Last month, Nielsen Sound Scan, the organisation that tracks music sales across the US, Britain, Canada and Japan, revealed the compilation Legend: Bob Marley and The Wailers had become the 9th best-selling album of all-time.
Legend has been certified platinum 10 times and according to the US data firm, more than 11 million copies have been sold since records began in 1993; however, the album was originally released in 1984 so the true figure is probably closer to 30 million.
Obviously, Legend is the best-selling reggae LP in history, but is it the best Wailers album?
Bob Marley, who would have celebrated his 68th earthday last week, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer formed the Wailers in 1963.
As a group and individually, the trio went on to release more than 30 studio albums, including underground classics for Jamaican producers Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Coxsone Dodd and Leslie Kong; and two landmark efforts, Catch a Fire and Burnin’ , for British label Island Records.
Check out our list of the trio’s 10 best solo and group albums, below:
Six years after Bob Marley died, Peter Tosh was shot and killed during a violent robbery at his home. Six months later, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy award for his last studio album, which features a solid selection of digital-focused cuts including Vampire, Testify and Fight Apartheid.
9) Wailing Wailers – The Wailers (1965)
The Wailers’ first-full length album is an impressive collection of early hits recorded for producer Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One label during the ska era and includes classics such as One Love, Put It On and the first rude boy anthem, Simmer Down.
8) Rock and Groove – Bunny Wailer (1981)
A truly pioneering album that helped usher in the new dancehall sound and features contributions from the hugely underrated Roots Radics band. Standout tracks include Ballroom Floor, Cool Runnings and the dub-driven Jammins, which utilises a rhythm Peter Tosh developed six years earlier for his pious offering Igziabeher .
Rastaman Vibration features anthems such as War, and Crazy Baldhead and is the only album on this list to break into the top 10 of the US Billboard chart, eventually peaking at number eight; Marley and his bandleaders, bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and his drummer brother Carlton, at the top of their game.
The Wailers’ critically-acclaimed breakthrough album was ranked at number 123 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Their debut for Island entered the US Billboard chart; introduced the group to international audiences and has far too many standout cuts to mention.
Tosh’s second solo project features three landmark protest songs: Get Up, Stand Up (a composition he wrote, but Marley made famous), Equal Rights, and a remix of an old Wailers single, Downpressor Man, which is itself a reworking of the African American spiritual Sinnerman, made famous by Nina Simone.
SR Pt 2 is neither the first nor the biggest-selling Wailers album, but it may be the most important, thanks largely to Lee Perry who helped the trio develop as musicians, acquired international deals for their music and introduced them to musical directors Aston and Carlton Barrett, responsible for cultivating the Wailer’s unique sound. Standout cuts: every track.
Legend is a compilation album released three years after Marley’s death and comprising all of his singles that broke into the top 40 of the UK charts. It is the 9th best-selling album of all-time and has spent a staggering 992 weeks (19 years in total) on the US music charts.
Exodus – widely regarded as Bob’s best LP – was recorded, released and promoted while the singer lived in London in 1977, which (in our eyes) makes it a British album.
Subsequently, the LP was hugely popular in the UK, riding the national album charts for over a year and eventually peaking at number eight.
During his stay, Marley regularly partied at (British sound system) Coxsone’s nightly event at Columbo’s (formerly Roaring Twenties) in Carnaby Street.
At the time, Delroy Wilson’s cover of I’m Still Waiting (originally a Wailers composition, which appears on the album placed at number nine in this list) was hottest single in London.
Its success encouraged Marley to rewrite the song, which is how Waiting In Vain came to appear on the LP that Time Magazine voted ‘the most influential album of the 20th century.’
In the song Could You Be Loved, Bob Marley claims: ‘…only the fittest of the fittest shall survive; stay alive’.
I trust few people reading this blog would disagree with the king of reggae’s statement, which suggests Bunny Wailer (the only surviving member of the original trio) is not only the group’s most formidable member, but one of the industry’s most enduring musicians.
His catalogue is remarkably diverse and includes sociopolitical anthems such as One Love and dance classics like Electric Boogie, however, Blackheart Man, is his masterpiece.
The story behind its release is appropriately fascinating.
After 10 years of hard graft, in 1973 the Wailers had just completed their second album for Island and were on the verge of becoming one of the biggest bands in the business.
But Bunny became disillusioned and quit the group, citing irreconcilable differences with label boss Chris Blackwell (see the video above).
He stopped recording, reinvented himself as a shaman-like recluse, relocated to a farm in the country and was rarely seen for the next three years.
While Marley and Tosh toured the globe and acquired lucrative record deals, Bunny stayed in Jamaica and dug deep within himself and his Rastafarian faith.
Then, suddenly, in 1976, he returned with his first solo project; a series of groundbreaking roots songs supported by a stellar line-up comprising Jamaica’s top reggae musicians.
The album’s title and opening track refer to the name ascribed to Rastafarians in the decades leading up to Jamaica’s independence, when the country’s colonial government propagated the idea that ‘knotty-headed Rastamen’ were untrustworthy, dangerous criminals who kidnapped children and brainwashed them with evil doctrines.
Subsequently, many Rastas were murdered, beaten and imprisoned.
Reggae in general and the Blackheart Man album specifically helped address these issues and dispel some of the myths and stigmas associated with Rastafarianism, particularly in Jamaica.
Bunny was hardly treading on uncharted territory as Rastafarian musicians such as Count Ossie had been recording since 1960s, but the quality of songwriting and musicianship on cuts such as Dreamland, (recorded during the same session and possibly in response to Junior Byles’ roots anthem A Place Called Africa ), the melodic Fig Tree and eerie roots anthem Armagideon (Armagedon) are simply outstanding.
The result is a lucid soundtrack to the Rastafarian way of life that remains Bunny’s finest work and one of the greatest albums of all time.