Reggae is synonymous with the beautiful island of Jamaica, potent marijuana, and Rastafari.
Reggae derived from the offspring of African slaves who were suffering from residue of a vicious plantocracy society. Reggae began in the Kingston slums of Trench Town, Rema, Back-O-Wall and Jungle .
Ironically, unknown to most fans of reggae, the industrial capitalist country of America played just as much a role in the creation of reggae as the culture of Jamaica and the Rastafarian Nyahbingi chants Jamaicans once despised.
Ska, rocksteady, and reggae were influenced directly by American musical genres prevalent during their inceptions. This influence was and is evident in the number of classic reggae songs that are actually cover versions of American songs.
Prior to Independence, Jamaicans mostly listened to Southern American radio stations they picked up on their transistor radios. The sounds coming from Louisiana and other Southern states were soul, blues, jazz, and country.
Bob Marley did not grow up listening to reggae because reggae did not exist; he grew up listening to Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, The Impressions, Louie Jordan, and Fats Domino. This influence has resulted in numerous covers of American and British songs by Jamaican artists. Very few listeners and even lovers of reggae are aware that their favorite reggae song may be a cover.
I am constantly surprised at the number of songs I believed were originals that are actually covers. The shock rests in Jamaicans’ ability to trump the original with their rendition.
We compiled a list of what we at LIVITY.INFO and I NEVER KNEW TV believe are Top 10 Reggae Classics that are actually covers of American or British songs. Please click on the video below the page for visuals of the artist. Enjoy!!!
10. John Holt – Love I Can Feel/ Temptations- I Want A Love I Can See
This song written and produced by Smokey Robinson, performed by the Temptations in 1964 was never a fan favorite. However ,John Holt found amazing success when he did this song for Studio One in 1970, making it a rocksteady anthem. The ‘ I Love I Can Feel’ instrumental known in the reggae industry as a ‘riddim’ has also produced hits for Tony Rebel, ‘Fresh Vegetable’; Tony Tuff, ‘First Time I Met You’; and Beres Hammond, ‘Tempted to Touch.’
9. Busy Signal- One More Night/ Phil Collins – One More Night
Phil Collins, a recipient of mostly every musical award one could receive, penned this song in 1984. Busy Signal known for his hardcore dancehall lyrics, shocked everyone with his rendition which became a smash hit for him in 2010.
8. Sugar Minott- Good Thing Going / Michael Jackson- Good Thing Going
‘The Producers,’ a group of writers and producers for Motown who were responsible for the majority of the hits for the Jackson 5, wrote this song that was released on Michael Jackson’s second solo album ‘Ben’ in 1972. This song features the beautiful voice of a young Jackson without his brothers. Reggae legend Sugar Minot recorded his version in 1981. This song was Minott’s biggest commercial hit assisted by distribution by RCA, reaching number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in March 1981.
7. Ken Boothe – Everything I Own / David Gates and Bread- Everything I Own
The world was re-introduced to this classic when Boy George performed it, giving him his first hit of his solo career after leaving Culture Club. Ken Boothe received the acknowledgment as the creator due to Boy George’s reggae style in the song. However, the original was written by David Gates of Bread in 1972. Ken Boothe’s version reached number 1 in UK singles chart in 1974.
6. Bunny Wailer – Dream Land / El Tempo- My Dream Island (1963)
Of all the songs on the list, this was the most shocking to me ~ Bunny Wailer’s recorded ‘Dreamland’ with the Wailers. The 1976 version for his classic ‘Black Heart Man’ album is what people are familiar with. This mystical song speaks of a utopian paradise were the inhabitants live forever. Marcia Griffiths, ‘The Queen of Reggae,’ also has a moving rendition of this song. The original is from a do-wop group named the El Tempos originally recorded in 1963.
5. The Techniques – Queen Majesty / Impression- Queen of the Minstrel
Curtis Mayfield and Impressions have influenced many reggae groups from the Heptones to the Wailers. This cover has produced an array of hit songs using the ‘Queen Majesty Riddim’. The most notable versions being Tenor Saw ‘Roll Call,’ U-Roy ‘Chalice in the Palace,’ and Sizzla‘ Just One of Those Days.’ This cover version captures the genius of Jamaican musicians to restructure a song while keeping its essence.
4. Maxi Priest- Wild World / Cat Stevens- Wild World
Wild World was a smash hit for both Cat Stevens and Maxi Priest. Stevens wrote and released this song about departing lovers in 1970 to critical acclaim. Maxi Priest released his version in 1988. His version propelled his to career being viewed as one of Britain’s top reggae singers.
3. UB40- Red Red Wine / Neil Diamond- Red Red Wine
UB40’s career was built on doing covers of reggae songs, though their biggest hit was actually a cover from Neil Diamond’s classic ‘ Red Red Wine.’ UB40’s version has transcended time and is still in heavy rotation on American and English pop stations.
2. Third World- Now That We Found Love/ O’Jays- Now that We Found Love
Gamble and Huff wrote this international hit for the O’Jays in 1973. The Third World band took this song to new heights in 1978. Their version peaked at #10 on the UK charts and # 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1. Bob Marley – One Love / Impressions- People Get Ready
“One Love” was named ‘Song of the Century’ by TIME magazine. Most people are unaware that this song is a cover from the Impressions. Curtis Mayfield, who was aware of reggae artists who covered many of his songs, always marveled at their ability to totally recreate the song. He believed Jamaica had some of the world’s greatest musicians. Bob Marley originally recorded a ska version of this song in 1965. The world fell in love with the reggae version recorded in 1977 that appears on the ‘EXODUS’ album.
Please click here For I Never Knew TV’s compilation of these reggae classics and artsts:
Bob Marley – Selassie Chapel / The Orioles- Crying in the Chapel
Norma Frazer, Kasheif Lindo -First Cut is the Deepest- Cat Stevens- First Cut is the Deepest
Tarrus Riley- Stay With You / John Legend – Stay With You