The 50 Greatest Reggae Albums

Jamaica’s extraordinary musical legacy, from ska to dub, Bob Marley to The Bug.

Bob Marley

FOR A SMALL CARIBBEAN ISLAND, Jamaica has had an extraordinary influence on music. Its supreme invention – reggae – emerged after the country gained independence from Britain in 1962, when bands started giving the jazz, swing, pop and rock’n’roll tunes they performed to US tourists in resort hotels a quirky local twist – notably a jerking off-beat guitar rhythm and patois-rich vocals. Electricity being a luxury in Jamaican homes, 45s were played to huge crowds on outdoor sound systems, creating fertile rivalries among the DJs who spun them.

First came the loping sounds of ska artists such as Prince Buster and The Skatalites, followed, in the abnormally hot summer of 1966, by the sweet, slowed-down pop of rock steady. After that, reggae got fatter and funkier, splintering into myriad different forms and sub-genres. In March 1969, it went mainstream in the UK – where thousands of West Indian immigrants had settled in the postwar years – when Desmond Dekker & The Aces scored a Number 1 hit with the skinhead-friendly The Israelites. Four years later, Bob Marley crossed over to a rock audience to become reggae’s first international star with The Wailers’ peerless Catch A Fire LP.

50.Aswad New ChapterCBS | 1981

50.Aswad New ChapterCBS | 1981

MOJO SAYS: Classy Brit reggae blending keening harmonies, doleful brass and an early ’80s inner-London edge.

49.The Paragons On the BeachTreasure Isle | 1968

49.The Paragons On the BeachTreasure Isle | 1968

MOJO SAYS: The tide was high, they were holding on, and rock steady crested a euphoric wave.

48.Beenie Man Art And LifeVirgin | 2000

48.Beenie Man Art And LifeVirgin | 2000

MOJO SAYS: Diverse cross-genre hook-ups from quick-lipped dancehall adventurer and early Pharrell-adopter.

47.Herman Chin Loy Aquarius RockPressure Sounds | 2004

47.Herman Chin Loy Aquarius RockPressure Sounds | 2004

MOJO SAYS: OK, it breaks our general ‘no CD comps’ rule but this collects Chin Loy’s deeply funky, borderline-psychedelic late ’60s/early ’70s 45s, tough to find elsewhere.

46.Bunny Wailer Blackheart ManIsland | 1976

46.Bunny Wailer Blackheart ManIsland | 1976

MOJO SAYS: An iron fist in a silk glove, the gentlest Wailer’s solo debut packs a hazily laid-back cry of Rasta protest.

45.Yellowman Mister YellowmanGreensleeves | 1982

45.Yellowman Mister YellowmanGreensleeves | 1982

MOJO SAYS: Sometimes ridiculous, often very rude but always mesmerising dancehall classic from albino JA star.

44.Rhythm & Sound w/Tikiman ShowcaseBurial Mix | 1998

44.Rhythm & Sound w/Tikiman ShowcaseBurial Mix | 1998

MOJO SAYS: A master class in juggernautical deep dub techno, at the exhilarating junction where old-school reggae and ’90s electronica clash.

43.Horace Andy SkylarkingStudio One | 1972

43.Horace Andy SkylarkingStudio One | 1972

MOJO SAYS: The best early sides from Brentford Road studio’s haunting, unsettling, honey-sweet tenor.

42.Garnett Silk It’s GrowingBlue Mountain/VP | 1992

42.Garnett Silk It’s GrowingBlue Mountain/VP | 1992

MOJO SAYS: The first spiritually elevating and PC dancehall album – a classic.

41.John Holt 1,000 Volts Of HoltTrojan | 1974

41.John Holt 1,000 Volts Of HoltTrojan | 1974

MOJO SAYS: Ex-Paragons singer crafts pop reggae for the masses, led by perennial smoothie Help Me Make It Through the Night.

