Never Had a #1… Bob Marley & The Wailers

Time to take a pause from our regular procedings, to recognise those artists who won’t feature in our journey through every single #1 single. A moment to mention, then, those who have never had a number one…

First up, Jamaica’s most famous son… (aside from that really fast guy…)

It has to be said that searching out Bob Marley’s biggest UK hits throws up quite the hotchpotch. No ‘No Woman, No Cry’, no ‘Two Little Birds’, no ‘Redemption Song’. First up is a classic, though:

One Love / People Get Ready’ – #5 in 1984

Only one of these records made the charts in Marley’s lifetime (though I might be wrong on that score, as it can be hard to know exactly if his songs peaked at the time or in a re-release). This made the Top 5 in 1984, though it was first recorded by The Wailers as far back as 1965. This hit version comes from 1977, and it featured on the famous ‘Exodus’ album. It’s not a double-‘A’ side; its a medley – containing as it does a slice of The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’. It’s got a bit too much of ‘The Lord’ in it for this particular heathen’s liking, but it’s undeniably one of his signature songs.

Could You Be Loved – #5 in 1980

Writing this blog has – as I’ve mentioned a few times before – converted me to reggae. I wasn’t that keen on it as a genre for many years. Which meant that this was always my go-to favourite Bob Marley tune, as it swaps that sloping reggae ryhthm for a chugging, funky disco beat. Couldcha-couldcha-couldcha be loved… chant the backing singers as Marley free-styles around them. It’s still my favourite, though I can appreciate the others much more these days.

Iron Lion Zion – #5 in 1992

I’m gonna be iron, Like a lion, In Zion… Many of Marley and The Wailers’ hits refer to Zion, the promised land according to their Rastafarian beliefs. This one was first written in 1974, but I’m assuming that this hit version from the early nineties had had some period effects added (just listen to that blaring sax). Again, reggae takes a backseat as a more rock-oriented feel takes over. I had never knowingly heard this before, but it’s a catchy, driving tune.

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Buffalo Soldier – #4 in 1983

Another posthumous hit. ‘Buffalo soldiers’ were black troops used by American colonisers in their wars against native Americans in the mid 19th Century. Marley positions himself as a modern day buffalo soldier: Stolen from Africa, Brought to America… Fighting for survival… Pretty heavy stuff for what, on the surface, sounds like another jaunty reggae tune.

Sun Is Shining (Boby Marley Vs Funkstar Deluxe) – #3 in 1999

And so Bob Marley’s biggest UK chart hit is this remix, released almost twenty years after his death. ‘Sacrilege!’ I’m sure many will shout. And yeah, it probably shouldn’t be top of the pile. But I was thirteen when this came out and peaked at #3, and even though I don’t remember particularly liking it at the time, the hook-line of: To the rescue, Here I am… Takes me right back to high school. It’s a pretty standard, late-nineties, Fatboy Slim-ish dance remix. Nothing amazing. The original ‘Sun Is Shining’ is a slow and slinky number from way back in 1971 (though, again, I’m not sure if the linked version is said original as The Wailers recorded and released the darn song three times in the seventies…)

So, there you have a true icon’s five biggest UK hits. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at the chart career of an, equally iconic, female singer who, unlike Bob, is still with us, and shimmying like no other…

12 thoughts on “Never Had a #1… Bob Marley & The Wailers

  1. I know pretty much every one of Marley’s Island tracks and don’t really remember him having major successes here. A lot of those you mentioned came off Confrontation, which was the last album. Iron, Lion, Zion was a “lost” track which got found. Wouldn’t surprise me if Bob hid it. And I’ve heard a few of these souped up tyracks where he’d turn in his grave.
    I used to love hanging around the REecord Exchamges around Westbourne Park, before CDs even. West London was the real home of reggae.

    • Yeah, of the five tracks I featured, four were posthumous hits. He had a few chart successes in the 70s – No Woman, No Cry for example – but it was Exodus that really put him on the map a couple of years before he died, I think.

      • Exodus was a mental album, yeah. But really they were all good. Natty Dread was meh. But certainly by the time he died, those last few albums were well-polished. But I guess it must have been weird for e.g. UK (and especially US) audiences in general who were probably hearing the beat for the first time.

  2. ‘Exodus’ was the first reggae album I bought, back @1977. I think I was turned on to the genre by John Peel radio show, combined with the association to early punk music / culture. My interest in reggae was then cemented at a party when down in London, at which Jimmy Lindsay was blaring endlessly.
    Never properly counted all my reggae and ska collection, but I know there are 40+ vinyl albums and a lot more on CD — all down to the influence of Bob Marley. 🙂

    • The reggae #1s I’ve featured so far have really helped me appreciate the genre more… even the cheesier ones like ‘Red Red Wine’ and… whisper it… ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’

  3. I don’t like all reggae but I like Peter Tosh and Bob Marley… Stir It Up being my favorite but I like most of his stuff.

  4. It’s a hell of a better chart record than in the US where he only charted once in 1976 with “Roots, Rock, Reggae” at #51 and but got his biggest exposure with Eric Clapton’s weak ass “I Shot The Sheriff” cover that went to #1 in 1974. Much of his US success came with the Legend greatest hits album that’s sold about 15 million copies and has the second longest run on the album charts next to Dark Side of the Moon. Funny enough, I was watching a recent episode of The First Lady miniseries and in one of the parts on Betty Ford, they played the Bob Marley original “I Shot The Sheriff” during one of the scenes with her husband Gerald after he takes office as President which would have been just before Eric Clapton’s cover hit #1 but they apparently didn’t pay attention to that detail and figured it wouldn’t be a difference what version was played.

      • Yeah I think I mentioned before about the US kind of going in waves when it comes to reggae most notably with the popular dancehall and reggaeton trends starting in the ‘90s unlike the UK with its heavier West Indian influence making reggae more of a chart force. But full on reggae hasn’t had much impact even with a superstar like Bob Marley. His songs feel so omnipresent that it’s weird to think that he didn’t have much presence in the US during his time.

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  7. I agree with Max. Stir It Up is my favorite but, I don’t think that charted anywhere from Marley. To confuse matters, I grew up listening to Nash’s version…and thought it was Marley.

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