Updated: Jan 23
As with any genre of music, truly great reggae albums transcends its place in the musical landscape and makes the listener feel something. Reggae came out of Jamaica’s political climate and Rastaf ari religion in the 1960s and progressed into popularity in the early 1970s, branching off into numerous subgenres. Here are ten of the top reggae albums of all time, which have taken from the genre’s rich history and influenced artists and fans for decades.
Number Ten: ‘Ska Boo-Da-Ba’ by The Skatalites
Known for their work with Justin Yap on Ska Boo-Da-Ba, the band’s second album has become one of their most sought-after. They were one of the first bands to popularize the ska sound, backed up by mostly horns and little vocal.
Number Nine: ‘Two Sevens Clash’ by Culture
Titled after a prediction made by Jamaican politician Marcus Garvey, Culture’s debut album, Two Sevens Clash, became their most influential. The album’s title track was the band’s most popular, not only spreading the band’s name across Jamaica, but also partially sparking a superstitious nature concerning the end of the world prophecy many Rastafarians held about when the “two sevens clash,” 1977. However, the album is also noted for its eclectic musical style and light tone amidst its dread-based lyricism.
Number Eight: ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ by Augustus Pablo
King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown was multi-instrumentalist Augustus Pablo’s first successful album. Often noted as being one of the best examples of the dub sub-genre, as the title track remixes a previous version of the same song. The album also notably features Pablo’s melodica and keyboard work as part of his focus on instrumentals. His next album, East of the River Nile, would be completely instrumental.
Number Seven: ‘Heart of the Congos’ by The Congos
Produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry at the Black Ark, Heart of the Congos by The Congos remains one of his best productions ever. The album’s roots reggae sound and reverent lyricism have consistently put it on critics’ radar, with Pitchfork calling it one of the best albums of the 1970s.
Number Six: ‘Legalize It’ by Peter Tosh
His first album post-Wailers, Peter Tosh released Legalize It in 1976, pushing for the legalization of cannabis by the Jamaican government for medicinal purposes. The album and its title track were controversial for this subject matter, but in the end, the controversy worked in Tosh’s favor, launching him to stardom.
Number Five: ‘Marcus Garvey’ by Burning Spear
Burning Spear’s third album, Marcus Garvey is named after the Jamaican politician and Rastafari “prophet,” and is the band’s most political album to date. It was also the band’s most successful album, leading to a distribution deal with Island Records in the United States.
Number Four: ‘Super Ape’ by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and The Upsetters
Lee “Scratch” Perry is one of the most prolific producers in reggae music. Most notable for his work with the band The Upsetters and the short-lived Black Ark studio, his laid-back dub sound has become standard in the genre. Perry released Super Ape with The Upsetters in 1976, becoming one of the band’s most popular albums.
Number Three: ‘The Harder They Come’ by Jimmy Cliff
Although this is a movie soundtrack, it has become just as iconic as the film it accompanies, landing on many critics’ top 10 lists for top reggae albums, as well as Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time. The album ended up becoming a cross-section of historically significant reggae music, featuring tracks by genre pioneers Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals, as well as early works from the film’s star, Jimmy Cliff and songs from other Jamaican artists who were influential in the genre between 1967 and 1972.
Number Two: ‘Funky Kingston’ by Toots & the Maytals
Toots and the Maytals’ career began in the mid-1960s, way before the reggae genre hit its heyday. The band released Funky Kingston in Jamaica and the United Kingdom in 1972, mixing American rhythm and blues with traditional ska influences. The album was released in 1975 in the United States with a different track listing which combined a few tracks from the original with tracks from the album’s follow-up. It is the American version that has gained all the accolades, charting on the Billboard pop charts in 1976 and being recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the top 500 albums of all time.
Number One: ‘Catch A Fire’ by Bob Marley & the Wailers
Possibly the most well-known reggae artist to date, The Wailers released Catch a Fire in 1973. The band’s fifth studio album, it was also their first major label release, poising them for success in the United States and United Kingdom. The album is credited with bringing reggae to a wider audience, as well as making Bob Marley a star. In 2010, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and is considered to be one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Thank you for reading our list of the top ten reggae albums of all time. We hope you enjoyed it!