Reggae music transports a person to the Caribbean, and there’s but one legend who sets the tone. Bob Marley is an icon who reflects the sound of an entire culture. Reggae aficionados have many others to add to that list, but these songs have one thing in common: you can dance to these songs.
Song Year: 1965
Bob Marley is synonymous with reggae. Perhaps his hit “One Love” is as appropriate as today’s message as it was during the late 1970s.
Bob Marley had a talent for creating soulful and meaningful hits that introduced the world to reggae. It’s nearly impossible to sit still when the song plays without swaying to its lulling tune.
With his “One Love” message, Marley wanted to unify people and bring hope to humanity. That message remains as powerful today if we choose our behavior and embrace who we are and our fellow man.
Bob Marley wasn’t a one-hit-wonder, “No Woman, No Cry”, “Redemption Song”, Buffalo Soldier”, and many other hits influenced not only other musicians but the world.
Song Year: 1995
Shaggy’s Mr. Boombastic took the chart in 1995; rich in its velvet voice, it instantly mimics another icon, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It’s downright sexy.
Like all music genres, musicians have this uncanny impulse to make any style their own. Shaggy, another notable Jamaican musician, incorporated his own fusion into the mix.
Reaching critical acclaim in the UK, DownUnder, in New Zealand, and Ireland, Shaggy’s third album didn’t disappoint fans. Boombastic made #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Boombastic hit the music world in 1995 and has a bonus track on a collector’s rendition of the album.
Song year: 1969
Shockwaves resonated in the music industry when the reggae roots band, The Abyssinians, released “Satta Massagana,” now famous for its ethnic message into the world. Many artists covered this tune, and it’s become a Rastafarian hymn used during services.
The title means, ‘he gave praise,’ and was recorded in 1969 but faced a release issue until it finally surfaced as the hit Satta Massagana in 1976. A notable name in the reggae music scene, Clive Hunt released limited editions of the album.
The title Satta Massagana makes another appearance in a Clash song, Jimmy Jazz.
Song year: 1976
The song “Legalize It” really doesn’t need a translation. As a former member of the Wailers, Peter Tosh is well versed in reggae tunes so instrumental in spreading the message about the harsh reality of the marijuana penalties.
The song is a smooth combination of pop and reggae and is both fun and meaningful. Tosh was a crucial band member in The Wailers and the only band member who could play an instrument when the band formed. He was a self-taught guitarist and keyboardist, known for his syncopated rhythms.
Tosh was a strong voice for legalizing marijuana and became a target by police and a victim of assault.
He died during a home invasion in 1987. In 2012, Jamaican authorities awarded Peter Tosh with the Order of Merit.
Song year: 1982
Sister Nancy’s catchy “Bam Bam” is the epitome of reggae music. Although released back in 1982, Bam Bam’s staying power is still apparent in songs by modern music legends like Jay Z, Beyonce, and Kanye West, who have translated this song into hip-hop tunes.
Hailed as the most sampled reggae song of all time by Billboard, and even Reebok took a stab at using it in a commercial in 2014. Sister Nancy eventually received ten years’ worth of royalty payments for her song.
The song is linked to earlier reggae legends The Maytals and Byron Lee and may simply mean— a ruckus.
Song year: 1973
Anyone on the street would tell you that Bob Marley and The Wailers are the faces of reggae. Bob Marley dominated the reggae genre and inspired the best reggae songs to dance to for generations to come.
The song is representative of the injustices inflicted by the Jamaican police, yet there is no such figurehead as a sheriff in Jamaica. This clever play of lyrics resonated with an audience and allowed Marley to get away with implying a sentiment that spoke of his political motivations.
Eric Clapton covered the hit in 1974, introducing the song to a new audience. This Marley hit has spawned many reproductions and remakes.
Song year; 1969
Jimmy Cliff is another iconic voice from the islands. As a gifted multi-instrumentalist and singer, Jimmy Cliff struggled to find fame on the UK music scene and is a melodic theme in the lyrics. It’s a soulful dance song.
