If Bob Marley was alive, today he would have celebrated his 65th birthday. Every year on this day, fans gather to listen to his music and honor his legacy. From London to Ethiopia to Jamaica to right here in Chicago, we’re celebrating Bob Marley Day. My relationship with his music goes back as far as my earliest childhood days. Check the timeline.
When I was a toddler, my dad spent time in Jamaica studying for a master’s degree. When he returned, he brought what seemed like Bob Marley’s entire record collection with him. Uprising. Natty Dread. Burnin’. Survival. Rastaman Vibration. We had all the LP’s and from that early age, I started soaking them up like a sponge. I swear on the Bible that I have clear, distinct memories of seeing footage of Bob Marley’s funeral on television. The coffin surrounded by an ocean of weeping fans, the mourning of a people. I know I probably have created these memories — Bob passed in 1981. I wasn’t more than two at the time, but part of my brain swears that I witnessed this moment with the rest of the Caribbean.
One of my earliest embarrassing memories is of my brother Dominic sneaking up on me as I sang Redemption Song to myself (I must have been only four or five, and of course I didn’t know the lyrics).
When I was a teenager, Bob’s lyrics helped me navigate my way through oceans of frenemies. I absorbed his lyrics. Listening to his music gave me that feeling of spiritual balance that I felt unable to attain at church on Sundays with my parents.
And to this day, whenever I need a little guidance, a little perspective, a little satisfaction for my soul — I turn to him. Rest in Peace, Mr. Marley. It’s an understatement to say you left this world too soon.
Here are my top 5 favorite Bob Marley tunes, in no particular order. That would be too difficult.
5. Who The Cap Fit/Man to Man
Few songs have ever actually caused me to look within myself as this song did. The lyrics spoke very directly to my soul during a turbulent part of my life —
“Some will hate you, pretend they love you now
Then behind they try to eliminate you.
But who Jah bless, no one curse;
Thank God, we’re past the worst.”
It’s a double-edged sword, and Bob captured it so perfectly in this song. Sometimes you’re watching out for the cap-wearers. And sometimes, the cap-wearer is you. Realizing that was essential for me, and I think it’s rare that a song can be credited for making someone a better person. But Who The Cap Fit did that for me. Most definitely.
This song certainly isn’t among Bob’s most popular, but those words hit me deep in my soul. And they speak so earnestly to Bob Marley’s own beliefs and experiences. “Never let a politician grant you a favor. He will always want to control you forever.”
3. Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)
Click to watch because in their infinite wisdom, Island Records has disabled embedding. Wonder what Bob Marley would think about that.
One of the most incredible things about Bob was his prescience. His lyrics spoke about issues that are tragically timeless — poverty, struggle, hunger, and pain. Not being able to pay your bills. Not being able to feed your kids. And while singing about that, he sang about revolution, self motivation, and rising above that which angers you.
And besides all of that, there’s the irresistable command. “Forget your sorrows and dance. Forget your troubles and dance. Forget your weakness and dance. ”
When you listen to this song, you almost can. Check it live in 1980. And please take note of the I-Threes. They give me SO much style inspiration.
2. Forever Loving Jah
If you catch me at the right time, this song can STILL put chills down my spine. The strength of Bob’s religious conviction is so palpable in the songs composed after Haile Selassie’s passing. This song, Jah Live, and Selassie Is The Chapel resonate with faith. It’s an emotion that’s almost wholly lacking from music today.
1. One Drop
This song feels just as fresh as it was back in the day. The beat can’t be denied. This song has more fond memories for me than most, so that’s what makes this my top pick. But even in writing this I’m questioning my choice. There are SO many Bob Marley songs that are just perfect compositions.
Although Legend is Bob Marley’s most popular album (and the most popular reggae album of all time according to Billboard), that “best of” compliation falls short and fails to include some truly essential tracks. If you’re REALLY trying to get into the deeper crates, treat yourself to Songs Of Freedom. It is as good as a best of collection gets. Four CDs that show the evolution of this one of a kind musical legend. SO worth the money.
At times in the past, I’ve listened to Bob Marley’s music and felt an undertone of anger that a musician so talented had to die so young. Just 36 years old, and with SO much more music to make. But on this Bob Marley Day, I’m just rejoicing in his musical legacy. He left us with so much to listen to, so much to consider. So much inspiration. He may be gone, but Robert Nesta Marley will never, ever be forgotten.
What are your favorite Bob Marley songs? Share your memories with me!