The Bob Marley Album That Became His Biggest US Hit

Bob Marley never had a No. 1 hit on the Billboard pop or album charts. Yet that doesn’t reveal much about the reggae giant’s U.S. audience. When you look at the chart run of Legend (1984), Marley and The Wailers‘ greatest hits collection, the picture becomes clearer.

Since its release, Legend has spent 672 weeks (almost 13 years) on and off the Billboard 200 album chart. In the second week of April ’21, Legend was still there, at No. 53. That makes it one of the most ubiquitous records in the past four decades of American history.

But while that may be the most popular overplayed LP in the Marley catalog, he saw several other records becomes hits in America in his lifetime. That includes the 1976 release Rastaman Vibration, which reached the highest chart position of any Marley studio album.

Bob Marley had his biggest US hit with ‘Rastaman Vibration’

Bob Marley smiles and plays an acoustic guitar in a hotel room in 1978
Bob Marley in London, February 1978 | Watal Asanuma/Shinko Music/Getty Images

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Reggae began reaching a wide audience outside of Jamaica in the early ’70s, and The Wailers were among the biggest names in that first push. (Toots and The Maytals also broke internationally around this time.) After the Burnin’ LP (1973), Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston left the band, leaving Marley as the clear frontman.

From 1974’s Natty Dread on, the band was billed as Bob Marley and The Wailers. That album made some noise on the U.K. charts (No. 43), and in the U.S. it did better than the first two Wailers albums, peaking at No. 92 on the Billboard 200. But when Rastaman Vibration arrived two years later, American audiences were waiting.

That LP broke through the top 40 and kept climbing. When it had peaked, it had gone all the way to No. 8 (No. 11 on the R&B chart). Exodus, the ’77 follow-up from Marley and The Wailers, didn’t get beyond the 20th position on the Billboard 200 (15th on the R&B chart).

As for Kaya (1978) and Survival (1979), those records couldn’t crack the top 50 on the U.S. album charts. Rastaman Vibration, which has no songs that made it onto Legend, stands as the biggest hit LP among American audiences for Marley’s music.

‘Kaya’ and ‘Exodus’ were Marley’s biggest UK hits

Bob Marley, eyes closed, holds his fist out to the crowd during a 1976 performance
Bob Marley performs live on stage with the Wailers in Voorburg, Holland in 1976. | Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Over in the U.K., Rastaman Vibration also represented a breakthrough LP for Marley and The Wailers. Following its ’76 release, it cracked the top 20 and peaked at No. 15. But Marley had much bigger hits in the following years.

Exodus cracked the top 10 in summer ’77 and peaked at No. 8. Then it stuck around the top 20 until mid-October. Before its run ended, Exodus spent 58 weeks on the chart (his best performance for a studio album). It was Marley’s fifth consecutive Gold record in the U.K.

Then Kaya charted even higher the following year. It shot to No. 4 in its second week on the U.K. chart and hung around the top 20 for another two months. It also got certified Gold. Uprising (1980), the last LP Marley released, almost reached those heights. It peaked at No. 6.