40 roots reggae classic tracks

JUNE 2009

I’ve limited this chart to 70s style roots reggae. Simply because it’s music that I love – the characteristic slow repetitive rhythm (“riddim”) with its heavy throbbing basslines and Rastafari inspired lyrics. So don’t expect to find any ska, rocksteady, lovers rock, dub, dancehall or ragga here : it’s pure roots.

The music is organically linked to Jamaica and to the Rastafari faith. Rastafaris believe that Haile Selassie (“Ras Tafari”), who ruled Ethiopia (“Abyssinia”) from 1930 to his death in 1974, is the black Messiah, is god incarnate (“Jah”). They claim that he is descended from Solomon and Sheba, and view his official titles Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings and Elect of God as confirmation of prophecies in the Book of Revelation. They regard Ethiopia, or Africa, as their actual and spiritual homeland. Pointing to the fact that black people were forcibly removed from Africa to become slaves, they embrace the aspiration of Marcus Garvey’s movement for repatriation to Africa. Though Rastas are seldom politically active, they often speak of social issues, condemning the corruption of western culture (“Babylon”) and identifying themselves with poor and oppressed black people for whom they see the Rastafari faith as marking out the path to liberation. Rastas adopt a lifestyle which sets them apart from their fellow citizens and (especially in their spiritual use of cannabis) makes them frequent targets of law enforcement. Other aspects of this lifestyle include the famous dreadlocks, and a healthy alcohol free diet (“ital”).

Just as Rastafari is seen as a black liberation theology, roots reggae music belongs to a culture of resistance. Its heavy rhythms, its spiritual and social messages, and its conscious rejection of “Babylon”, set it in opposition to the perceived superficiality of much of western pop culture.

I like to have a strong representation of women in my lists, but on this occasion regrettably it wasn’t possible. There are a number of female reggae singers – but with few exceptions they are mainly associated with other styles such as lovers rock or dancehall. This mirrors the fact that Rastafari is an overwhelmingly male religion – in a 2001 study in Jamaica, Rasta men were found to outnumber rasta women by six to one. The rastafari faith borrows many of its attitudes toward women from the Old Testament. Women are respected and revered, but their role is seen as homemakers and child bearers. Men are the leaders, the heads of family, and the preachers and advocates for Rastafari.

I have to mention those producers – great artists in their own right – who created the sound on many of these records : Lee Perry, Sly and Robbie, Augustus Pablo, Joe Gibbs, King Tubby. Maximum respect !

Now take a spliff, and enjoy. Click on the artists name for links to wikipedia or myspace pages, or on the album name to buy the music from Amazon.

