Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. In celebration of Jamaica’s vast musical history, we picked a track from every year of independence. Some of the tracks are personal favorites while others are internationally-known.
Clearly, this list should not be viewed as an exhaustive collection of Jamaican music. Instead approach these selections as just a glimpse of the country’s rich music legacy. And by all means, please include your favorites in the comment section.
This week we cover 1962 to 1979. Stay tuned when we cover 1980-1995 next week!
1962 – Derrick Morgan – “Forward March”
Jamaica received it’s independence from Britain and musicians followed suit in celebration of the country’s new freedom. This cut from Derrick Morgan was one of the most popular celebratory singles released.
1963 – Laurel Aitken w/ The Skatalites – “Adam and Eve”
Ska innovator backed the Skatalites who were newly formed at the time and consisted of Jamaican musician heavy-weights such as Don Drummond (trombone), Tommy McCook (saxophone) and Rolando Alphonso (saxophone).
1964 – Jackie Opel — “You’re Too Bad”
Known as the “Jackie Wilson of Jamaica,” Opel performed in a variety of styles including ska, calypso, gospel, soul and R&B during his recording career for the juggernaut Jamaican label Channel One. “You’re Too Bad” is just one of his many popular tracks from the hey-day of ska.
1965 – Prince Buster – “Al Capone”
A popular track from one an key figure during the ska and rocksteady era. The track was released on the popular UK-based Blue Beat label which released R&B, ska and rocksteady from Jamaica during the 1960s.
1966 - Delroy Wilson – “Get Ready”
The musical landscape changed in Jamaica from ska to the slower tempo of rocksteady with Hopeton Lewis’ “Take It Easy.” Here Wilson’s offering (a Temptations cover) not only showcases this new sound but also channels popular American soul which was a huge influence on popular Jamaican music throughout the ’60s.
1967 – Alton Ellis – ” I am Still In Love “
One of many popular singles from Alton Ellis who was one of the top rocksteady singers at the time in Jamaica.
1968 - Larry Marshall – “Nanny Goat”
Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” may be the apex of rocksteady’s popularity finding chart success in the U.K. and the U.S. after it’s release in 1968, but Larry Marshall’s simple tune “Nanny Goat” marked the beginning of a new era in Jamaican music. Reggae had arrived. While Toots and the Maytals were the first to use the word “reggae” in their song “Reggay,” this track is often cited as one of the first reggae songs to be recorded in Jamaica. Though, that is intensely debated.
1969 – Toots and the Maytals - ”54-46 Was My Number”
Originally recorded in 1968, the follow-up version became one of the biggest hits for an already popular group. The track went on to find success outside of Jamaica as well. It also, in many ways, is a musical bridge between the era of rocksteady and ska and the beginning of reggae.
1970 - U Roy – “Version Galore”
The deejay craze begins to take over in Jamaica with Jamaican DJs “toasting” (a form of spoken-word-rap) over vintage rocksteady records that originated in clubs. Three U-Roy tracks, including “Version Galore” hold the top three spots in the Jamaican charts for over 12 weeks.
1971 - The Abyssinians – “Satta Massagana”
The track originally recorded in 1969 by famed producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd didn’t see a release until 1971 and became a massive success in Jamaica. The track is a Rastafarian hymn sung partially in ancient Ethiopian Amharic. It’s success showcased the growing popularity of the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica and the influential role it would go on to play in reggae.
1972 – Jimmy Cliff – “You Can Get It If You Really Want”
With the crossover success of the film and soundtrack for The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff became a world-wide known name. This is just one of the many reggae tracks from the album that brought cross-over popularity to Cliff and showcased his with a strong pop-sensibilities.
1973 – The Wailers -”Slave Driver”
The last album featuring all original members of The Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer — “Slave Driver” was a socially poignant track off their hugely successful Catch A Fire LP. Despite being the last album they would all work together on, it catapulted the careers of not only Bob Marley, but Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer as well.
1974 - Jacob Miller – “Keep On Knocking”
Miller’s popularity in Jamaica with his group Inner Circle at one point rivaled Bob Marley’s. “Keep On Knocking” the first single from his debut full-length “Who Say Jah No Dread” showcases not only Miller’s vocal talent that would go on to earn him success but also the production mastery of multi-instrumentalist Augustus Pablo.
1975 – Burning Spear – “Marcus Garvey”
The lead single off Burning Spear’s debut LP with the same name, the track dedicated to Jamaican-born rights activist ensured a high-profile for Rastafarian-influenced “culture” reggae.
1976 - Peter Tosh – “Legalize It”
Possibly Tosh’s most well-known song, the track is more than just a pro-marijuana anthem, but also a song that showcases the Rastafarians’, who consider smoking marijuana a spiritual act, struggle for freedom to practice their beliefs without persecution from the Jamaican government.
1977 – The Congos – “Fisherman”
While the release of King Tubby Meets Uptown Rockers in 1977 solidified the reputations of both King Tubby and Augustus Pablo as major producers, Lee “Scratch” Perry (and his Black Ark studios) had already made a name for himself as an eccentric but highly-talented Jamaican producer. “Fisherman” by The Congos off their full-length Heart of the Congos showcases Perry at his peak while his contemporaries were just starting to make a name for themselves.
1978 – Dennis Brown – “Money in My Pocket”
Keeping pace with the more socio-political and spiritual themes of reggae, was “lover’s rock” which maintained reggae’s sound but lyrically channeled rocksteady’s simpler themes of love and heartbreak. “Money in my Pocket” is a re-cut of a 1973 Joe Gibbs track and became one of Brown’s most celebrated tunes.
1979 – Gregory Isaacs – “Soon Forward”
Off his 1979 full-length with the same name, “Soon Forward” showcases Isaacs at the beginning of his peak doing what he did best — singing about matters of the heart. The track also was produced and backed by the most popular and successful rhythm duo in Jamaica; Sly & Robbie.