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Top 47 Best Reggae Songs Ever

Reggae has got to be some of the most relaxing, chilled-out music there is. Even when the lyrics get political or even aggressive, the slow rhythms and bouncing guitars just make Reggae smooth. 

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a real Rasta or just a regular old music lover; Reggae has something for everyone. But, what are the best reggae songs ever?

In this article, I’ll take a look at some of the biggest Reggae hits. From classic tracks to the modern day, I’ll keep it pure Reggae here. Let’s leave Dub and Reggaeton for another day because there’s already so much great Reggae music to look at.

What is Reggae?

Best Reggae Songs Ever

Defining a musical genre is never cut and dry. But, with Reggae, we do have history and a timeline to follow. Earlier dance styles like Ska and Rocksteady were huge in Jamaica in the 1950s and 60s. These styles combined Blues, Jazz, and Caribbean styles like Calypso and Mento into something unique. 

With Reggae, the music slowed down and became more basic, losing the punchy horns. Reggae is heavily bass-driven, with the drums playing counterpoint. Guitar and sometimes keys play off beats, creating a characteristically bouncy sound. 

Furthermore, Reggae songs are also typically written in major keys, helping them sound upbeat.

The first reggae songs… 

They were heavily focused on love and romance. However, heavier issues like religion and politics in Jamaica quickly entered the scene. Many major Reggae artists were also followers of Rastafari. And the music has become heavily intertwined with this religion. 

Reggae has also gone on to influence other genres, like Jamaican dub, Puerto Rican Reggaeton, and more.

So, What Makes the Best Reggae Songs Ever?

Above all, a great reggae song has to have a smooth, danceable groove. Even though it’s slower and chiller, this is still dance music. A solid bass line and drums playing off each other are essential. Skanking guitar upbeats are characteristic, but other guitar soloing and phrases can add an extra flair to a song. 

The best Reggae songs have to have excellent vocals. A singer with a great voice is a perfect start, and then the right sing-along chorus and phrasing can make a song great. 

And finally, the lyrical content can push a song into legendary territory. Reggae songs can be political, religious, fun, romantic, peaceful, or whatever you like. But, one thing they must be is inspiring to make them unforgettable.


Bob Marley and The Wailers get their very own category. He was a legend in reggae, bringing this genre to the world while also being a hugely influential figure in his home country of Jamaica. 

His energy, vibe, and shining personality make him stand out as the greatest Reggae musician ever. Furthermore, his songs constitute some of the most legendary Reggae songs ever. Let’s start with…

Top 47 Best Reggae Songs Ever

[nb]1[/nb]I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley and The Wailers


This is one of the most iconic Reggae songs. It was written by Marley and released by the band in 1973 on their album, Burnin’. The lyrics to “I Shot the Sheriff” seem to be overtly political, referring to the clash between Jamaican authorities and marijuana cultivators. 

“Every time I plant a seed/He said Kill it before it grow.” However, an ex- of Marley’s claims these lyrics had another meaning as being against her using birth control.

This song has a strong emotional current running through it, and Marley’s vocal performance here shows great range and emotion. The music is energetic and has a strong groove. And the backing vocals from the I-Threes make it pop.

[nb]2[/nb]One Love by Bob Marley and The Wailers


“One Love” is probably the song that represents Bob Marley the best. It’s a pure expression of his energy, love, and positivity that rings true to this day. When people think of Bob Marley, they think of “One Love.”

The original version of this song was recorded in 1965 and has a strong Ska feel. Although, it is now considered a part of the Reggae canon. 

The bass line drives the whole composition, with great percussion flourishes, bouncy guitar, perfect backing vocals, and of course, Marley’s distinct voice. This song is so bright and cheery, that it’s impossible to listen to it and not feel good.

[nb]3[/nb]War by Bob Marley and the Wailers


“War” shows the diversity of Bob Marley. While the title sounds violent, this is a measured, considered response to the violence, racism, poverty, and inequality found in his world. 

Additionally, the lyrics are adapted from a speech by Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to the United Nations. But, the way it’s put to music by Bob Marley and the Wailers is uniquely their own.

You can still groove to it…

This 1976 track from Rastaman Vibration is slow and relatively sparse. But, that creates an effect that makes you perk up your ears and listen. 

The slow drums and bass create a tense atmosphere that the backing vocals and horns pierce through repeatedly like explosions. And Marley’s voice stands out as a great figure of protest against injustice. 