40 Mikey Dread – Paradise (Pave the way 1982)

39 Ras Shiloh – Who can’t hear (From Rasta to you 2002)

38 Althea & Donna – No more fighting (Uptown top ranking 1977)

37 The Gladiators – Trial And Crosses (Once upon a time in Jamaica 2002)

36 Wayne Jarrett – Satta Dread (1976)

35 Twinkle Brothers – Unemployment (Burden bearer 1983)

34 I Roy – Tribute To Michael Holding (Musical Shark Attack 1977)

33 Junior Delgado – Sons Of Slaves (Sons of Slaves 2005)

32 Hugh Mundell – Day Of Judgement (Africa must be free by 1983 1978)

31 Don Carlos – Time (Seven days a week 1998)

30 Dennis Brown – Revolution (Revolution 1985)

29 Stephen Marley – Mind Control (Mind Control 2007)

28 The Rastafarians – This Yah Musik (Orthodox 1981)

27 Steel Pulse – Ku Klux Klan (Handsworth Revolution 1978)

26 John Holt – Police In Helicopter (Police in Helicopter 1983)

25 Peter Tosh – Legalize it (Legalize it 1979)

24 Israel Vibration – Jericho (Jericho 2000)

23 Black Uhuru – Solidarity (Anthem 1983)

22 Michael Prophet – Conscious Man (Consciousness 2000)

21 Linton Kwesi Johnson – Song Of Blood (Dread Beat an’ Blood 1978)

20 Horace Andy – Ital Vital (Good Vibes (1975-1979) )

19 King General & Bush Chemists – Money Run Tings (Money run tings 1997)

18 The Congos – Fisherman (Heart of the Congos 1977)

17 Desi Roots – Changing (Children in Exile 1982)

16 Joseph Hill – Niahbingi tonight (posthumously released on his son Kenyatta Hill’s debut album Pass the torch 2007)

15 Freddie McKay – Tribal Inna Yard (Tribal Inna Yard 1983)

14 The Wailing Souls – Kingdom Rise Kingdom Fall (Firehouse Rock 1981)

13 Prince Far I – Wisdom (Message from the King 1978)

12 Johnny Clarke – None Shall Escape The Judgement (None Shall Escape The Judgement 1974)

11 Dillinger – Flat Foot Hustling (Cocaine 1976)

10 The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana (Satta Massagana 1976)

9 Groundation – Freedom taking over (Hebron Gate 2003)

8 Gregory Isaacs – Babylon Too Rough (Easy Natty Easy 1975; the song can also be found on the compilation Over the Years Vol 2)

7 The Natural Ites & The Realistics – Picture On The Wall (Picture On The Wall 1985; song now available on Essential Reggae compilation)

6 Ini Kamoze – World-a-music (Here comes the hotstepper 1984)

5 Max Romeo – Valley of Jehosaphat (Open the Iron Gate: 1973-1977

4 Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey (Marcus Garvey 1975)

3 Misty in Roots – Poor and needy (Earth 1983)

2 Judy Mowatt – Black Woman (Black woman 1978)

1 Bob Marley and the Wailers – Exodus (Exodus 1977)


  1. Certainly some very, very good tracks on this list. Especially Max Romeo, The Wailing Souls and The Congos. Great mix of modern and old school roots and actually some dancehall.

    I might have added Black Roots “Africa”, U Roy “Chalice in the Palace”, Johnny Osbourne “Truths & Rights” and Freddie McGregor “Rastaman camp”.

    Great blog btw.

    All rhe best / Erik

  2. this is a brilliant list. ive never seen anyone rank exodus as #1, but i fully agree with you. exodus is hands down the best reggae song.
    ur missing toots and the maytals though..
    and maybe equal rights by peter tosh.


    It not only features David Hinds, Selwyn Brown and Steve Nisbett from Steel Pulse but Lee Scratch Perry, Augustus Pablo and Junior Delgado.

    A book of photographs by Pogus Caesar celebrating Britain’s iconic black musicians is to be published next month.

    The book features evocative, nostalgic and largely unpublished images of musical legends like Stevie Wonder, Grace Jones and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

    “These images record a unique period in what would come to be called black British life,” remarks author and historian Paul Gilroy.

    “Pogus Caesar’s emphatically analog art is rough and full of insight. He conveys the transition between generations, mentalities and economies.”

    Legendary reggae artists figures prominently, and appropriately, in the Caesar image canon – Burning Spear, The Wailers, Augustus Pablo, Rita Marley, Mighty Diamonds, Black Uhuru, Sly Dunbar etc. The photographer cites reggae itself is a significant influence, reflecting his own St Kitts background in the Eastern Caribbean.

    The launch of Muzika Kinda Sweet follows an exhibition of the work at the Oom Gallery in Birmingham earlier this year.


  4. Good article, though can’t see many of the reggae GIANTS.Blessed

  5. No Third World?? “Try Jah Love”

  6. hardly a Studio 1 track on the list WTF!!!!!!
    Exodus?????? what about “Mr Brown” recorded when the Wailers were at the cutting edge of jamaican music. There are some great tracks on here but I think you need to get out a bit

  7. i just love this reggae tunes…thanks for the help

  8. Burning Spear? Culture, Peter Tosh…I am very glad I found your blog! Lucky Dube’s “Reggae is Mine” should be on the list though 🙂

