Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Jamaica’s music is best described as the most impactful aspect of the island’s culture and is largely responsible for positioning Jamaica among the top ten most culturally influential countries around the world. In the last 60 years, Jamaica has produced some of the most influential music styles including Ska, Rock Steady, Reggae, Dub, and Dancehall. As Jamaica celebrates its Diamond Jubilee (60th year) Independence, I believe that Yaawd Media would be remiss to allow the occasion to pass without acknowledging some of the most impactful pieces of music produced by Jamaicans over the period. To this end, I have selected 60 songs (one for each year) since Independence in 1962. These selections were made based on the impact the recording had on Jamaica and the world in the year that the disc was produced. Yaawd media recognizes that there were many pieces of music that may have had great impact in particular years but may not have been released in the year of impact. It is therefore important to keep in mind that we are looking only at the year of release. Here are the first 10 songs.
1962 -Forward March: Derrick Morgan This Derrick Morgan number “Forward March” was released to coincide with Jamaica’s Independence in 1962. Morgan took full advantage of the newly created Ska beat which had developed in the late 1950s in Kingston studios. The stylings on this Ska Rhythm which was very reflective of the earlier R&B music style that ultimately birthed Ska. Morgan in 1962, was regarded as the King of Ska, and had more than half a dozen records on the charts at the time.
1963- Never Grow Old: Toots & the Maytals One of several sides that Toots and the Maytals did for Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label and backed by the some of the island’s best musicians at the time, The Skatellites. This was one of the songs which helped to shape the Ska genre’s distinctive Jamaican identity, and to complement Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s glorious, soulful baritone and the sweet harmonies provided by Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias.
1964- My Boy Lollipop: Millie Small Millie Small was only 17 years old when she did a recorded a version of Barbie Gaye’s 1956 R&B single in London, following her discovery by Chris Blackwell while she was performing songs as a teenager around the emerging studios in Kingston, Jamaica. Millie’s version of the song featured English musicians playing Jamaican rhythms for the first time and included the great Ernest Ranglin who arranged the session as well as played lead guitar. It was the first hit recording for Chris Blackwell’s fledgling Island Records. Blackwell would later license the record to Fontana Records in the USA where the record reached # 2 on the US pop charts and served to introduce the ska sound to an embracing international fan base.
1965- Guns of Navarone: Skatellites This tune was influenced by the epic 1957 War film “The Guns of Navarone” and was one of the Skatellites’ most impactful pieces during their brief 14 moth association.
1966- Easy Take it Easy: Hopeton Lewis Easy, Take it Easy, is widely regarded as one of the most important records in Jamaica’s music history as it marked the shift from the fast-paced Ska to the more soothing slow-paced Rock Steady sound. The song was written by 19-year-old Hopeton Lewis who had come to the studio with the intention to record the song in the existing fast-paced Ska beat. At the time Trinidadian guitarist Nearlyn Tait who had been living and working in Jamaica as a session guitarist insisted that the song was demanding to be slowed. Working with his studio band The Jets, Tait rearranged the song to a slower beat and thus was born Jamaica’s Rock Steady music genre.
1967- Shanty Town- Desmond Dekker & The Aces The year 1967 marked the beginning of a protracted period of social unrest in Jamaica and Desmond Dekker drew his cue from a student protest that resulted in massive demonstrations in Kingston. It was a period too when the Rude boy element within the Jamaica’s inner-city populace had started to rebel against the status quo. Shanty Town became the archetypal Rude Boy song. Dekker drew on the then running James Bond film “Ocean’s 11 as part of his influence, a strategy which helped the song into the international charts to become Dekker’s first international hit, landing at #14 on the British charts.
1968- Israelites: Desmond Dekker Desmond Dekker would score again with Poor Me Israelite, a song which represented a lament for the growing throng of poor Jamaicans, unable to find work or legitimate means to feed their families. Written by Leslie Kong and Desmond Dekker, the song became an instant hit. It eventually crept into the international charts where it would become a massive hit. It was #1 in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Canada, Sweden and West Germany, and #9 on the USA top 10 chart.
1969- Many Rivers to Cross-Jimmy Cliff Jimmy Cliff wrote and recorded Many Rivers to Cross in 1969, when he was only 21 years of age and at a time when he was having difficulty making any meaningful inroads int the music business, especially after moving to the United Kingdom where his frustration provided the impetus for the song. Released in 1969, the song would later be featured in the film The Harder They Come which starred Jimmy Cliff, and it would also be declared by the Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 most important songs of all time.
1970- Wear You to the Ball- Hugh Roy One night early in 1970, dee-jay Hugh Roy was working the mic on the King Tubby’s Hi-Fi. He picked up a John Holt’s single and placed it on the turntable in error with the instrumental side up. Realizing the mistake Hugh-Roy immediately launched into ad-lib d-jay lyrics on the rhythm which literally blew the crowd away. In attendance at the same dance was none other than John Holt. The singer too was blown away, not least of all because the chatterer was exhorting the enthusiastic crowd over Holt's own hit "Wear You to the Ball” The following day Holt pressured Duke Reid to record U-Roy. Reid acquiesced and that same day U-Roy cut several songs, over classic Treasure Isle singles, including Wear You to the Ball.
1971- Cherry Oh Baby- Eric Donaldson Eric Donaldson had been operating in the Jamaican music scene since 1964 but with very little success. By the opening of the 1970s he moved to pursuing a solo career and submitted "Cherry Oh Baby" to the 1971 Jamaican Festival Song Competition. The song won and subsequently opened many doors for Donaldson as the song became a big hit in Jamaica and in the Diaspora communities overseas. It would be covered by the Rolling Stones and later by UB-40.
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