In the 60 years since Jamaica achieved its independence from England, on Aug. 6, 1962, the tiny Caribbean nation has created some of the world’s most influential musical styles, including ska, rock steady, reggae, dub, and dancehall. Likewise, over the past 60 years, Jamaican artists have distilled inspirations from various parts of the world into distinctive sounds that, when coupled with the island’s astonishingly prolific recorded output, has made “the land of wood and water,” as its first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians called it, one of the most significant musical destinations in the world.
To celebrate Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee, we’ve compiled a list of 60 songs, one song per year, to tell the story of the island’s musical evolution. Some tracks were chosen because they heralded a new direction in sound, others sparked a movement, some engendered controversy, marked a turning point in an artist’s career, or had a significant impact at the time of their release.
Because Jamaica has been blessed with an abundance of extraordinary musical talent, the list features just one entry per artist. However, those who are recognized for a solo effort may also be listed for recordings they made as part of a group or in collaboration with another performer. Because there were just too many records to choose from for any given year, some important releases may not appear on the list. But that’s just a reminder of how amazingly rich this history is.