[nb]4[/nb]Get Up, Stand Up by Peter Tosh/Bob Marley


If you’re surprised by the name, know that “Get Up, Stand Up” was co-written by Peter Tosh and Bob Marley back in the Wailers days. But, while Marley’s version is perhaps better known, the Peter Tosh version is a bit different. 

Tosh focused more on the meaning of the song, which is aggressive and powerful. In his live version, his vocals shine through on this classic reggae track. Tosh’s voice is full and robust, and in this song, his lyrics are punchy and strong, compared to Marley’s sweeter sound. 

Both versions have their merits, and Marley’s slower version has a deep bass groove that drives it forward perfectly. Whichever you prefer, there’s no forgetting that this is an important song in Reggae music.

Early Reggae

Reggae formed from the influences of Ska and Rocksteady in Jamaica. And the influence of R&B and Soul music from America. Early Reggae shows all of these influences, and some of these songs are pillars on which the future of the genre is based.

[nb]5[/nb]54-46 (That’s My Number) by Toots and The Maytals


Toots and The Maytals were originally just The Maytals before their frontman, Toots Hibbert, built up a big name for himself. This is arguably the Original Reggae band. Or, at least, the originator of the name reggae. 

They spelled it differently in their early Rocksteady track, “Do the Reggay,” but set the precedent anyway.

What a number…

“54-46 (That’s My Number)” was first released in 1968 in Jamaica and the UK and was a big hit in both countries. The song was written by Toots after doing 18 months for possession of marijuana. 

He claims he was framed by the police, and the 54-46 number refers to his prison ID number. This early Reggae song has a strong funk feel. Especially when Toots calls out, “Give it to me one time – UH!”

This is also one of the most covered Reggae songs, with artists from Foxy Brown to Vanilla Ice to Major Lazer all doing their own covers. As a result, it will always be one of the best Reggae songs ever.

[nb]6[/nb]Israelites by Desmond Dekker & The Aces


In 1968, Desmond Dekker & The Aces put out “Israelites” and made one of the earliest Reggae tracks that had big international success. 

It’s smooth and bouncy, revealing Desmond Dekker’s Ska background. There’s also some almost doo-wop vocalizing here that makes this song reminiscent of early rock and roll. The track was released in Jamaica in 1968, and by June 1969, it had reached the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. 

It peaked at #9 and remains one of the most memorable classic Reggae songs from one of the most memorable singers in the genre. Desmond Dekker is also credited with discovering Bob Marley as if his contributions to Reggae weren’t enough already.

[nb]7[/nb]Pressure Drop by Toots and The Maytals


This track was another huge hit for Toots and The Maytals and helped them become an internationally known act in the 70s. It was recorded in 1969 and came out on the Jamaican Monkey Man/From The Roots albums in Jamaica and the UK, respectively. 

It was also featured on the soundtrack to the reggae film “The Harder They Come” in 1972, which helped to give “Pressure Drop” and the band even more exposure.

Despite being a very smooth song, there’s an underlying energy here that can be found in lots of later Reggae as well. Toots explained that the song was about feelings of revenge and karma. The pressure drop in the song was bad deeds coming back around to bite people in the bottom.

[nb]8[/nb]The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff


Jimmy Cliff is one of those legendary figures that you have to talk about when you talk Reggae. This Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae singer and songwriter started in 1958 when he had his first hit at age 14. 

From there, Cliff’s career has taken him around the world. And he also holds Jamaica’s Order of Merit award for his contributions to music.

Taking Reggae to the world…

Many of his songs were sung in clear English instead of patois, and that helped to push him internationally. Cliff’s vocals are also smooth and inoffensive, making them accessible to a wide audience. 

In 1972’s “The Harder They Come,” you can also hear a definite soul influence in his vocals. This is a great positive song about overcoming enemies and obstacles in your life that continues to inspire listeners.

Classic Era Reggae

Reggae came into its own in the 1970s and into the 1980s. This is the era when it was the leading genre in Jamaica. 

But, it also spread around the world thanks to the Reggae film “The Harder They Come” and the international fame of Bob Marley. Most importantly to the UK, which had a large Jamaican population. 

Reggae was fully formed by this point, and a lot of singers and bands were pumping out incredible records to keep the people dancing.

[nb]9[/nb]Old Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear


Burning Spear is another legend in the Reggae scene. This Roots Reggae singer was born during WWII and is still performing his Rastafarian-influenced music today. He’s also a Grammy winner. And “Old Marcus Garvey” is one of his best-known songs and is typical of the Burning Spear style. 

