Top 10 Covers of Bob Marley Songs

By non-reggae artists

Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley (1945 - 1981) on stage at the Rainbow Theatre, London, 2nd June 1977
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Bob Marley is one of the most covered musical artists in history, but very few non-reggae artists seem to cover his songs, and when they do, it's often unsuccessful. Occasionally, though, a gem has broken through, and the resulting song is pretty extraordinary. Here the ten best Bob Marley covers ever recorded by non-reggae artists.

Eric Clapton - "I Shot the Sheriff"

Eric Clapton Performs At Royal Albert Hall In London

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When Eric Clapton, who had previously been best-known as a blues guitarist, recorded Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," it quickly zoomed to the top of the charts, where it became Clapton's first #1 hit. The popularity of this cover song actually helped propel Bob Marley to international fame, and ultimately became a pretty important point in reggae history. All of the historical stuff aside, though, Clapton's version is amazing and holds true to the song itself while highlighting Clapton's brilliant guitar skills.

Gilberto Gil - "No Woman, No Cry" ("Nao Chore Mais")

Caetano Veloso & GIlberto Gil Perform In Sao Paulo

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Legendary Brazilian musician and Brazillian tropicalia master (and, incidentally, Brazil's Minister of Culture) Gilberto Gil put a bossa nova twist on this sweet Bob Marley song. It's a logical combination and one that ultimately worked spectacularly.

Tara Nevins - "Talkin' Blues"

Tara Nevins playing accordian

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"Talkin' Blues" is a lesser-known but extraordinarily powerful Bob Marley song, and this cover, which fiddler Tara Nevins and her cohorts have given an old-time treatment, is proof positive that a well-written song can work well in any genre. The softly plunking banjo and twangy country vocals work surprisingly nicely with the freedom fighter focused lyrics.

Full disclosure: the author of this article is a friend of several of the musicians featured on this track.

Keith Frank - "No Need to Worry / Three Little Birds"

Keith Frank playing accordion in cowboy hat


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Keith Frank, one of zydeco music's reigning kings, medleyed the upbeat classic "Three Little Birds," which Bob Marley recorded both rocksteady and reggae versions of, with another cheerful little gospel tune called "No Need to Worry." It's a peppy mix, and Frank's soul-drenched singing and driving accordion are more than a little bit addictive.

Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer - "Redemption Song"

Singer Johnny Cash Images

Okay. So. You take one of the best songs ever written by one of the best songwriters in history, put it in the hands of a country legend and one of punk rock's greatest innovators. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing at all, my friends. Nothing at all. Johnny Cash's husky baritone pairs perfectly with the rugged vocals of The Clash founder Joe Strummer, and the overall effect is pretty much outstanding.

New Grass Revival - "One Love / People Get Ready"

Bush and New Grass Revival playing live

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New Grass Revival did this cover of Bob Marley's "One Love/People Get Ready" in 1983 when the band lineup consisted of Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Pat Flynn, and John Cowan. This group of hot pickers, who have all since become musical gods to many, completely redefined bluegrass music with their innovative and outward-reaching uses of their traditional instruments. This song is just one among many examples of their creative boundary-stretching, and it's mighty fine, indeed.

Annie Lennox - "Waiting in Vain"

Dave Stewart (left) and Annie Lennox of Eurthymics perform live in Chicago in 1984.
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If you made a Venn Diagram wherein one circle was "People who Love Bob Marley" and the other was "People Who Liked the Movie Serendipity," there might be five human beings on earth who fell into the little overlapping region. That said, many people first heard this song in that movie. And everyone was thinking the same thing, "Wow, that Annie Lennox song kind of reminds me of that Bob Marley song... wait... I think it is that Bob Marley song!" Lennox really took the song and made it her own, and the result is quite beautiful.

Julie Crochetiere - "Mellow Mood"

Julie Crochetière singing

Lothlaurien/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Someone passed me this CD by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julie Crochetiere at a conference last year, and it immediately went into the "To Be Listened To" box, and I only re-discovered it a few months ago. As it turns out, I wound up being furious at myself for not listening to it sooner - she's a little bit Norah Jones, a little bit Carla Bruni, and maybe a little bit Feist, and her sexy, soulful version of "Mellow Mood" is pretty hard to resist.

Ken Emerson - "Small Axe"

Ken Emerson playing guitar and singing


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Ken Emerson is a Hawaiian slack key and bottleneck blues guitar player who explores the common threads between each genre and occasionally ties in other genres as well. That's the case here, where he gives a light, jangly touch to a fairly intense song. It's got a nice vintage feel, and, for obvious reasons, has a great island-y feeling.

Sublime - "Zimbabwe"

The band Sublime playing live


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Things no one should ever grow out of include strawberry milkshakes, mittens, and the mid-'90s ska-tinged punk band Sublime. Their body of studio work was cut abruptly short when their lead singer, Bradley Nowell, died in 1996 at age 28. Since then, several albums of non-studio tracks have been released... modern-day field recordings, if you will. This version of "Zimbabwe" is essentially just Nowell and his guitar, and though it's an odd juxtaposition (Southern California skate punk singing songs of African liberation), it works, mostly because of the sheer earnestness in Nowell's voice.