Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Jamaica gained independence in 1962 and about that time reggae music emerged. Reggae music has influenced the world and even started a few other genres of music.
This top 7 reggae song list was taken from a top 100 list compiled by Clinton Lindsay and a radio show host called Donovan Longmore. His show called Reggae Voyage is based out of Middletown, Connecticut. The purpose of the show is to educate, inform, inspire and entertain the audience about the rich culture and heritage of West Indian people through their music.
The top 100 list of reggae songs was compiled over the years on his radio show, with the help of Clinton Lindsay from listeners’ requests and past top songs lists.
1. One Love by Bob Marley 1977
"One Love/People Get Ready" is a reggae song by Bob Marley & The Wailers from their 1977 album Exodus. It was first recorded in a ska style by Marley's original group, the Wailers in 1965, and was released as a single. This version was later included on their first singles compilation, "The Wailing Wailers" in 1965.
Marley's idea was that everyone in the world should stop fighting and become one - a similar sentiment to John Lennon's "Imagine" and George Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)." There is yet a deeper meaning behind the song than a simple call for unity. Some of the lyrics are about oppression and how sinners will pay for their evil deeds in the end. For many listeners, the deeper message is lost in the overwhelming chorus.
Marley wrote this song amid the turmoil of the Jamaican elections in December 1976. It was a very violent time in the country, and Marley tried to stay politically neutral while offering peace and shelter however he could. His Hope Road home was a safehouse for people with nowhere to go.
The journalist Vivien Goldman was with Marley at the time and remembers him working on "One Love" while sitting on his small bed; a young girl sat on the other end and other visitors gathered in the room. "We'll share the shelter, of my single bed," Marley sang, as he created a song that was both peaceful and angry at the same time.
2. Poor Me the Israelite by Desmond Dekker & the Aces 1969
Desmond Dekker (born Desmond Dacres) was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and trained as a welder before starting a singing career. He formed the Aces and teamed up with hit producer Leslie Kong in 1966 (with whom he worked until Kong's death in 1971). He has over 20 Jamaican #1 hits and 2 other UK Top 10 hits: "It Mek" and "You Can Get It If You Really Want."
Dekker (from The Metro newspaper, April 18, 2005): "It all happened so quickly. I didn't write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song - "You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread." By the time I got home it was complete. And it was so funny, that song never got out of my mind. It stayed fresh in my head. The following day I got my little tape and I just sang that song and that's how it all started."
3. Here I Come by Dennis Brown 1977
Dennis Emmanuel Brown released his debut album, No Man Is An Island, to the world in 1969. At 12 years old, the singer saw instant success, which foreshadowed his bright career of nearly 80 albums.
At 9 years old, Brown shadowed his musical mentors, Byron Lee and The Dragonaires. During this time, he gained the attention of the legendary producer, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. The producer worked with him on most of the songs for his album ”Here I Come” which was released in 1977 on the album, Wolf & Leopards. This album was produced on his own label, DEB in the UK and by Weed Beat in Jamaica. The lyrics of “Here I Come” are based on Psalms 23. A psalm written by King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).
4. Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson 1971
Eric Donaldson‘s unrivalled success at the Jamaican Song Festival has resulted in him becoming known as “Mr. Festival,” the singer having won the contest a record- breaking seven times. The song festival has nurtured many a successful career and Jamaica has a long track record of creative arts competitions.
Eric Donaldson entered the Jamaican Song Festival competition in 1971 with the legendary, “Cherry Oh Baby” as he felt the need for more exposure. The popularity of the song almost sparked a riot when the crowd surged forward to get a little closer to the singer at a performance in Montego Bay. The fervor ensured his success a forgone conclusion at the finals, at which he famously won the overall competition in Kingston.
Some years later, Cherry Oh Baby was covered by internationally acclaimed bands.
5. You Don’t Care For Me At All by the Techniques 1967
The group was formed by Winston Riley in 1962 while still at school, with the initial line-up also featuring Slim Smith, Franklyn White, and Frederick Waite. They performed at Edward Seaga's Chocomo Lawn club, where they were spotted by talent scouts from Columbia Records. They released the Techniques first single, "No One"; released only in the United Kingdom in 1963.
Their Jamaican debut came in 1965 when they were introduced to producer Duke Reid by singer Stranger Cole. Smith left the group in 1966, to pursue a solo career at Studio One, and later forming The Uniques with White. He was replaced by Pat Kelly.
The shift from ska to rocksteady favored The Techniques, with a string of hits in 1967 and 1968. The hits included "You Don't Care", "Queen Majesty,” "I Wish It Would Rain,” "It's You I Love,” and "Love Is Not a Gamble.”
6. 54-46 That’s My Number by Toots & the Maytals 1968
In 1966 Toots and the Maytals won Jamaica's National Popular Song Contest with "Bam Bam,." His career however, was put on hold after Fred "Toots" Hibbert was arrested on a ganja smoking charge. Toots wrote this song about his time in jail. The imprisonment of Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert shortly after he won the inaugural Festival Song Competition is viewed by the singer as a deliberate attempt to sabotage his career. It destroyed his prospects of going on his first overseas tour. Yet with his indefatigable character, he managed to pull through, and in the end, he enjoyed a very successful entertainment career.
54-46 was Toots' prisoner ID number during his servitude; he made the recording shortly after his release. He told Uncut magazine about it in 2020: "I never smoked weed in those times. I never do nothing like that. I just finished leaving school, but I won this festival (the inaugural Jamaican independence festival popular song competition) with 'Bam Bam' and people get jealous, and frame me for weed. I got the chance to meet some people, one of them was Chris Blackwell, and after the festival I was supposed to go away on my first Europe tour, but then some kind of musical politics came in. They couldn't do nothing else than what they did because they didn't have goodness in them heart for me. It was politics. I never go to prison.”
7. Satta Massa Gana by the Abyssinians 1969
Satta Massagana is an undeniable anthem of reggae, an ode to the African motherland that has stood the test of 40 years since its recording by Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and Linford Manning in 1969.
Translated literally from Amharic the title and refrain mean "give thanks,” but Collins told The Sunday Gleaner that "the first 300 to 400 copies" were released as Far Away Land. That came from the first line, which Collins wrote, although he makes it clear that Satta Massagana was a team effort.
"There was a land far, far away is an old phrase ... . Is just that me put it in a different context," Collins said. "The inspiration come to me t'rough me a look forward to Africa. We a talk bout the land far away which is the New Jerusalem, the New Zion."
Two songs, including Satta Massagana, were recorded at Studio One. Collins (who defines himself as the original Abyssinians lead singer) saying he paid £100 for the recording session as he did not want to record the song for Clement Dodd. Not only did The Abyssinians go into the studio armed with the tools of independence, but also the chord progression of the song on acoustic guitar.
Collins describes a tough promotional push, the trio riding bicycles around Kingston with the two records and popping into sessions with the hope of getting played on the sound systems. "We were wondering which song was the bigger one. Is long after that Satta Massagana get popular," Collins said.
"Satta Massagana" was a huge hit and has been covered numerous times by both The Abyssinians and other artists since. It has even been adopted by some Rastafarian groups as a hymn used during services. "The song keep going and going although we no earn no big money from it. But is the sufferer's song," Collins said.
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Jacqueline is a writer/editor with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.