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The 25 Best Cover Songs by Reggae Artists

Toots Hibbert reimagining Radiohead, Dennis Brown crushing a doo-wop classic, and more

Musician, songwriter, and producer Michael Goldwasser has been involved with the international reggae scene for decades, working with artists as diverse as Toots and the Maytals. Jason Mraz, and Janelle Monáe. As one of the heads of the New York-based label Easy Star Records and leader of the label’s house band, the Easy Star All-Stars, he’s found a niche making reggae versions of classic albums, such as Radiohead’s OK Computer (2006’s Radiodread), the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (2009’s Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band), and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (2003’s Dub Side of the Moon). The most recent Easy Star release is the great new David Bowie reggae tribute Ziggy Stardub, which features appearances by iconic artists like Macy Gray, Steel Pulse, and Maxi Priest. We asked Goldwasser to select his favorite reggae covers of all time. He came up with a decades-spanning list, and also offered unique insights on his experience making records and working with some of reggae’s legendary figures.  

I’ve been a serious fan and student of reggae for decades, and from my earliest forays into Jamaican music, I realized that cover songs played a big part in the development of ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Jamaican artists and producers have always loved putting their own spin on the great tunes that they were hearing from the U.S. and the U.K, from the 1960s right up to today. This list of my favorites contains a lot of R&B and soul originals, as Black music from the United States was foundational to reggae, as well as a healthy dose of tunes from Liverpool. One thing that all of these versions have in common is that the originals were great songs to begin with; a great cover starts with compelling source material. The reggae artists below range from the obscure to the well-known, and I decided to only include one entry per artist, even though some of them could have easily warranted several. This list does not feature songs from popular artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and UB40, but I think you’ll enjoy the more obscure gems here.

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