40.Scientist Scientist Meets The Space Invaders Greensleeves | 1981

40.Scientist Scientist Meets The Space Invaders Greensleeves | 1981

MOJO SAYS: King Tubby's engineer borrows the boss's echo box to make humid, super-heavy dub.

39.Steel Pulse Handsworth RevolutionIsland | 1978

39.Steel Pulse Handsworth RevolutionIsland | 1978

MOJO SAYS: Militant Rasta missives in tough militant Marley style – straight outta punk-era Brum.

38.Ken Boothe Mr Rock SteadyStudio One | 1967

38.Ken Boothe Mr Rock SteadyStudio One | 1967

MOJO SAYS: Prime late ’60s Studio One pop, essayed with emotive grace. The title doesn’t deceive.

37.The Maytals Never Grow OldStudio One | 1963

37.The Maytals Never Grow OldStudio One | 1963

MOJO SAYS: Exuberant harmonies with a gospel/barbershop tinge twist on super-early ska LP from future funky-reggae titans.

36.Barrington Levy Shaolin TempleJah Guidance | 1979

36.Barrington Levy Shaolin TempleJah Guidance | 1979

MOJO SAYS: A 16-year-old Levy unleashes fruity dancehall cornerstone, with dub-happy wizard Scientist manning the desk.

35.Roland Alphonso King Of SaxStudio One | 1975

35.Roland Alphonso King Of SaxStudio One | 1975

MOJO SAYS: The Skatalites’ tenor sax magus blows sublimely jazzy notes over classic Studio One backing tracks.

34.The Mighty Diamonds Right TimeFrontline | 1976

34.The Mighty Diamonds Right TimeFrontline | 1976

MOJO SAYS: Hard-bitten political ire expressed through exquisite three-part soul harmonies and unhurried roots-rocking rhythms.

33.Augustus Pablo East Of The River Nile Message | 1978

33.Augustus Pablo East Of The River Nile Message | 1978

MOJO SAYS: Spectral ‘Far East’-sounding instrumentals blown through Pablo’s baleful melodica; takes up where the more dubby ‘King Tubby’s…’ left off.

32.Eek-A-Mouse Wa-Do-DemGreensleeves | 1981

32.Eek-A-Mouse Wa-Do-DemGreensleeves | 1981

MOJO SAYS: Alias Ripton Hilton brings eccentric, squeaky singjay style to the dancehall and invents a brilliantly nonsensical subgenre of one.

31.Hollie Cook TwiceMr Bongo | 2014

31.Hollie Cook TwiceMr Bongo | 2014

MOJO SAYS: Pinballing bings and bongs, steel pans, Bollywood strings, Prince Fatty at the desk – this year’s classy UK pop reggae update is truly up there with the best of ’em.

30.Luciano MessengerIsland Jamaica | 1996

30.Luciano MessengerIsland Jamaica | 1996

MOJO SAYS: Luciano turned his back on smutty ‘slackness’ for an album of elevated soul-reggae balminess.

29.Sizzla Bobo AshantiGreensleeves | 2000

29.Sizzla Bobo AshantiGreensleeves | 2000

MOJO SAYS: Return-to-form from singjay dancehall star of steely conviction and old-school Rasta fire-power.

28.Black Uhuru AnthemMango | 1984

28.Black Uhuru AnthemMango | 1984

MOJO SAYS: Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s polished ’80s production, all zingy syndrums and big pop tunes, creates massive seller.

27.The Heptones Cool RastaTrojan | 1975

27.The Heptones Cool RastaTrojan | 1975

MOJO SAYS: Achingly soulful three-part harmonies on LP that jettisoned their previous romantic preoccupations in favour of mean ghetto vibrations.

26.Dillinger CB200Black Swan/Island | 1976

26.Dillinger CB200Black Swan/Island | 1976

MOJO SAYS: Named for his Honda ’bike, this was home to the funky, hypnotic deejay apotheosis that’s Cokane In My Brain.

