Jamaican artists are notorious for making Reggae covers of popular American and British songs. And while a few of them are...interesting...the majority of the Reggae versions are as groovy, if not groovier than the originals. Last year I was absolutely astonished by Little Roy's 2011 Battle for Seattle album - the thought of a roots Reggae album covering Kurt Cobain's grungy masterpieces was...well...kinda scary. To my utter surprise, Battle for Seattle was made of awesome. Little Roy's versions of Nirvana's "Sliver" and "Heart Shaped Box" blew me away.
Check the 1993 Nirvana Original Here: "Heart Shaped Box"
But that also got me to thinking...American, and especially British Rock music has also been heavily influenced by Reggae, Dub, and Dancehall. In the 1970s, both the American and British Punk scenes were heavily intertwined with Jamaica's local music scene, and it's not secret that American Hip Hop was created by a Jamaican immigrant and modeled after Jamaica's soundsystem culture.
So, on that note, I am going to countdown 5 of the Best Rock covers of Reggae Songs:
5. Blondie “Girlie Girlie” (2011) :
From the 70s until now, Punk/New Wave band Blondie has been experimenting with Reggae. One of my absolute favorite Blondie tunes is their cover of John Holt's "The Tide is High." However, when Blondie took on Sophia George's 1985 Dancehall hit "Girlie Girlie," I had to give maximum props to lead singer Debbie Harry, if just for using phrases like "getty-getty" and "fool-fool." But truth be told, this cover is wicked.
I must say, I wouldn't have expected Junior Murvin's high-pitched tune about cops and robbers to become a punk classic, but thanks to British Punk band The Clash, Murvin's "Police and Thieves" will be forever memorialized in Rock history. The rock guitars and groovy little riddim really works on this one, and I'm really glad Joe Strummer didn't try to hit Junior's high notes.
Junior Murvin's 1976 Original version: "Police and Thieves"
3. Sublime “Legalize It” (early to mid 1990s)
I wasn't a big fan of the happy-go-lucky ska-punk type bands of the 90s (if you want to see me burn and shrivel like a vampire in the sun, put on Smash Mouth), but I was a huge fan of Sublime - Bradley Nowell's love of and understanding of Reggae went way deeper than a shitty pop trend. Their 1992 album 40oz to Freedom was full of bass-driven riddims and covers of Rock Steady and Reggae standards like the Melodians "Rivers of Babylon" and "54-46 That's My Number" by Toots and the Maytals. I'm not sure when this cover of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" was recorded, but it appeared as "Legal Dub" on Sublime's 1997 compilation Second-Hand Smoke, which was released a year after Nowell's death. This cover brilliantly mixes Tosh's lyrics over a bass rift of Studio One's Heavenless riddim.
Check out this Live version of Peter Tosh's 1976 Original "Legalize It"
2. Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer “Redemption Song” (2003)
There are many rock remakes of Bob Marley's music, in particular "One Love" and "Redemption Song." However, the one "Redemption Song" cover that really stands out is the 2003 rendition by Country music legend Johnny Cash. In a classic Country's gone Reggae move, Clash's Joe Strummer got the man in black to record "Redemption Song" shortly before his 2003 death. Bob Marley is the international voice of Reggae. Johnny Cash is Country music's iconic badman. This version is nothing less than classic.
Link to Bob Marley's Original 1980 "Redemption Song"
1. Eric Clapton “I Shot the Sheriff” (1974)
Bob Marley's first taste of International fame came in 1974 when Eric Clapton, one of Britian's illest rock guitarists, hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 with a Rock version of Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff." Although the Billboard version is performed by Clapton, it was the only one of Marley's songs to chart on the Billboards during his lifetime. Clapton added some good old American funk into his version of the song, which was famously sampled by Hip Hop duo EPMD in their 1988 single "Strictly Business."
Listen to Marley's Original 1973 "I Shot the Sheriff"