  9. Like what your doing.Like the fact that have chosen to use a photo of early black musicians at the top of your webpage,instead of going the more obvious route of using the colours of the Ethiopian flag.This highlights the importance of musicianship an evident force in your selections. I’ve have never replied to anything like this before.I’ve so far resisted the pull social networks like facebook,etc.I know that if I started I’d waste hours ( I’m bad enough with ebay).It would all add up to a wasted of life. Not so with what you are doing.I come from an era when it was not cool (there’s that over used word ‘cool’,I used it in school rather sparingly, 30 odd years ago, because it was usually reserved for something outstanding.Cool probably has it’s roots in the swing era of Jazz,Who knows?) among certain blacks to express positive feelings about Reggae music.Most of them in my school in Cardiff,(UK),preferred to tease their hair up and praise MJ. They were into US black music fullstop/period.The line of least resistence at the time.You’d certainly pull more birds (or chicks if you prefer) with your funky steps on disco floor,then adopting a lion posture at a blues dance.Though I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes.I could quite happily ditch these and live on a desert island with my Reggae collection. Keep the good work up. Cool Runnings.

  10. respect

  11. Reggae music is the foundation of uprightness in society.

  12. Who said reggae music is in the cd?

    Who said so
    Was wrong so
    No-so can’t go so
    Go-so can’t go so

    Reggae music is in the nerves
    Reggae music is in the brain

    Coz me know so
    Dem know so
    n coz you know so

    Don’t say reggae music is in the cd!

    Reggae music is in the blood
    In the blood
    In the vessels

    Coz me know so
    Dem know so
    n coz you know so

    Don’t say reggae music is in the cd!

    Reggae music is in the heart
    Reggad music is in the soul

    Coz you know so
    Dem know so
    n coz you know so

    Don’t say reggae music is in the cd!

    Who said reggae music is in the cd?

    Who said so
    Was wrong so
    No-so can’t go so
    Go-so can’t go so

    Reggae music in the heart
    Reggae music in the soul

    Bunny wailer respec
    Culture respec
    I.V respec
    G.I respec

  13. Great artlcle, thanks. Going to go through Spotify now and check out songs and artists. There are some greats missing though; Chaka Demus & Piers, Desmond Decker, Aswad, Abyssinians, The Silvertones, Cornell Campbell, The Gladiators, EEK-A-MOUSE, Ijahman, The Heptones, Ken Boothe and Capleton. Thanks again.

  14. jah bless u made a very beautiful track list mi love it to da maximum, jah be praised we feel it

  15. Mi hafi 2 sehy good wark.

  16. Nice list man! Check out this blog as well: http://reggaerecord.wordpress.com/

  17. Big tunez…….reggae muzik…never die.and live 2 remember reggae legendz

  18. reggea music so nice.. Considering that all roots artists praises Jah

  19. reggea music so nice

  20. Best reggae song ever :

  21. good samples and ranking.though great men missing the sort of mutabaruka,elijah prophet among them

  22. l need young stars whch includes busy signal,jahcure,chris,virgo etc.those young guys performing these days not those of 90s

  23. Greetings Ras,am Benjamin in Cape Town, I love Roots Music,Reggae. My Adress i s P.O Box 273 Porterville,6810 Western Cape

  24. foundation roots no disturbance!!!

  25. Great listing …

    Ima step out of line a little.

    Can anyone remind me the title and author of this song that goes like: “…we don’t need no Babylon laws cause it’s man made …

    Chorus: wanted, are you wanted, to ……… ”

    That’s all I remember

    Thanks in anticipation.

  26. Im looking for a reggae song…not sure who sung it or title of song may have been toots and the maytels it went “dont cry ?(may have been judy?) ? Dont cry.its a long shot wondered if you knew what im after.?

  27. I think mr money man Danny Hensworth should have been on there and thanks and praise. Just my opinion though. But still great list.

  28. Good playlist…this u should have Included-Freddie mcgregor-push come to shovel.

  29. Love reggae music so much, always neither roots the foundation. Very inspiring tracks..

  30. Brothers and sisters, on should not forget his roots if one wants to know his real self !
    Please don’t forget to listen and to mention our beloved Jesus Dread and especially what he said :

    The hotter the battle is the sweeter
    Jah victory, Jah victory
    The hotter the battle is the sweeter
    Jah victory, Jah victory

  31. THERES a song that’s goes something like ” Rasta maaan ruling culture. Ohh yeaaa Rasta maaan rule the world”…. it has a funky drum beat to it. Anyone know the name of the song

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