Reggae Music and Its 80s Hits

Reggae draws its influence from numerous musical genres, but its roots lie with ska and rocksteady. Reggae is a rhythm and blues genre with influences coming from African music as well as calypso.

Following are the most iconic reggae songs from the 1980s that helped cement reggae as an international phenomenon.

1. ‘Buffalo Soldier’ by Bob Marley

Bob Marley was one of Jamaica’s most beloved artists and is still widely considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. Marley died aged 36.

“Buffalo Soldier” is one of the songs featured on Marley and the Wailers’ 1983 posthumous album Confrontation. This tune alludes to African American soldiers serving after the Civil War for United States Army as Buffalo Soldiers; Marley uses this song to demonstrate that while conditions for black people have improved since, racism will always exist within society.

Marley and the Wailers played at Jamaica’s One Love Peace Concert that year and also made trips to Africa where he participated in Zimbabwean independence ceremonies.

2. ‘Red Light’ by The Police

Reggae music is known for its inspirational lyrics that encourage people to lead fulfilling lives and avoid drugs. Jamaican accents can often be heard within this genre, reflecting its carefree lifestyle on the island. Jamaicans tend to take life easy – always saying things such as, “No worries mon, everything irie.”

Reggae songs use drums to produce musical introductions known as riddims that set the rhythm and groove for their songs. These riddims usually provide the foundational beat and groove.

Reggae music features an infectiously unique horn sound created by three brass instruments – often trumpet, saxophone and trombone – coming together to produce its characteristic sound. It’s used as fillers between sections of songs.

3. ‘The Harder They Come’ by Toots and the Maytals

Reggae music blends African traditions with rhythm and blues, jazz and calypso to form its distinct genre. Long associated with social criticism, reggae also celebrates love and life – often by criticizing materialism or discussing important political topics like apartheid, black nationalism or anti-racism in its lyrics. Some artists may promote cannabis (herb, ganja or sinsemilla) use which Rastafaris consider spiritual sacrament.

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and the Maytals had an immense impact on reggae music’s development. Bonnie Raitt covered Toots’ song ‘True Love is Hard to Find’ in 2004, becoming good friends with Toots as a result. Toots made it sound reggae – passing even Louie Louie remakes’ toughest test!

4. ‘Say You Love Me’ by Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh may be overlooked by Bob Marley fans, but he had some excellent songs all his own. Here is one that shows both love and yearning as well as its strong political undercurrent – Tosh was known to use his music to preach against injustice in society through song.

He was an outspoken critic of the education system, churches and state institutions; as well as powerful agents of Satan. His songs reflect his experiences of oppression and mistrust first-hand.

I would suggest listening to his albums Bush Doctor, Equal Rights and Legalize It as well as Wail N Soul M Singles Selecta and Can’t Blame The Youth as these are his finest works since leaving the Wailers. Bob Marley remains an extremely influential artist and true legend today.

5. ‘Baby Come Back’ by Pato Banton

Pato Banton first entered the Birmingham music scene as a local rapper and MC for leading sound systems, eventually becoming one of their top ranking MCs. Soon thereafter he joined Crucial Music, quickly becoming band leader, MC, singer/songwriter and manager – quickly rising through their ranks quickly as they flourished!

Pato Banton hit it big with his debut album ‘Never Give In’ and his live performances of root reggae and spirituality combined into an electrifying mix.

Either you came for drinks or to experience divine love, his shows never disappointed. His tenth album ‘Life Is A Miracle’ earned a Grammy nomination and defined both his lyrical and spiritual development; this marked the turning point in his life. Subsequently, Gwarn International studio moved into an urban location which allowed Muzik Links community project to commence.

6. ‘A la la la la long’ by Inner Circle

Reggae music – which originated from Jamaica during the late 1960s – is often driven by bass guitar. This instrument often performs an ongoing bass riff during each song while having its low frequencies amplified through equalization to give reggae its unique fat sound.

Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh & the Wailers and others also contributed significantly to developing reggae music during this era, championing its message of equality and Rastafari through song. Furthermore, toots and the Maytals helped pioneer ska. Additionally they contributed their songs towards criticizing oppressive systems and Babylon through lyrics in their hits such as Babylon is Burning or If We Die Before Tomorrow

Reggae quickly spread across musical genres and was popularized by bands such as Sublime, 311 and The Clash who all included elements into their music. Today, musicians worldwide continue to embrace reggae music; Ugandan musician Papa Cidy combines traditional African instruments with reggae; in Ethiopia there’s Dub Colossus which is highly-acclaimed.

7. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by Trinity

This song begins with an epic 28 second drumbeat and raw guitar accompaniment that serves to heighten its impact. Bono sings of hopelessness while simultaneously conveying his message of peace and an end to violence.

The Edge’s backing vocals convey Bono’s anger and frustration through this song, offering an historical understanding of Ireland’s 20th Century conflicts as well as providing context. Bono’s introduction of Inniskillin events provides this song with its foundation for understanding.

Rattle and Hum has appeared on various U2 live albums and concert films such as Rattle and Hum, Under a Blood Red Sky, Zoo TV: Live from Sydney and Vertigo 05: Live at Rose Bowl. In 2017 and 2019 on The Joshua Tree Tours it has served as opening song. Furthermore it has also been featured in music documentaries as well as news programs.

8. ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ by Jimmy Cliff

Jamaica is an idyllic tropical island where its residents take an easygoing approach to life. This laidback attitude can be found reflected in their reggae music; Eric Johnson is a great representative of that in this song off of his 1990 album Ah Via Musicom called Violin-like Lead Guitar Sound which featured on Eric Johnson’s live performances from 1984. This instrumental rock song by Eric Johnson showcases this trend beautifully. It featured on Eric Johnson’s 90 album Ah Via Musicom as an instrumental rock song featuring rich violin-like lead guitar sounds by Eric Johnson himself as he had become well-known among music press for his unique guitar sound at that time and had been performing this song live ever since 1984!

Jimmy Cliff first wrote this song in 1969 and since then it has been covered by many musicians such as Harry Nilsson, Bob Dylan, The Animals and Cher. Although its heartbreaking lyrics convey great despair and pain, its melodies offer hope for recovery.

9. ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ by Eric Clapton

One of the most renowned songs from reggae music, Clapton’s blues-influenced cover of Bob Marley’s original tune reached number-one in both the US and UK charts. This track helped increase Jamaican music’s profile worldwide among rock fans who previously hadn’t been familiar with its genre; it also stirred debate over whether its meaning should be taken literally; its lyrics explored themes such as fate and inevitability (line’reflexes got the better of me’).

Notably, this song is notable as being the first to incorporate what has come to be known as the ‘rub-a-dub’ style of drumming – a trademark sound of Jamaican reggae that helps set the beat and groove for other parts of the song. A short piece of music called a riddim often serves to produce this sound; often played on either traditional hand drums or modern drum kits by percussionists.

10. ‘Rastaman Vibration’ by Bob Marley

Bob Marley and the Wailers released this upbeat reggae song in April 1976 to great acclaim, becoming his first release to enter Billboard 200 charts’ top 10 and become an instantaneous success in America. It is his eighth studio album, known for its use of synthesizers to add breezy tones to its hard-driving sound; also, its lyrics sing about Rastafarian belief that every “ting is irie,” meaning life should be enjoyed and relaxed; making this song perfect when needing an instant pick-me-up or as an instantaneous reminder of Jamaica’s carefree tropical lifestyle!