On the heels of new biopic, Bob Marley hits 145 million sales

An iconic flagship for love, peace and respect, Bob Marley has just passed 145 million equivalent album sales. His $160 million grossing biopic Bob Marley: One Love is fueling his catalog.

He ranks #34 among all-time best-sellers, in the same league as the Beach Boys or Bob Dylan. But while these artists capitalize on 30-40 studio albums spread over 4-6 decades, Bob Marley‘s discography totals 9 studio albums in 8 years. So how does he compete?

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Life and music debuts

Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in his grandfather’s farm in Nine Mile, a tiny Jamaican village of 300 inhabitants. A myal man, his grandfather was a source of early musical influence for him and he began to play music with his school friend Neville Livingston, who would later be known as Bunny Wailer.

After his father’s death, Marley moved to the Trenchtown slums with his mother and grew up there. Marley’s mother and Neville Livingston’s father had a daughter together, Claudette Pearl, who was therefore a younger sister to both Bob and Bunny.

Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh started recording in local studios in 1962 and were known first as the Teenagers, then the Wailing Rudeboys, the Wailing Wailers, and finally just the Wailers.

Bob Marley & The Wailers‘ discography is made of two parts. The first one starts in 1962 and goes up to 1972. It is made of singles released at a fast pace, recorded in local / independant labels, and their tunes follow Jamaica’s music evolution, from Ska tunes to Rocksteady songs to Reggae music. While Bob Marley‘s early songs didn’t lead to the release of formal studio albums, many of them were re-recorded for later albums or compilations.

While he was living off his music for several years, the singer was unlikely to make it any bigger, as reggae was absolutely inexistent on the international scene. It took covers form other artists to start casting light on this genre…

From Jamaica to the world

From 1972, a string of events reshaped the environment completely. Soon, making it big outside evolved from being impossible, to almost inevitable.

Reggae becomes a thing

American singer and actor Johnny Nash, himself trying to turn his promising start in late 50s to a bigger, more successful career, moved to Jamaica in mid-60s to promote and sell American music there, benefiting from the low production costs. He signed Bob Marley & The Wailers to his Cayman Records label for a mere J$50 a week.

Johnny Nash is the one who opened the doors to the American audience to local music, as he was convinced that rocksteady had potential. He tried it himself, hitting #5 in both the US and the UK with his 1968 song Hold Me Tight. He then moved to reggae as did the local scene. His next hit, 1972’s Stir It Up (#12 in the US, #13 in the UK), was a cover of Bob Marley‘s song. I Can See Clearly Now got even bigger, topping the US Hot 100. Suddenly, Reggae was a thing.

Major labels at last looked at what was happening there, trying to add their own Reggae artists to their rosters. It all happened very fast, and in early 1973, Island Records signed Bob Marley. His first real, complete album, Catch a Fire was out by April of that pivotal year, and just 6 months later Burnin’ arrived. This later album included the song I Shot the Sheriff.

The underground hype moved to the upper level when this track was made famous by a cover of Eric Clapton only months later. It topped the US charts. The Jamaican star himself had been incorporating rock elements to his songs for a couple of years.

Intellectuals and rock music fans were well aware of who Bob Marley was by the end of 1974, but he had yet to start charting his own recordings.

Bob Marley breaks through to the international scene

His first hit outside Jamaica was a live version of No Woman, No Cry, from the Live! album. Marley first entered the UK Singles Chart in November 1975 with the song debuting at #40, and peaking at #22 one month later. And in the US, while singles weren’t making big waves, Rastaman Vibration reached #8.

In the following years, Bob Marley started to become really popular in some countries like France and Italy. He was aired on major radios and filled concert rooms. Songs like Exodus, Jamming, Is This Love, or Could You Be Loved were more and more successful.

By the start of the 80s, Bob Marley was influencing music worldwide and a regular strong seller in many markets, having managed to make Reggae music breakthrough to popular levels.

A posthumous pop culture legend

A fascinating figure…

His early passing from cancer at 36, in 1981, and the way Bob Marley‘s music was written to support the people who needed it the most turned the music icon into a pop culture legend.

Sharing positive feelings, denouncing abuses, and calling for respect for all human beings, his music is bound to make the general public relate to it. With infectious rythms and striking titles, his songs are go-to references when you want to pass on a specific idea.

His legacy isn’t only about music history or music lovers. Aside from his eleven recognized children, some of them public figures in music or sports, Bob Marley‘s personal life reaches people’s minds.

Numerous biopics and fictions are derived from his lifestory and inspire millions of readers and watchers. The last one, the aforementioned Bob Marley: One Love, is an American biographical drama musical film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir as Marley, and was released in the United States on February 14, 2024.

The ubiquitous mystic around his persona and the raw power of his songs led millions to purchase his records through the years.

… leading to tremendous success

All in all, each of Bob Marley‘s eight international studio albums plus the posthumous release Confrontation sold between 3 and 8 million copies. These studio albums sales sum up to over 43 million sales. Each of them are must-have records for rastafaris and reggae fans, which helps them to continue to grow.

Later compilations, praised by the general public, add close to 82 million equivalent album sales (EAS), led by titles from Exodus and Kaya, such as Jamming, Three Little Birds, Turn Your Lights Down Low, and Is This Love?. And over time, streams of the whole discography have cumulated over 12 million EAS, and are still counting. These numbers show how durably popular Bob Marley‘s music is.

Source: ChartMasters’ analysis of Bob Marley’s full discography (as of 03/11/2024)

And with the new movie, his pace increased from over 3 million to over 8 million daily streams on Spotify. Decades after his death, it is no surprise that his catalog is stronger than ever. Bob Marley‘s popularity goes much further than the reggae spectrum: he belongs to the all-time greats.

We have more for you…

… our analysis of Bob Marley‘s full discography

… about our original CSPC concept, which allows us to build a relevant full picture of any artist’s commercial success by factoring in all formats:

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