25.Marcia Griffiths NaturallySky Note | 1978

25.Marcia Griffiths NaturallySky Note | 1978

MOJO SAYS: Fresh from Marley’s I-Threes, Marcia makes polished fem-reggae updating her old Bob Andy-penned Studio One jewels Feel Like Jumping and Tell Me Now.

24.Various Club SkaWirl | 1967

24.Various Club SkaWirl | 1967

MOJO SAYS: Essential early collection of classic ska 45s compiled for UK audience by legendary Scene Club DJ and Island A&R man Guy Stevens.

23.Mikey Dread World War IIIDread At The Controls | 1980

23.Mikey Dread World War IIIDread At The Controls | 1980

After working on The Clash’s Sandinista!, Dread returned to JA to create his second and best LP of deep-dub and distinctive biddly-biddlly toasts.

22.Gregory Isaacs Night NurseIsland | 1982

22.Gregory Isaacs Night NurseIsland | 1982

MOJO SAYS: The Cool Ruler glides effortlessly from seductive lovers rock towards sculptured dancehall mastery.

21.The Upsetters Return Of Django Trojan | 1969

21.The Upsetters Return Of Django Trojan | 1969

MOJO SAYS: Instrumental set from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s sessioneers, heavy on funky chops and Spaghetti Western swagger.

20.The Bug London ZooNinja Tune | 2008

20.The Bug London ZooNinja Tune | 2008

MOJO SAYS: A confusion of dancehall, noise, hip hop and grime confirms reggae can shift-shape into sonic nourishment for modern times.

19.Peter Tosh Legalize ItVirgin | 1975

19.Peter Tosh Legalize ItVirgin | 1975

MOJO SAYS: After quitting The Wailers, Tosh returned with sonically dense, admirably lazy-paced solo jewel promoting maximum spliffage.

18.U Roy Version GaloreTreasure Island | 1971

18.U Roy Version GaloreTreasure Island | 1971

MOJO SAYS: Revolutionary deejay’s benchmark debut album, popularising the idea of rapping over someone else’s backing track until it ends. Hip-hop ahoy!

17.Dr Alimantado Best Dressed Chicken In TownGreensleeves | 1978

17.Dr Alimantado Best Dressed Chicken In TownGreensleeves | 1978

MOJO SAYS: Toasting reaches dizzying heights with this punk-loved clutch of the Doctor’s early singles.

16.Culture Two Sevens ClashLightning | 1977

16.Culture Two Sevens ClashLightning | 1977

MOJO SAYS: An epochal title track, and an extraordinary LP as the vocal trio combine with massive orchestration to create a mood of portentous dread.

15.Burning Spear Marcus GarveyIsland | 1975

15.Burning Spear Marcus GarveyIsland | 1975

MOJO SAYS: Uncompromising lyrics allied to potent rhythms equals militant greatness.

14.Big Youth Screaming TargetTrojan | 1973

14.Big Youth Screaming TargetTrojan | 1973

MOJO SAYS: Intense rhythms coupled with Youth’s deep, drawling delivery make for killer early deejay disc.

13.Don Drummond The Best OfStudio One | 1970

13.Don Drummond The Best OfStudio One | 1970

MOJO SAYS: Minor-key retort to ska’s in-built jolliness from The Skatalites’ deeply troubled composer, trombonist and melodist.

12.Lee Scratch Perry And The Upsetters Super ApeMango | 1976

12.Lee Scratch Perry And The Upsetters Super ApeMango | 1976

MOJO SAYS: Perry’s 1976 productions for others are submerged in a gloriously eccentric murk of re-mixed vocal clips, horns, flute, melodica and, yes, dubby echo.

11.Bob Marley & The Wailers ExodusIsland | 1977

11.Bob Marley & The Wailers ExodusIsland | 1977

MOJO SAYS: Marley survives political shooting in JA, arrives in punk-crazed London, records squelchy, funky-reggae triumph.

