Pop Culture

10 Great Bunny Wailer Songs: A Musical History

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for us to join together in unity,” said Bunny Wailer, stepping onstage draped in ornate robes to greet the sold-out crowd inside Madison Square Garden at his first and only headlining gig there in 1986.

Bunny was never a fan of international travel, referring to airplanes as iron birds, so his first NYC gig was a big deal. He preferred to tend his garden at home, growing his herbs and vegetables, which may help to explain why he parted ways with The Wailers—the group he’d formed back in the early 1960s with his childhood friend Bob Marley and Peter Tosh—just as things were taking off. In 1976, the same year Marley released his landmark album Rastaman Vibration, Bunny put out his solo debut, Blackheart Man, a mysterious work suffused with images of fire, brimstone, and armageddon.

“It is as the precious ointment upon the head… that went to the skirts of his garments,” Bunny continued at the Garden, “as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion, for there the most high JAH!” Here Bunny paused to let the crowd bawl out in ecstasy before continuing. “Rastafari keepeth I and I and commanded the blessing, that I and I should not die but live.”

Nevertheless Neville O’Riley Livingston, known to his Rasta brethren as Jah B, made his physical transition on March 2 at the age of 73. He’d suffered two strokes and lost the power to speak in recent years—read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s classic GQ profile from 2011 for a look at his later life in Kingston—but just to be in his presence was to feel the unabated power of the natural mystic.

Bunny Wailer at The Beacon Theatre, December 1997.David Corio / Getty Images

Bunny’s legacy as a founding member of The Wailers will abide forevermore. Diehard fans also cherish his prolific, eclectic solo career, ranging from ska to soul to roots reggae, dancehall, and pop—few remember that it was he who recorded the original, cringably catchy “Electric Boogie,” which became an international hit for Marcia Griffiths, launching a million backyard BBQ dance parties.

“There’s still good recordings made in Jamaica,” Bunny told me the last time we had a chance to reason, in 2009, “but the revolution has taken place and now there’s just lollipop stuff, cotton candy music, disposable music. If you put it down it’s gonna rot. You’re not gonna be able to take them up thirty years from now, and they still are the same gold that they ever were.” As the Rasta elders say, “Music alone shall live.” Here are ten gems from Bunny’s songbook that will surely stand the test of time.

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