“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” — Bob Marley
We’re taking a look back at the undying legacy Bob Marley, the unwavering icon of free-living has left behind with some of the best covers of his songs. From a wide range of artists, the list proves that Bob Marley’s message transcended genre, class and creed. That message, of course, was a message of love. Born on 6th February 1945, Bob Marley began his professional career with The Wailers at just 18 years of age. He soon became a pioneering leader of the reggae movement that swept across Britain.
Bursting out of Jamaica with a powerful rhythm, Marley was soon pumping from the stereos in working-class estates across the nation as his mix of rocksteady, ska, and reggae all blended with Marley’s uncanny buttery style, made for an irresistible cocktail. When put alongside his intelligence and soft-spoken words of hope, the singer soon became a cultural icon, the likes of which we may never see again.
By the time of his death, on this day in 1981, Marley was a phenomenon. The singer, never bowing to commercial pressure or emboldening his own ego in place of artistic purity and humanity, remains a pure figure of anti-establishment which still rings true to this day and has become a part of the singer’s legacy.
While Marley’s image and iconography are as strong today as when he was living, his songs remain the brightest beacon of his message. With anthemic tunes like ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘No Woman, No Cry’, the influence they heralded knows no bounds.
Here, we take a look at a small range of the artists influenced by Marley and the superb covers they produced.
10 best Bob Marley covers:
‘Redemption Song’ – Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer
When The Clash’s Joe Strummer happened to be sharing a studio with Johnny Cash, they instantly agreed to cover a song together. The song they chose? The iconic ‘Redepemtion Song’ from Marley’s Uprising, and they delivered one hell of a cover.
Rick Rubin, the producer of the moment, remembered: “There was one line I was wary about because it was not good English, and I said, ‘Johnny do you want to change this word to say it the way you’d say it?’” Cash looked at Rubin and said: “Bob Marley wrote that. I can’t change that!” and they didn’t.
Cash certainly knew his way around a potent cover but this rendition of Marley’s classic lands with a certain vengeance that only this pair could achieve.
‘Johnny Was’ – Stiff Little Fingers
If there’s one cover on this list that takes Marley’s vision into a brand new sound, it has to be the version Irish punks Stiff Little Fingers produced with their cover of ‘Johnny Was’.
The band turns the track into a chugging juggernaut of a punk song, unrelenting and unyielding; the song is an amped-up powerhouse of Marley’s cover Rastaman Vibration record and became a mainstay of SLF’s live sets.
This performance from 1980 is one of the finest versions we can find.
‘One Love’ – Damian and Ziggy Marley
Of course, we couldn’t have a list of Bob Marley covers without a nod to his sons, Damina and Ziggy, who delivered a goosebump-inducing performance of ‘One Love’ for the thousands in attendance at Glastonbury Festival in 2007.
If you ever needed a visual representation of what Marley’s message was about, then here it is as his son enact his message, connecting thousands of strangers with the message of music and humanity.
‘I Shot The Sheriff’ – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Step back, Eric Clapton and The Jackson Five; this is the only cover of ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, which comes close to matching the original for searing powerhouse performance, the smoky cool that permeates the track.
The iconic vocal of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is sensational and takes the track in a brand new direction. As with anything Screamin’ Jay Hawkins does, the song instantly becomes his own with a couple of howling notes.
‘No Woman, No Cry’ – Nina Simone
Not a full track but an outtake from Nina Simone’s 1993 album Single Woman; see the dynamic Dr Simone add a certain golden quality to Marley’s anthemic tune.
Stripped back to its bare bones, Simone takes the song to a new level, using her unwavering powerhouse vocals, she delivers a pumping version of Marley’s firecracker track.
‘Guava Jelly’ – Barbra Streisand
What is almost certainly the most unexpected take on the list, Hollywood icon and one of her generation’s most golden voices, Barbara Streisand’s version of ‘Guava Jelly’ is perhaps the most unusual cover of Marley you’ll come across.
The star naturally adds a bit of sheen to this love song that she recorded for her album Butterfly. While the extra polish may put some people off, Streisand’s Broadway power shines over every note of this cover.
‘Is This Love’ – Corinne Bailey Rae
Singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae was, for some time in Britain, the only voice you would hear blasting over the speakers in your local coffee shop.
Smoother than a double espresso, Bailey Rae does some scintillating work on her cover of Marley’s Kaya hit, ‘Is This Love’.
‘No Woman, No Cry’ – Fugees
When the Fugees announced their 1994 Bootleg Versions the band were at the height of their powers and beginning to assert themselves.
The rendition allowed them the chance to cover some songs that would otherwise seem untouchable. Here, the group remixes Marley’s iconic original into something a little more modern.
If Nina Simone provided one of the more authentic covers of this song, the Fugees made the most wholly enjoyable, finding a handy pocket between hip hop, pop and reggae.
‘Three Little Birds’ – Dionne Bromfield
Taking on one of Bob’s cheerier songs is Dionne Bromfield who, apart from being Amy Winehouse’s goddaughter, also has a shining sunset of a vocal tone that feels both energising and nourishing at each note.
Recorded as part of Radio 1’s live lounge, the singer pays ample homage to Marley’s anthem with a joyful version of the track that is sure to brighten up any day.
‘I Shot The Sheriff’ – Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton may well have been known as a Guitar God but his chart success wouldn’t reflect such high esteem, never calling himself a chart dominator.
In fact, it would take Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ to finally hit the top spot in 1974 as part of his smash record,461 Ocean Boulevard.