The album was recorded at Harry J's studio in Kingston, Jamaica, with Bob Marley and the Wailers producing. It was mixed and overdubbed by Chris Blackwell at Island Records' Basing Street Studios in London during the spring of 1973 while the band were touring in support of their previous album, Catch a Fire.
Burnin' opens with one of Marley's best known songs, the call to action "Get Up, Stand Up" and includes a more confrontational and militant tone than previous records, such as in another Marley standard turned into a number one hit by Eric Clapton, "I Shot the Sheriff". The songs "Duppy Conqueror", "Small Axe", and "Put It On" are re-recordings of songs previously released.
The Wailers' gold record award for Burnin' in Nine Mile, Jamaica
Reviewing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau wrote: "This is as perplexing as it is jubilant—sometimes gripping, sometimes slippery. It's reggae, obviously, but it's not mainstream reggae, certainly not rock or soul, maybe some kind of futuristic slow funk, War without the pseudo-jazz. What's inescapable is Bob Marley's ferocious gift for melodic propaganda. It's one thing to come up with four consecutive title hooks, another to make the titles 'Get Up Stand Up,' 'Hallelujah Time,' 'I Shot the Sheriff,' 'Burnin' and Lootin'.'"