The bass is thick and luscious, and the beat is smooth but infectious. The vocals are bright and sort of staccato in Burning Spear’s signature style. As soon as you hear his voice, you’re never going to forget it. 

This 1975 track is a song about Marcus Garvey and his influence on Rastafari. It warns the listener to remember the roots of the Rastafari religion and the words of Marcus Garvey, who is known as a prophet.

[nb]10[/nb]Chase The Devil by Max Romeo


This simple track by Max Romeo is one of the most recognizable Reggae songs ever. Max Romeo sang, “I’m gonna put on a iron shirt/And chase the devil out of earth,” and this has become one of the most iconic lyrics in Reggae. 

It reflects the heavy influence of religion in this music. Furthermore, it can also be interpreted as a political lyric in the fight against injustice.

However you hear it… 

This track is classic Reggae at its best. The 1976 track features Lee “Scratch” Perry’s backing band, The Upsetters, and Perry’s signature production style. 

It’s deep, heavy, infectious, and fully groove-able. The bass is solid, the drums and percussion are unique and interesting, and the whole thing simply works as a single piece of reggae greatness.

[nb]11[/nb]Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin


Lee Perry was busy in 1976 as the top producer of Dub and Reggae music in Jamaica and thus in the world. So, when Junior Murvin brought in his new song “Police and Thieves” to audition, Perry recognized its potential immediately. 

The song was recorded the same day, and Dub versions were also created. So, within a few days, it was all ready for release. 

Explosive lyrical content…

This song is about the brutality that was embroiling Kingston, Jamaica, at the time. It lays blame on both the police and gangsters equally and struck a chord with the Jamaican people at the time. Murvin’s falsetto version was chill and laid back even if the content was not. 

This song was also a hit overseas, where it became an anthem for rioting in London as well. It was also famously covered by The Clash in their Punk-Reggae version on the album of the same name.

[nb]12[/nb]Uptown Top Ranking by Althea & Donna


When this track dropped in 1977, Althea Forrest and Donna Reid were just 17 and 18 years old. As a single, it was a smash hit, rising to #1 in the UK in February 1978. The track was also released on their 1978 album, also called Uptown Top Ranking

This is a very accessible song, and that’s a big part of its success. The two young ladies sing the song together without harmonizing over a backing track that has a bit of history. It was a Dub track called “Three Piece Suit” created by DJ Trinity. 

That track was discovered by radio presenter John Peel. Then, the vocals were recorded over the top to produce Althea & Donna’s only big hit record. 

[nb]13[/nb]Legalize It by Peter Tosh


Peter Tosh was another member of the legendary Wailers from 1963 to 1973. He was the band’s lead guitarist, and apparently, taught Bob Marley how to play. He also provided backing vocals.

But, after 1973, when Marley was becoming a huge name, Tosh left the group to go solo. And he had a tremendous career.

Rasta power…

Peter Tosh was a serious Rasta and vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana, an integral part of Rasta culture. In his 1976 song, “Legalize It,” he declares, “Legalize it/And I will advertise it,” to let you know exactly where he stood. 

This song has a great groove and bright female backing vocals reminiscent of his work with the Wailers. But, it’s Tosh’s voice that stands out the most. Singing his political views loud and clear.

[nb]14[/nb]Wa Do Dem by Eek-A-Mouse


Eek-A-Mouse took his name from a racehorse and made a big gamble on his career. It paid off, because after he changed his name, he had a couple of big hits right away, including “Once A Virgin” and “Wa Do Dem” in 1979. 

By 1981, he was already headlining the Reggae Sunsplash Festival after the death of Bob Marley. Eek-A-Mouse’s signature “sing-jay” style includes a weird sort of bouncy scatting. Mixed with Jamaican Patois, it can be hard for some listeners to know when he’s scatting or spitting lyrics. 

With “Wa Do Dem,” he put together a thick beat with weird percussion, synth sounds, and his high-pitched voice to create something completely new in reggae. In his own words, “A wa do dem a wa do dem dem dem,” whatever that means.

[nb]15[/nb]Bam Bam by Sister Nancy


This 1982 track was based on an earlier song of the same name written and originally recorded by The Maytals. However, Sister Nancy’s more Dancehall-style song “Bam Bam” was more of a hit and is better remembered. 

As one of the few female DJs in Dancehall Reggae, Sister Nancy’s voice is unique. She also uses heavy vocal effects on this track with a huge amount of reverb and echoes to make this song special.

