It only takes a hint of sunshine on late winter days for this scribe to break out the sweet reggae music. I love reggae! Everyone loves reggae, or maybe more to the point, everyone loves Bob Marley.
Bob Marley’s music has come to represent reggae. So much so that they are practically intertwined. Reggae is Marley and Marley is reggae. And fair enough.
Bob Marley is the most commercially successful non ‘first-world’ musician of all time. His albums have sold somewhere in the vicinity of 75 million copies!
So it is of no surprise that to the majority of music-lovers Marley is the only taste of reggae in their musical collection. But there is so much more!!
For this post I want to open your eyes, ears and mind to some other spectacular examples of the reggae genre not by the late-great Bob Marley.
Ok deep breath, let’s go and check out some of the greatest reggae albums of all time…
The best reggae albums of all time Not by Bob Marley & the Wailers.
1. Blackheart Man – Bunny Wailer
Debut album by former Marley sidekick, Bunny Wailer (Livingston). Featuring Marley and Peter Tosh on backing vocals and the Wailers rhythm section providing the groove, Bunny’s sweet vocals express yearning and despair. The titular character of the lead track was based on Jamaica’s version of ‘the boogie man.’
Key track – Blackheart Man
2. Heart Of The Congos – The Congos
Produced by Lee Perry, some would say his greatest achievement as a producer, where he showed considerable restraint to let some of the most beautiful reggae harmonies ever recorded, shine through. The falsetto of Cedric Myton intertwined with the rich tenor of Roydel Johnson, magnificently channel Jamaican pride through these 10 majestic tracks.
Key track – Congoman
3. Marcus Garvey – Burning Spear
The most ‘African’ of all roots reggae albums. A paean to Rastafarian ideology and Jamaica’s tortured past, Burning Spear (aka Winston Rodney) delivers one of the cornerstones of Jamaican music.
Key Track – Slavery Days
4. Two Sevens Clash – Culture
Apocalyptic themes abound based on predictions made by Rastafari ‘prophet’ Marcus Garvey. He prophesied that the end of the world would be nigh in 1977 when the ‘two sevens clashed’ and moreover, the lyrical content on the album pinpointed 7 July 1977 as THE day of Judgement. Despite the foreboding content, this is a great reggae album!
Key track – Two Sevens Clash
5. War Ina Babylon – Max Romeo & The Upsetters
Another Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry production and utilising his house band ‘The Upsetters’, this consistently gold star album is another standard in reggae history. Max Romeo was previously a purveyor of ‘smut’ songs and whilst he had some hit singles, was considered more of a joke artist. That was until this giant of an album, with Romeo’s pure vocals cutting through the heavy reggae grooves.
Key Track – War Ina Babylon
6. Legalize It – Peter Tosh
Like his former bandmate Bob Marley, Peter Tosh was prolific in his output during the late 70’s and early 80’s and made serious headway into mainstream international markets. Any of his early albums can be considered landmarks of the genre, but this, his first solo album after leaving ‘The Wailers’ remains a favourite. Playful and lighter in content than his more political albums that followed, this cemented Tosh’s reputation as an absolute reggae giant. Ganja themes abound.
Key Track – Legalize It
7. Red – Black Uhuru
One of the slickest sounding reggae records of the early 80’s courtesy of producer Prince Jammy. Black Uhuru made some international waves with this album melding old school roots reggae instrumentation with (the then) new-school of synthesisers and electronic drums. Backed by Sly & Robbie’s Taxi Gang, this album oozes funk and groove.
Key track – Sponji Reggae
8. Funky Kingston – Toots & The Maytals
The first band to ever mention ‘reggae’ in a song title with 1969’s ‘Do The Reggay’ and thus naming the genre. Toots & The Maytals were already veterans of the Jamaican scene when they originally released this album in 1972. Three years later they released a different version for the American market with some substantial changes to the track listing. Mixing both self-penned compositions and interesting covers, including ‘Country Roads’ and ‘Louie Louie’, Funky Kingston is one of the defining pillars of Jamaican music.
Key track – Funky Kingston
9. Best Dressed Chicken In Town – Dr Alimantado
As with all musical genres, some of reggae’s main protagonists are a little bit ‘out there’. Have a look at the cover of this album and you will see what I mean. But this eclectic mix of originals and sampled tracks, with the good Doctor toasting over the top, is a bona fide weirdo classic. Awesome engineering from the likes of Scratch Perry and Prince Jammy help make this a fairly unique outing. Eccentric to the say the least, this album is guaranteed to bring a smile to your dial.
Key Track – I Killed the Barber
10. Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse
Not all great reggae comes from Jamaica. Take Steel Pulse for instance, who became the first non- Jamaican band to win a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. Hailing from Birmingham U.K, their debut album was very well received by the mainstream and applauded for its strong political and anti-racial views. And whilst the subject matter is not overly conducive to fun filled sunny afternoons, the music does the job every time!
Key track – Prodigal Son
So those are my thoughts about some of the best reggae albums ever recorded. I hope you will give a couple of them a listen…