Redemption Song

"Redemption Song" is a song by Jamaican singer Bob Marley. It is the final track on Bob Marley and the Wailers' twelfth album, Uprising, produced by Chris Blackwell and released by Island Records.[2] The song is considered one of Marley's greatest works. Some key lyrics derived from a speech given by the Pan-Africanist orator Marcus Garvey titled "The Work That Has Been Done."[3]

"Redemption Song"
Bob Marley and the Wailers - Redemption Song.jpg
Single by Bob Marley and the Wailers
from the album Uprising
ReleasedJune 1980[1]
LabelIsland/Tuff Gong
Songwriter(s)Bob Marley
Producer(s)Bob Marley, Chris Blackwell
Bob Marley and the Wailers singles chronology
"Could You Be Loved"
"Redemption Song"
"Three Little Birds"
Music video
"Redemption Song" on YouTube

At the time he wrote the song, circa 1979, Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer in his toe that took his life a couple of years later. According to Rita Marley, "...he was already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song."

Unlike most of Bob Marley's other tracks, it is strictly a solo acoustic recording, consisting of his singing and playing an acoustic guitar, without accompaniment. The song is in the key of G major.

"Redemption Song" was released as a single in the UK and France in October 1980 and included a full band rendering of the song. This version has since been included as a bonus track on the 2001 reissue of Uprising, as well as on the 2001 compilation One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers. Although in live performances the full band was used for the song, the solo recorded performance remains the take most familiar to listeners.[citation needed]

In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the song at number 66 among "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the Top 20 Political Songs.[4]

On 5 February 2020 (on the eve of what would have been his 75th birthday), Marley's estate released an official animated video for the song.[5] This also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the song's release.


Bob Marley – vocals, acoustic guitar, production

With Bob accompanying himself on Guitar, "Redemption Song" was unlike anything he had ever recorded: an acoustic ballad, without any hint of reggae rhythm. In message and sound it recalled Bob Dylan. Biographer Timothy White called it an 'acoustic spiritual' and another biographer, Stephen Davis, pointed out the song was a 'total departure', a deeply personal verse sung to the bright-sounding acoustic strumming of Bob's Ovation Adamas guitar.

— James Henke, author of Marley Legend[6]

Meaning and influenceEdit

The song urges listeners to "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery," because "None but ourselves can free our minds." These lines were taken from a speech given by Marcus Garvey at Menelik Hall in Sydney, Nova Scotia, during October 1937 and published in his Black Man magazine:[7][8]

We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind ...[9]

In 2009, Jamaican poet and broadcaster Mutabaruka chose "Redemption Song" as the most influential recording in Jamaican music history.[10]

In 2017, "Redemption Song" was featured in series 25 of BBC Radio 4's Soul Music, a documentary series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal, with contributors including Marley's art director Neville Garrick, Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison, Grammy Award-winning artist John Legend, and Wailers guitarist Don Kinsey.[11]

In American Songwriter's 2019 appreciation of the song, Jim Beviglia analyzed the song as being a "departure" from his regular music:

Marley was too much a force of nature to lose his personality just because he was in a new setting. The rhythmic ingenuity that marked his career can be heard in the little instrumental breakdown between verses. His vocal also drips with idiosyncratic power, from the way he hiccups his way through some of the lines to give them some extra flavor to his brilliant phrasing of the word “triumphantly.” Other songwriters might have crammed in a few other words just to fit the meter a bit more snugly, but Marley’s choice gives that word added meaning.[12]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[13] Gold 25,000 
United Kingdom (BPI)[14] Gold 400,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


Stevie Wonder recorded a cover of the song that was released in 1996 on the album Get on the Bus of the feature film with the same name. It was also released in 1996 on Stevie Wonder compilation album Song Review: A Greatest Hits Collection.[15]

Joe Strummer of The Clash recorded a cover of this song that was released posthumously on the album Streetcore in 2003, which featured his backing band at the time, The Mescaleros. Strummer also covered the song as a duet with Johnny Cash during the later's sessions for the American IV: The Man Comes Around album, this version being released later in the box set Unearthed.[16]

Bono of U2 sung Redemption Song solo acoustic at 16 Zoo TV shows between 1992 and 1993, and him and The Edge have sung it at different events and impromptu performances since then.[17]

John Legend also did a cover of it on Bear Witness, Take Action.

Wyclef Jean performed the song for the 9/11 benefit concert America: A Tribute to Heroes on 21 September 2001.

No Use for a Name also covered this song on their 1995 album ¡Leche con Carne!.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band adapted the song on their album Somewhere in Afrika released in 1982. A shorter version had previously been released as a single. Both arrangements were subtitled "No Kwazulu" and combined Marley's original song with Zulu and Xhosa chants in order to protest Apartheid. The album version also includes a song written by Manfred Mann over the same changes called "Brothers and Sisters of Africa". For live performances, the band opted for an arrangement much closer to Marley's original, as can be heard on the Budapest Live and Mann Alive albums. [18]


  1. ^ Strong, M. C. (1995). The Great Rock Discography. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd. p. 518. ISBN 0-86241-385-0.
  2. ^ Hagerman, Brent (February 2005). "Chris Blackwell: Savvy Svengali". Archived from the original on 27 April 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
  3. ^ Davis, Henrietta (24 March 2010). "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery: The origin and meaning behind Bob Marley's Redemption Song". Henrietta Vinton Davis' Weblog. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  4. ^ Smith, Ian K. (25 March 2010). "Top 20 Political Songs: Redemption Song". New Statesman. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  5. ^ France, Lisa Respers (6 February 2020). "New 'Redemption Song' video celebrates Bob Marley's 75th". CNN. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  6. ^ James Henke, Marley Legend: An Illustrated Life of Bob Marley, Tuff Gong Books, 2006, ISBN 0-8118-5036-6, p. 54.
  7. ^ Black Man, Vol. 3, no. 10 (July 1938), pp. 7–11
  8. ^ "Shunpiking Online Edition Black History Supplement 2005 . Marcus Garvey and Nova Scotia".
  9. ^ The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. VII: November 1927–August 1940; ISBN 978-0-520-07208-4. Marcus Garvey, author; Robert A. Hill and Barbara Bair (eds), p. 791.
  10. ^ Cooke, Mel (6 August 2009). "Mutabaruka's 50 most influential Jamaican recordings - Tosh, Marley dominate top 10". Jamaica Gleaner. Archived from the original on 12 August 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  11. ^ "Redemption Song", Series 25, Soul Music, BBC Radio 4.
  12. ^ "Behind The Song: Bob Marley, "Redemption Song"". American Songwriter. 26 September 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  13. ^ "Italian single certifications – Bob Marley & The Wailers – Redemption Song" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 9 July 2021. Select "2017" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Redemption Song" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
  14. ^ "British single certifications – Bob Marley & The Wailers – Redemption Song". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  15. ^ "Stevie Wonder Redemption Song". ALLMUSIC. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  16. ^ Jones, Josh (12 August 2014). "Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer Sing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" (2002)". Open Culture. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Redemption Song lyrics".
  18. ^ "Manfred Mann's Earth Band Somewhere in Afrika". ALLMUSIC. Retrieved 7 July 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Tattrie, Jon (2016). Redemption Songs: How Bob Marley's Nova Scotia Song Lights the Way Past Racism. Pottersfield Press. ISBN 978-1-897426-87-6.

External linksEdit