One of a kind…

“Bam Bam” is one of the most listened to Reggae songs of the present day. On top of that, it is possibly the most sampled reggae track ever. It has been used by Lauryn Hill, Chris Brown, Groove Armada, Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Logic, just to name a few of the over 100 plus samplings it has undergone. 

Sister Nancy never even knew her song was known worldwide until she moved from Jamaica to the US in 1996. Since then, she has received well-deserved recognition for her work, and royalties too.

[nb]16[/nb]Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth


This next song is one of the most unlikely hits out there. But, it still made a huge splash. Musical Youth was the rather uncreative name of a Reggae band from Birmingham, England, made up of school kids. 

Their fathers managed and produced the band. And in 1982, they ended up having a smash hit single that is one of the best known Reggae songs ever.

Don’t pass this Reggae song…

The song “Pass the Dutchie” was adapted for the band from the songs “Gimme The Music” by U Brown and “Pass The Koutchie” by the Jamaican group Mighty Diamonds. 

Whatever it may sound like to you, the word “koutchie” was a Jamaican slang term for a bong. So, this was changed to the slang name for a Dutch oven, and other lyrics were also changed to take out any obvious drug references. 

But, as the song hit #1 in the UK and #10 in America, I don’t think anyone was fooled. It’s still weird to have the kids’ voices singing these lyrics, but the sound is just too cool.

[nb]17[/nb]Zungguzungguguzungguzeng by Yellowman


Yellowman is an often overlooked artist. But, his style as a vocalist was hugely influential in the development of Dancehall, which sprang from Reggae. 

With his classic track “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng,” Yellowman scats, sings, and sort of raps over a long, solid Reggae rhythm. But, this song is also different as the characteristic bouncing upbeats on the guitar fade in and out, allowing a focus on the vocals. 

Even the bass groove drops out at times as Yellowman experiments with different soundscapes. And the chorus, even though meaningless, is great fun to sing along to.

[nb]18[/nb]Red Red Wine by UB40


Now, this is a song with a history. Believe it or not, this song was originally written and recorded by none other than Neil Diamond. But, his version is a slow ballad in his typical 1970s style. 

The track was later recorded in a Rocksteady style by Jamaican singer, Tony Tribe. When UK-based UB40 finally got around to covering it, they had never even heard the original.

That didn’t matter…

UB40 recorded their first version of “Red Red Wine” in 1983, and it was a huge hit for them. It went to #1 in the UK and put the band on the map. A re-release was put out in 1988, and it also hit #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The UB40 version is slow and very cleanly produced. 

It’s just a light, very chill song. And, being in English rather than Jamaican Patois, made it much more accessible to a wide audience. The result is one of the best Reggae songs ever.

[nb]19[/nb]Why Am I A Rastaman? by Culture


Culture is one of those often overlooked Reggae bands that shouldn’t be. Starting in 1978, they began playing a heavily Rasta-influenced version of Reggae. 

Praising Ja…

The songs promoted the tenants of Rastafari and also the use of ganja. Culture started with three singers, but since 1981, focused on Joseph Hill’s distinct vocals. 

The group had early success in the late 70s with “See Dem a Come” and “Two Sevens Clash.” But, arguably, their most memorable song is “Why Am I A Rastaman?” from their 2000 album, Humble African

This song has excellent production, a seriously grooving beat, and thick bass. And, as always, the vocals are delivered with power and passion to make a truly excellent song.

Modern Reggae to Watch Out For

Reggae had its heyday in the 70s and 80s. But, while it has given birth to other genres like Dancehall, Reggaeton, and Dub, Reggae continues to be a popular style in Jamaica and around the world.

Furthermore, some artists keep to the traditional styles, and others blend and add other influences. These might not necessarily deserve to be placed next to the best Reggae songs of all time. But, they’re songs that represent the current directions that Reggae is going.

[nb]20[/nb]Love Is My Religion by Ziggy Marley


Ziggy Marley is Bob Marley’s eldest son, and to all intents and purposes, his musical heir. Ziggy’s voice is nearly identical to his father’s, and his performance style is equally uncanny. He even joined The Wailers as their lead vocalist after his father’s death. 

But, he has also had a successful solo career, winning 8 Grammy awards for his Reggae albums.

“Love Is My Religion” is a bright, clean, modern Reggae song that showcases Ziggy’s positive style. This track is upbeat and very sing-along-able. It also ends in a cool acoustic version that echoes fireside jams with friends playing Reggae together around the world.

