all the way back in 1965.

    It was then included as part of the 1970 reggae medley single 'All in One' and bundled in on African Herbsman, before a complete re-recording for 1977's Exodus.

    This most well-known version added 'People Get Ready' to the title and a songwriting credit for Curtis Mayfield, as the track was based on his 1965 hit with The Impressions.

    It eventually came out as a single in 1984, and its bouncy, upbeat vibes have meant it's been on pretty much every Bob comp since.

  6. Is This Love

    A top-ten UK hit as a single, the track also featured on the Kaya album in 1978.

    Another upbeat reggae classic, the music video features a young Naomi Campbell, but don't be surprised if you don't recognise her, as she was just 7 years old when it was filmed.

    It was the song that inspired the name of the real life dog in Marley & Me, as author John Grogan's wife popped on a tape when they were arguing about what to name their pup.

  7. No Woman, No Cry (Live)

    Maybe Bob Marley's best known song, the original recording featured on 1974's Natty Dread, but the single version was taken from the following year's Live! album, recorded in concert on July 18, 1975, at London's Lyceum Theatre.

    It was that version that ended up on the Legend compilation that introduced so many fans to Bob, and with its just-the-right-amount of crowd noise, feedback and emotional voice-breaking, you can hear just why.

    The title means "Woman, don't cry", in case you were wondering, and the lyrics namecheck the Kingston Trenchtown housing projects, which were home to Bob Marley growing up and also the birthplace of reggae.

    Marley's friend 'Tata' Vincent Ford was given a controversial songwriting credit, either so Bob could escape some contractual obligations, to help Tata fund his work in Trenchtown, or because Ford actually had a hand in writing it, depending on who you believe.

  8. Jamming

    Another track from 1977's phenomenal Exodus album, it was backed with 'Punky Reggae Party' as a single, which is one hell of double-header.

    The previous winter Bob had been shot by intruders, which is said to have inspired the lyric "no bullet can stop us now".

    The song is so effortlessly cool, it's survived covers from The Simpsons' Chief Wiggum and spoofs as 'Diggin'' (Bill Nye the Science Guy) and 'Roaming' (Vodafone).

  9. Could You Be Loved

    A single from Bob Marley's last album during his lifetime, 1980's Uprising, the song included a throwback to Bob's very first pre-fame single 'Judge Not'.

    "The road of life is rocky; And you may stumble too. So while you point your fingers, someone else is judging you," they sing, in a nod to the Bible's warning that we should judge not, lest we be judge.

    The single went top five in the UK, and the song was covered by Joe Cocker in 1997.

  10. Iron Lion Zion

    Posthumous singles really aren't meant to be this brilliant.

    Originally recorded in 1973-4, 'Iron Lion Zion' was eventually released in 1992 on the Songs of Freedom box set and as a standalone single which rightly went top 5.

    The finally-released version was sweetened in the studio with additional vocals from the I Threes and some striking jazz sax from Courtney Pine.

  11. Exodus

    The title track of 1977's Exodus album, this track was one of many explicitly religious songs from Bob as he got deeper into his Rastafarian believes as he grew older.

    It draws parallels between Moses leading the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land with the Rastafarians own revolutionary search for freedom.

    An irrepressible funked up reggae disco smash, it was an instant classic on release and hasn't aged a day since.

    It's probably also a nod to Marley's own exodus from Jamaica, after he left the country for England after he was shot in a failed assassination attempt in December 1976.

  12. Buffalo Soldier

    A posthumous hit like 'Iron Lion Zion', fans didn't have to wait nearly as long for 'Buffalo Soldier'.

    Co-written with Noel George Williams, aka King Sporty, the song was one of many songs cobbled together for 1983's Confrontation album.

    In the song, Marley recasts the tale of the original Buffalo Soldiers, the Black US soldiers who fought in the the First Nations Wars against American Indian and First Nation tribes, underlining how these men were fighting a war and enemy that wasn't theirs ("Taken from Africa, brought to America / Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival").

  13. Get Up, Stand Up

    The opening track from 1973's Burnin', the last album featuring Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and the last credited to The Wailers before the band was renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers, 'Get Up, Stand Up' absolutely broke through.

    Co-written by Marley with Tosh after Bob saw the poverty in Haiti on tour, it's a righteous funky reggae stomp and the ultimate call to arms.

    It's been sampled by Public Enemy ('Party For Your Right To Fight'), and covered by an Amnesty International supergroup of Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N'Dour.

    It was also re-recorded by Marley, Tosh and Wailer for their own releases.

    In its stretched out, expanded form, it was a regular set-closer for the Wailers, and was the last song ever performed live by Bob Marley (September 23, 1980 at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh).

  14. Concrete Jungle

    The opening track on 1973's Catch a Fire, the album that changed everything for Bob Marley and the Wailers, 'Concrete Jungle' sets the tone for everything that follows.

    Originally recorded in Jamaica, like the rest of the album it was reworked with Muscle Shoals session guitarist Wayne Perkins and others – the 2001 re-issue includes both versions and is well worth it.

    The song is a plaintive cry to God for mercy, sun, sweet life, love, caresses and freedom, only to be confronted with darkness, slavery, captivity and the horrors of life in the concrete jungle.

  15. Redemption Song

    Maybe the most "rock" and least "reggae" song in Marley's whole catalogue, 'Redemption Song' was the last track on the last album released in Bob's lifetime, 1980's Uprising.

    The most well-known album version features just Bob and an acoustic guitar giving one of his most disarming, tender and emotional performances. A full band version featured on the flip of a single release.

    The song has been covered many times over by everyone from Manfred Mann and Stevie Wonder, to Wyclef Jean and John Legend.

    It was recorded by Joe Strummer of The Clash for his own posthumous album Streetcore, and again as a duet with Johnny Cash, being released on the Unearthed box set.

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