It’s no mere hyperbole to say that a Legend was born on 19 May 1984. That was the title of Island Records’ new compilation celebrating the recording legacy of Bob Marley & the Wailers, and on that chart date, it went straight to No. 1 in the UK.
Little did we know that Legend would become one of the all-time bestselling compilations around the world by any artist. The retrospective was perhaps the classic example of a record that captured the zeitgeist when a vast worldwide, mainstream audience knew about the great reggae ambassadors, but perhaps didn’t have them in their collection. Thus Legend became a defining collection, even if certain media observers such as the NME found it a little too focused on Marley and not enough on the Wailers.
“This, I suppose, is the Marley that most people best remember,” wrote Richard Cook in his review, “the grinning shaman of ‘Jamming’ and ‘Three Little Birds,’ the frank lover of ‘Waiting In Vain’ and ‘Is This Love,’ the pacific potentate of ‘Exodus.’ The popular Bob seemed to spend much of his time telling us that everything was gonna be all right, and it’s that side of Marley which holds sway here.”
Record-buyers had no such reservations. The collection ruled the British charts all the way into mid-summer, with 12 consecutive weeks at the top, eight more in the top ten and an unbroken chart run of 74 weeks, stretching to October 1985. It has frequently reappeared on the British countdown since, including a 1991 revival that took it back to No. 11, another run in the top 20 in 1994, returns to the top 40 in 1999, 2003 and 2012, and a week in the top ten in September 2014 via a budget campaign.
At this writing, the album has spent a total of 582 weeks in the UK top 75, and 825 in the top 100, which amounts to almost 15 years. It was certified double platinum just nine days after it hit No. 1 there, triple platinum in 1985, quadruple in 1991, quintuple in 1993 and six-times platinum in 1994. Worldwide, Legend is quite simply one of the most durable compilations there’s ever been, with global sales estimated at more than 25 million.
The 2014 upswing for the album came with the assistance of a huge drop from a regular price of around $9 to 99 cents by Google Play, the album soared from No. 100 to No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in the US. It thus became the highest-charting album by Bob Marley in the reggae icon’s American chart history, outdoing the No. 8 peak of 1976’s Rastaman Vibration. The anthology reached No. 54 in its initial run on the Billboard chart.
Finally in its overwhelming list of achievements, the album spent all of 2016 (and most of 2015, for that matter) on the UK charts once again. It’s also been in the top 100 for all of 2017 so far. This Legend will never die.