10.Max Romeo & The Upsetters War Ina BabylonIsland | 1976

10.Max Romeo & The Upsetters War Ina BabylonIsland | 1976

MOJO SAYS: Marley-endorsed landmark in socially conscious, political roots reggae crafted at Lee Perry’s Black Ark.

9.Prince Buster FABulous Greatest HitsMelodisc | 1967

9.Prince Buster FABulous Greatest HitsMelodisc | 1967

MOJO SAYS: Legendary ska cut Al Capone aside, this collects Buster’s delightfully cheeky rock steady sides, ever full of humorous skits.

8.Joe Gibbs African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3Gibbs | 1976

8.Joe Gibbs African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3Gibbs | 1976

MOJO SAYS: A weighty sub-bass dub excursion pushing the envelope with chirpy keys and bizarro sound effects including door bells and thunderclaps.

7.Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard JungleUpsetter | 1973

7.Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard JungleUpsetter | 1973

MOJO SAYS: Lee Perry and King Tubby collaborate on pioneering dub album with extraordinary split-stereo mixes that collides to make a brand new sound. A masterpiece.

6.Toots & The Maytals Funky KingstonMango | 1973

6.Toots & The Maytals Funky KingstonMango | 1973

MOJO SAYS: The rough, rustic and churchy Maytals of the ska era are updated into a raucous rock stew that's impossible not to move to.

5.The Congos Heart Of The CongosBlack Ark | 1977

5.The Congos Heart Of The CongosBlack Ark | 1977

MOJO SAYS: Perfect dread harmonies amid a Lee Perry mix of staggering complexity and endless soft-edged density. The squashiest, most organic-sounding reggae LP ever.

4.The Skatalites Ska Boo-Da-BaTop Deck | 1966

4.The Skatalites Ska Boo-Da-BaTop Deck | 1966

MOJO SAYS: The definitive Jamaican ska band at their dizzyingly inventive peak, taking the island’s shuffling offbeat dance music into swinging jazz and Far Eastern territory. Still mindblowing.

3.Various The Harder They ComeIsland | 1972

3.Various The Harder They ComeIsland | 1972

MOJO SAYS: The soundtrack to the film that took reggae to the world, top’n’tailed by singer/actor Jimmy Cliff’s tropical-pop title-track and hymnal Many Rivers To Cross.

2.Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers UptownRockers | 1977

2.Augustus Pablo King Tubbys Meets Rockers UptownRockers | 1977

MOJO SAYS: Electronics wizard King Tubby chops up Augustus Pablo’s mournful productions on a DIY console built to terrify loudspeaker manufacturers. An eerie, mind-melting dub monster.

1.Bob Marley & The Wailers Catch A FireIsland | 1973

1.Bob Marley & The Wailers Catch A FireIsland | 1973

MOJO SAYS: The album that made Bob Marley – and reggae – global superstars. Peerless songs, breathtaking musicianship and, 40 years on, still box fresh.

Jamaica’s failing economy in the ’70s meant recycling was a part of every day life, so it followed that, with studio time and recording tape expensive, producers like Lee Perry and King Tubby began taking old backing tracks and remixing them into sonically crackpot but undeniably brilliant ‘dubs’. Others, like U-Roy and Tapper Zukie, elected to rap over records, foreshadowing hip-hop.

With Marley popularising Rastafarianism and soul rebellion amid the island’s mid-’70s descent into political chaos, reggae took a left-turn into spirituality, ‘consciousness’ and militancy; it subsequently morphed into lovers rock, stripped-down dancehall, pop-reggae, techno dub and much more, surviving into 2014 with artists like Hollie Cook revisiting traditional styles and The Bug deconstructing the 50-year-old form to make new, exhilarating, experimental sounds.

So, here’s our list of the Top 50 reggae albums, eschewing (please note) contemporary CD compilations in favour of original, vintage vinyl releases and steering clear of multiple entries by reggae’s biggest names such as Bob Marley, Lee Perry and King Tubby. Enjoy – and do let us know your thoughts…

Artist(s):