Also awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit and inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in 2010 cemented Jimmy Cliff as a legend. Rolling Stone Magazine has included it in their best 500 songs of all time.
“Many Rivers To Cross” soulfully reflects the grueling journey of a musician fighting for his share of fame and clinging to his belief in his talent.
Since then, Jimmy Cliff, who wrote and recorded the song in 1969, has come into his own. Many notable stars played homage to the legend by recording the ballad, including John Lennon, Percy Sledge, Bryan Adams, Cher, and Bryan Adams.
Song Year: 1971
Johnny Nash recorded the title track “I Can See Clearly Now” on his album back in 1969 and reached number one on U.S Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box charts. Its meaning is inspirational while facing adversity.
A popular hit worldwide, it became a hit again when Jimmy Cliff recorded it for the picture soundtrack of Cool Runnings and peaked at #18 in 1993, speaking to the longevity of this great tune.
Irish rock group Hothouse Flowers also popularized the song in 1990, reaching another audience stream with their iconic rendition.
Song Year: 1992
The Jamaican fusion band rose to international fame with their reggae fusion song Sweat in 1992 though the band had previously released 12 albums prior. Australian music channel Max included it in their 1000 Greatest songs of all times.
Like all music genres, music progresses and produces highly popular subgenres. Inner Circle is both fun and sexy and easy to sing along. This song is all about physical attraction and what comes after.
Reaching European fame in countries like Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, and Germany, the song transitions easily from its reggae roots to pop.
As in any genre, diehards may snub this cultural cross-over, but when you listen to “Sweat,” you instantly want to frolic on the beach, sway to the tune, and fall a little in love.
Song Year: 1983
UB40 transformed this Neil Diamond song into a hit with their 1983 album Labor of Love. This reggae-style rendition may offend purists, but it deserves a spot on top reggae songs to dance to for anyone from the Gen X generation right down to the millennial core.
Red Red Wine has reggae rhythm in spades, and the soft reggae riffs are what makes reggae so appealing for all generations. The lyrics tell the sad story of drinking to forget.
“Red Red Wine” was also part of history when UB40 performed this song at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert in 1988.
This famous British reggae-pop band has more than 50 hits on the UK Singles Chart.
Song Year: 2003
It’s impossible to compile the best reggae songs of all time list without including Ziggy Marley. Raised under the Bob Marley and The Wailers umbrella, Ziggy comes by his talent for songwriting and performing naturally.
“Dragonfly” is a classic example of the prolific messages in reggae music that speak of peace, love, compassion, and appreciating nature yet still resonate with humor.
Ziggy filled his father’s footsteps after the legend’s death in 1981 and produced eight studio albums under the Melody Maker band name and seven solo albums. He received eight Grammy awards attesting to his success as a musician who can breach vast chasms in musical taste.
Song year: 1967
Most of us have never heard of The Paragons, yet when 80s bombshell Blondie popularized the song “The Tide Is High,” listeners experienced that epic Aha—moment.
The Paragons performed this song with singer John Holt who wrote the song in 1967 as a rocksteady hit. This B-side hit created a sensation when it was rereleased by Blondie, then by Atomic Kitten, and again by rapper Kardinal Offishall in 2008.
The Paragons hail from Kingston, Jamaica performing as a ska and rocksteady vocal band famous for their harmonies. Rocksteady, punk, and reggae are all related to ska music.
Song year: 1977
Nothing says reggae like jamming with friends and family, the meaning behind the lyrics.
“Jamming” is a star in its own right and has been featured on The Simpsons, Along Came Polly, during ABC coverage of NBA games, and the movie Captain Ron.
And like many Marley songs, this song is also rife with peace and love undertones.
Song year: 1979
Third World is another key contributor to the reggae music scene, and their hit, “Now We’ve Found Love,” is a message so crucial to reggae: love, peace, and humanity.
Third World and their Caribbean flair made them popular with a large fan base in the UK, and their sound is a smooth combination of reggae blended with soul, funk, and disco so popular in the 1970s.