[nb]21[/nb]Welcome To Jamrock by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley


The Marley dynasty continues with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. As a vocalist and songwriter, Damian Marley has followed quite a different musical path than his other brothers. 

Rather than focusing on classic era Reggae like his father’s music, Damian has worked with Rap, Dancehall, and other genres to create a harder sound.

In “Welcome to Jamrock,” Damian sings and raps about life in the ghettos of Jamaica, his delivery giving an appropriately hard edge to this content. The track has a hard beat, and a sample from Ini Kamoze’s “World A Music” pays homage to earlier Reggae styles.

[nb]22[/nb]Break Us Apart by Stephen Marley (feat. Capleton)


Stephen Marley, Bob’s second-oldest son, is also a Reggae musician. He falls somewhere between his two brothers, keeping closer to his father’s sound but still experimenting with Dub, Dancehall, and Rap styles. 

He has won eight Grammy’s for his work, including for 2011’s Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life“Break Us Apart” is a tight track off this album. 

It has a classic-sounding beat and bass line, but the mixing here is modern and layered. Stephen’s voice comes through beautifully, and a cameo from Capleton adds a modern, harder edge to this track.

[nb]23[/nb]Raggamuffin by Koffee


As a rapper, singer, songwriter, and musician, Koffee is one of the hottest new artists in Jamaica. Although she doesn’t stick to only Reggae, many of her tracks are very Reggae-influenced. 

Something old and something new…

Additionally, she is not only the only woman but also the youngest artist ever to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album for 2020’s Rapture.

“Raggamuffin” has a bouncy, upbeat sound thanks to skanky piano chords. The beat is something of a mix between Reggae and Hip-Hop, creating something new and modern like you’d expect. 

Koffee sings and raps on this track, showing off her speed and talent and making this track unique and full of energy. 

[nb]24[/nb]Who Knows by Protoje (feat. Chronixx)


Protoje is a Grammy-nominated modern Reggae artist who consistently puts out great tracks. His style is intellectual, and he likes to spit lyrics over beautifully crafted beats. 

On “Who Knows,” Protoje is joined by the equally successful Chronixx, another modern Reggae star. They join forces to create a powerhouse of modern Reggae. Together they make this track sizzle. 

It’s thick and juicy, and infinitely groove-able. The beat here is clean, and the bass is deep and funky. Chronixx’s hooky chorus is so easy to sing along to it creates a perfect contrast for Protoje’s vocals.

More Best Reggae Songs

[nb]25[/nb]Redemption Song by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]26[/nb]Could You Be Loved by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]27[/nb]Stir It Up by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]28[/nb]Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]29[/nb]No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]30[/nb]Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]31[/nb]Natural Mystic by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]32[/nb]Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant


[nb]33[/nb]Johnny B. Goode by Peter Tosh


[nb]34[/nb]Iron Lion Zion by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]35[/nb]Kingston Town by UB40


[nb]36[/nb]Don’t Rock My Boat by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]37[/nb]Good Thing Going by Sugar Minott


[nb]38[/nb]Rivers of Babylon by The Melodians


[nb]39[/nb]Many Rivers to Cross by Jimmy Cliff


[nb]40[/nb]Here Comes the Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze


[nb]41[/nb]Everything’s Gonna Be Alright by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]42[/nb]Trenchtown Rock by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]43[/nb]007 (Shanty Town) by Desmond Dekker & The Aces


[nb]44[/nb]Cool Runnings by Bunny Wailer


[nb]45[/nb]Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc


[nb]46[/nb]No More Trouble by Bob Marley and The Wailers


[nb]47[/nb]So Much Things to Say by Bob Marley and The Wailers


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The Best Reggae Songs Ever – Final Thoughts

Reggae may have started back in the 1960s and exploded in the 70s and 80s, but it’s still alive and well today. 

Early Reggae tracks experimented with the sounds and rhythms of Ska and Rocksteady, mixing in Soul and R&B influences as well. This sound crystallized into what most of us recognize as Classic Reggae.

There are so many great songs to mention…

And hundreds of incredible Reggae artists that could arguably make this list of the top reggae tracks of all time. But, the ones I’ve included here have not only a great sound but also an incredible and important history. Either as huge hits or influences on later music, or both. 

Whether you agree with my list or not, you can’t argue that these songs deserve a special place in the history of Reggae music. A style that is going on and continuing into the modern day.

Enjoy listening!

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