"Redemption Song" is a song by Bob Marley. It is the final track on Bob Marley & the Wailers' ninth album, Uprising, produced by Chris Blackwell and released by Island Records. 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.
At the time he wrote the song, circa 1979, Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer in his toe that later took his life. 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".
"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.
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.
"I carried Bob Marley’s Redemption Song to every meeting I had with a politician, prime minister, or president. It was for me a prophetic utterance or as Bob would say ‘the small ax that could fell the big tree’. The song reminded me that freedom always comes with a cost, but for those who would prepare to pay it, maybe ‘emancipation from mental slavery’ would be our reward."— Bono of U2
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 in Nova Scotia during October 1937 and published in his Black Man magazine:
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 ...
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- Manfred Mann's Earth Band covered the song on their 1983 album Somewhere in Afrika.
- Stone Roses lead singer Ian Brown performed Redemption Song in the "In the studio" demo tapes
- Jackson Browne performed an acoustic version at the 1995 opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that was released on the all-star album Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- English R&B girl group Eternal covered the song on their 1995 album Power of a Woman.
- In 1995, the skate punk band, No Use for a Name, covered this song on their third album, Leche Con Carne.
- A rare cover recorded by Stevie Wonder was included on his 1996 compilation Stevie Wonder - Song Review: Greatest Hits.
- Irish folk music band The Chieftains recorded a cover with Bob Marley's son, Ziggy Marley, on their 2002 album The Wide World Over: A 40 Year Celebration.
- Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash, and The Mescaleros recorded a version on their last album Streetcore not long before Strummer's death in 2002. The track featured producer Rick Rubin on melodica and piano. Rubin also produced a version with Strummer and Johnny Cash for Cash's posthumous box set, Unearthed.
- In 2006, Chris Cornell played a version on his live album, freely available for download.
- Norwegian musicians Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli perform a version of the song for soprano saxophone and accordion on their 2008 album Yeraz
- In 2009, Angelique Kidjo released a version of the song on the compilation album Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration.
- The song was a charity cover song by singer Rihanna. It was released for the Hope For Haiti Now campaign in January 2010.
- On the 30th of August 2013, during the first episode of the fourth season of the Dutch version of The Voice, The Voice of Holland, 40-year-old Mitchell Brunings performed his own version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" convincing all four judges of his talent as a singer.
- On December 2, 2013, Tessanne Chin covered the song on season 5 of NBC's singing competition, The Voice for the Live Top 6 round. She also performed "Unconditionally" by Katy Perry for the same round.
- On her 2013 Australian tour Alicia Keys, on learning of the passing of Nelson Mandela, sang Redemption Song with John Legend in tribute
- On November 17, 2014, Anita Antoinette covered the song on season 7 of NBC's singing competition, The Voice for the Live Top 12 round.