Song year: 1982
Released in 1982, “Pass the Dutchie” is the new kid on the reggae scene and introduced another generation to the likability of reggae. Musical Youth is the British Jamaican Band’s number one UK singles hit. In the United States, the song made the top ten and sold over 5 million copies.
The song is often mistakenly interpreted to mean marijuana when it speaks about poverty, hence the line “How does it feel when you’ve got no food?” The popular and catchy tune “Pass The Dutchie” is a classic reggae song despite the misunderstanding.
Song year: 1992
Dennis Brown recorded more than 75 albums, and Bob Marley became a huge fan, citing that Brown held the distinct honor of being his favorite singer. Brown was a huge fan of Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin He claimed that Nat King Cole influenced his career profoundly.
By 1972, Brown’s trajectory to international fame was well on its way. Hailed as “the boy wonder from Jamaica,” Brown performed with a large cast of talent throughout his career, which was prolific and very short. He died at the young age of 42 years.
“How Could I Leave?” is another textbook reggae song that symbolizes the genre and tells the story of grappling with love.
Brown’s influence inspired many superstars like Whitney Houston and Wyclef Jean.
Song year: 2017
Reggae music didn’t begin and end in the 1960s. Reggae is a living chronology, and “Skanking Sweet” tells the same human survival ballad so lyrically told in reggae culture. Life is a struggle, but there is joy.
Chronixx is considered a reggae revival musician. His music often speaks about anti-war themes. He became famous after Usain Bolt attended a nightclub where Chronixx performed.
Song year: 2020
Busy Signal grew up in Saint Ann Parish in Jamaica and is known as a contemporary dancehall artist. His R&B influence is evident, and “Blessings” is a modern contribution to the reggae music vibe and spreads the message of being grateful.
Reggae is about tradition, yet there’s a constant shift toward modern influences. Sometimes that means combining genres and blending one sound with another to achieve results.
Song year: 1988
What do you get when you cross purebred punk and authentic reggae and add an eclectic mix of funk? You get BAD’s “Just Play Music.”
It means to play any music.
Perhaps you’ll recognize the iconic voice of Mick Jones of The Clash fame instantly, but what resonates is the power of reggae and how it can complement highly unusual music styles and turn them into hits.
Song year: 1970
Bob Andy reached fame with his Jamaican anthem “I’ve Got to Go Back Home” as a solo star. Songs like art are markers in time and tell history in context to humanity and that we belong where we came from is always home.
Andy apprenticed with the popular group The Paragons as one of their founders. Credited with creating great hits like “Love At Last,” Andy toured with Elton John and Gilbert O’Sullivan.
Bunny Wailer was an elemental member in Bob Marley and The Wailers and had a soft-spoken singing voice. “Blackheart Man” was released in 1976 and dispelled the myth regarding the Rastafarian religious beliefs Bunny experienced as a child.
Bunny Wailer became friends with Bob Marley in his childhood and eventually became step-brothers. He preferred to remain on the island while Bob Marley and The Wailers enjoyed international fame. He was deeply devoted to his Rastafarian faith.
Song year: 1989
“Champion Lover” is an excellent representation of 1980s music and reggae influence. This overtly sexual song is a hit on Deborahe Glasgow’s only album.
Sadly, the musician died at the age of 29 from lymphatic cancer. She had a quiet career but left a deep impression on many. That she is still considered a reggae icon speaks to her talent.
Song year: 1977
Police and Thieves is a hit song by Junior Murvin valiantly depicting both sides of the story of crime. Junior recorded many songs and sang with many of Jamaica’s top bands at the time. “Police and Thieves” was his only hit and became a cult song for riots during Notting Hill Carnival riots in London, UK.
Junior Murvin recorded his unique voice on eight albums, and his lyrics still survive in popular culture.
Song year: 1992
“Tinga Linga Ling” perhaps represents the newer generation of reggae style, and his influence is notable in many reggae, rap, and hip hop genres, and it's about the dancehall lifestyle.
His downfall is linked to his strong views on homosexuality and caused the decline of his popularity when Bobby Brown dropped him for the tour.
