Originating in Jamaica during the late 1960’s, reggae music has come to be one of the most well-known and culturally influential genres. Speaking on topics of oppression and injustice yet simultaneously celebrating peace and love in doing so, reggae speaks to a wide audience and is inherently emotionally moving in nature.
When it comes to the top reggae vinyl records, the genre expands far beyond the incredible workings of the well-known and late Bob Marley. Keep reading to discover the top 8 reggae vinyl records that you should add to your collection:
#1 Toots and the Maytals - Funky Kingston (1972)
Recorded in Kingston, Jamaica in the early 1970’s, Toots and the Maytals released the first version of their album Funky Kingston, which would later become a cultural phenomenon in the world of reggae music. In 1972, the reggae genre was not well known outside of its origin in Jamaica. In that, Funky Kingston acted as a monumental piece in the success of the genre itself, boosting awareness of the everyday struggles and life in Jamaica.
In the album specifically, Toots and the Maytals highlight the challenges and hardships of day to day life in Jamaica, yet also address the importance in celebrating life regardless. Through a combination of moving lyricism and reggae sound with an American rhythm and blues influence, Funky Kingston acted as an authentic cultural inspiration which significantly expanded the genre outside of its roots.
#2 Vivian “Yabby You” Jackson - Conquering Lion (1975)
If there is any reggae artist in particular that truly felt the hardships of everyday life in Jamaica and turned them into a beautifully crafted discography, it’s Yabby You. Leaving home at the age of 12 to find work, Yabby You found himself hospitalized at the age of 17 due to malnutrition. As a result, Yabby You could not return to his place of work, and instead turned to making music while living on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica.
Yabby You’s first debut album was Conquering Lions which was released in 1975. As one of the first and most influential in the genre, this classic album was composed with warm notes, strong bass, and soft yet powerful vocals. With that said, it is safe to say that Conquering Lions is one of the most authentic and prominent pieces of early reggae sound. With this reggae album, and the overall influence of Yabby You in reggae music as a whole, the genre itself was transformed and expanded far beyond its roots, making it what it is to this day.
#3 Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey (1975)
Named after Jamaican political activist and nationalist Marcus Garvey, Burning Spears released their third album Marcus Garvey in the midst of early reggae music growth. The album itself touches upon the injustice and division within the Jamaican community, specifically highlighting the words and actions of Garvey in doing so. This reggae album powerfully connected the black community by shedding light on a man who gave voice to others, and in turn illuminated the significance of Jamaican roots.
Marcus Garvey became so well-established and recognized over the years that fans mistakenly thought it was their debut album. After its release, a number reggae artists covered many of the songs on the album, adding to its unwavering success. Undoubtedly, Marcus Garvey is a classic in reggae music and has been a staple album, inevitably shaping the genre itself.
#4 UB40 - Labour of Love (1983)
Remaining one of UB40’s top selling albums to this day, Labour of Love includes the notorious reggae-covered track “Red Red Wine,” along with other various tracks as well. The cover album is filled with songs from 1969-1972 and reworked in a reggae-esq composition. The significance of Labour of Love stems from the transformation of classic late 60’s music into a reggae style that helped popularize the genre overseas. In doing so, reggae became much more appreciated and recognized among audiences outside of its origin.
Fun fact: At the time of Labour of Love’s release UB40 was unaware of the origin of the hit song Red Red Wine and attributed the original recording to reggae singer Tony Tribe, when in fact it was Neil Diamond. In fact, now the song is more often connected to the UB40 cover as opposed to any earlier workings of the song.
#5 Bob Marley and The Wailers - Legend (Deluxe Edition) (1984)
It is safe to say that any reggae vinyl record collection is not complete without some workings of Bob Marley and The Wailers. That said, Legend (Deluxe Edition) is a key record on this list as it contains many of the top tracks in Marley’s career. From “Three Little Birds” to “No Woman, No Cry” and everything in between, Legend contains many Marley’s most well-known songs and remains the most prominent in the genre as a whole.
This compilation album was released three years after Marley passed away, and sold upwards of 15 million copies. As the king of reggae, Marley’s influence took the world by storm and continues to be monumental to this day. Specifically today, in the current political climate, Legend continues to see a surge in sales. The album highlights relevant notions of racial injustice as well as a peaceful fight for equality through meaningful and powerful lyricism.
#6 Damian Marley - Welcome to Jamrock (2005)
Bob Marley’s legacy did not stop following his death, in fact, it carried on to the following generation. Damian Marley, Bob Marely’s youngest son, took reggae one step further in the mid 2000’s by providing a unique style of blending reggae and upbeat sounds. Branching out into reggae and hip-hop fusion, Welcome to Jamrock innovatively helped shape a subgenre which would soon become known as reggae fusion.
In this album, Marley sought to express the truth and reality of day to day struggles that Jamaicans faced in a way that had not been done before. The success of Welcome to Jamrock was clearly seen as it sold 86,000+ copies in the first week of its release and was followed with appraisal and popularity in both Jamaica and the U.S. In doing so, Marley followed in his father's footsteps by powerfully using his platform, giving a voice to those without, and further expanding the foundations of reggae music.
#7 Nas and Damian Marley - Distant Relatives (2010)
With such a concise list of top reggae albums, seeking to only provide the best in the genre, you may be surprised to see two albums by the same artist. However, Distant Relatives broke the mold of traditional reggae music by fully branching out and bridging two culturally influential genres: reggae and hip-hop. In doing so, working alongside Nas on this project, Marley was able to further develop reggae and the new subgenre of reggae-fusion in a way that had never been done before.
The shared African ancestry of both Nas and Marley inspired Distant Relatives as the album sought to touch upon injustices and struggles of African ancestry specifically and the world as a whole. In this, Nas and Marley incorporate African sound samples, powerful messages, and a beautifully crafted fusion of two genres. A decade later, this classic album remains a distinguished work of art, as it continues to be the only collaborative album of its kind.
#8 Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth (2012)
As this list of best reggae records comes to a close, the collection wouldn’t be complete without the workings of Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff. The grammy-winning album Rebirth is a more modern take on reggae yet still remains true to its Jamaican roots. In this album, Cliff claims that the rebirth conveyed within the lyricism and sound not only reflects his own personal transformation, but humanity’s transformation as a whole.
Rebirth remains true to the style of reggae in the recording process, as the album was recorded similarly to that of a live performance with each instrument being played at the same time. Instead of pre-recording certain sounds, this album carried on the musical legacy of Jamaican sound with live recordings and elements of rastafarian beats.
Make the most out of listening
These top reggae tracks are embedded with deep drums and bass alongside smooth vocals that are best listened to on a vinyl record player. When it comes to quality, there is no better way to achieve the highest quality sound than putting the needles to the groove.
Vinyl record players pick up sound waves that are impossible to capture on digital playback, and as such, are embedded with sounds of warmth and precision. That said, in order to make the most out of your listening experience and appreciate these albums in the way they were intended, be sure to invest in a vinyl record player that will allow you to do just that.
Investing in a vinyl record player doesn’t need to break the bank. In fact, Victrola provides high quality record players that are equally as affordable as they are aesthetically pleasing. With a wide selection of styles and designs, Victrola record players are a great option when it comes to enjoying your collection, whether it’s rap vinyl records or country vinyl records!