Regardless, Tingalingaling is a foot-stomping reggae dance tune.
Song Year: 1992
“Murder She Wrote,” says party dance tune. Chaka Demus & Pliers is a perfect pairing of deejay Chaka Demus and singer Pliers, who enjoyed mainstream success when they joined as a duo.
“Murder She Wrote” is from their Tease Me album. It enjoyed mild success on the UK singles chart. The lyrics touch on the sensitive topic of abortion and the lifestyle of a modern woman.
Pitbull sampled the song in his hit El Taxi.
Song year: 2000
“It Wasn’t Me” is undoubtedly the best blend of reggae and R&B, featuring Rik Rok's vocals, and is a hit sensation on Shaggy’s fifth studio album. Released in the fall of 2000, it shot Shaggy to pop fame and is considered his biggest hit to date.
“It Wasn’t Me” became a chart-topper in Europe, Australia, the UK, and the USA. A comic Eddie Murphy skit on Raw inspired the song. Since then, the media referenced it to R. Kelly’s defense tactic and used it as a Cheetos Superbowl commercial.
Regardless of which lyric version you listen to, the song is dance-worthy.
Song year: 2000
“Girls Dem Sugar” is a funky dance tune and reggae fusion and made Billboard's 100 Greatest Songs of 2000 list.
Not only is Girls Dem Sugar a sexy song about the nightlife vibe, but it’s also connected reggae to Pharrell. Beenie credits Pharrell for massaging the idea for the song into the Grammy Award-winning song.
Song year: 1995
“Mysterious Girl” embodies a reggae dance tune with a hint of the sensuality of boy wants girl. Bubbler Ranx definitely lends his reggae appeal to the hit song, which peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart.
The song received a lot of praise upon its original release back in 1995 and was rereleased in 2004 on Andre’s fourth album.
Mysterious Girl is a fun example of how reggae influences cultures and pop cultures worldwide and speaks to a broad audience.
Song year: 1970
No reggae list is complete without mentioning The Maytals, Toots Hibbert, a contemporary of legend Bob Marley and a significant influence on reggae as we know it today.
Rolling Stone Magazine named Toots Hibbert as one of their top 100 singers. “Monkey Man” became The Maytals’ first international hit in 1970 and decried the saga of a woman choosing another man (over Toots).
The Maytals have had a long recording and touring career and are still going strong today after fifty years in the music industry.
Song year: 2020
Collie Buddz blends the authentic reggae sound effortlessly with fusion and soca, but the melody has unmistakable Latino influences.
Born in New Orleans but raised in Bermuda, Collie’s “Hold Firm” is about being true to yourself and saying no.
Collie Buddz had the distinction of being asked by Shaggy to perform on his 2007 studio album.
Song year: 2020
Reggae inspires and produces musical genius, and Koffee is a young Grammy Award-winning reggae singer, rapper, and deejay from Jamaica. She’s the face of reggae’s future.
“Lockdown” tells the story that is affecting everyone: quarantine during the pandemic. It’s about change and survival.
Song year: 2005
Damian Marley is yet another talented member of the Marley family. “Welcome to Jamrock” is the title track of his third studio album, and it marked a collaboration between Damian and Stephen Marley.
The song utilized a riddim created for Ini Kamoze by Sly and Robbie, and its lyrics discussed the dark side of Jamaican’s inner city crimes, poverty, and politics.
Song year: 2005
This romantic reggae song features soulful vocals from Lady Rudy, sometimes referred to solely as Rudy. It has an old-fashioned reggae instrumental, and one can’t help but smile while listening to the lyrics.
This song was released by FiWi Music, a record label based in Kingston, Jamaica. They promote songs by local artists, and “Float Away” is a fan favorite.
Technically, this Best Reggae Song list is unending. This list is a mere snapshot selection of the best reggae songs of all time to dance to at any time.
Many incredible musicians have graced the reggae music scene. They left their footprints on music scores, pop culture, our lives and influenced the entire planet.