The Best Episodes of Reeling in the Years by Decade

Words: Katie Gartland

Reeling in the Years is without doubt the best show to come out of RTÉ. If you are somehow unaware of it, producer John O’Regan and his team have sieved through decades of RTÉ’s archived footage to create this absolute gem.

The show pulls out the highlights of every year since RTÉ’s birth in 1962, accompanied by a class soundtrack of the year’s top singles. Alongside timely editing and O’Regan’s humour, the show is a nostalgic, insightful and witty history lesson. Its true genius is the clever editing; each song has a purpose and aligns perfectly with the footage it accompanies.

At District we have lovingly watched every Reeling In The Years (RITY) episode from 1970 to bring you the best soundtrack by decade. Get ready for a nostalgia trip.

The 70s


Cast your mind back to Ireland in the 1970s. When I think of the ‘70s I smell dust, that waft that you get in a vintage shop that makes you sneeze.

1978’s soundtrack is a standout playlist for me. The late-seventies was a turning point for music. Disco and soul were still going strong but the unmistakable synth sounds of the ‘80s were beginning to seep in.

Here’s what happened this year:

Dun Laoghaire became home to Ireland’s first skatepark.

U2 made their debut on The Late Late Show with the single ‘Street Mission’.

Pope John Paul II became the new head of the Catholic Church.

The Jim Jones Guyana cult came to an end after he poisoned his 900 followers through the community’s Cool Aid drink.

Kerry beat Dublin in the Sam Maguire.

The number of pirate radio stations rose across the country due to extremely limited radio licenses.

RTÉ launched a second tv station. RTÉ 2, was aimed towards a younger audience.

Honourable mentions:

1975: If you’ve ever seen Guardians of the Galaxy you know that their soundtrack is class, it looks like they have taken quite a few songs from 1975. A year packed full of anthems, it features 10cc, Abba, David Essex, KC And The Sunshine Band, Queen, The Swarbriggs and Sweet.

1979: The sound of the ’80s truly begins to spill into the latter half of the decade. This year features M, Police, Boomtown Rats, Michael Jackson, Art Garfunkel, Madness, The Village People and Blondie & John Williams.

1970: The beginning of the decade echoed sounds of the ’50s and ’60s rock and folk. It featured musical icons like The Beatles and Elvis as well as new sounds from Blue Mink, Canned Heat, Dana, Desmond Dekker and the Aces, The Emeralds, Marmalade, Norman Greenbaum, The Jackson Five, Edison Lighthouse, Poppy Family and James Taylor

The 80s


The 1980s remind me of my parents, the style, the music, the recession, every anecdote of their teenage years. The first time I wore mom jeans, and every time since, my mam has told me how 1980s I look. Last week, I heard a screech from the kitchen when the radio told her that shoulder pads were back in style. 

So, based on my parent’s constant nostalgia and my rose-tinted view of the 1980s, I began to watch this decade of Reeling in the Years with a sense of confident judgment that my parents had educated me enough on the matter.

With that, I decided that 1983 had the best soundtrack of the decade. In 1983, Ireland was at the height of a recession, strikes were taking place and political unrest was afoot. The editors of RITY purposefully juxtaposed the grim images of an economic downturn alongside the second re-election of Thatcher in the UK with Paul Young’s ‘Love of the Common People’. Genius. 

Here’s what happened this year:

Eamon Coughlan won the 5000m World Athletic Championship Gold Medal for Ireland.

Dr Andrew Rynne was fined and charged for selling condoms under the Family Planning Act.

The 8th Amendment was made law in Ireland putting the life of the unborn as equal to the life of the woman holding it and abortion was made illegal. Watch a clip from the turbulence and ongoing debate at the time:

Grafton Street was pedestrianised this year.

Gay met representatives from goths, punks, new romantics, mods and rockers and so on in an amusing segment on The Late Late.

Honourable mentions:

I have to say the early ’80s just killed it. Reeling in The Years just played banger after banger no questions asked from ’80 to ’84. The absolute mash of genres that came out of the 1980s are represented perfectly in these episodes. Take a look:

1980: Abba, Bagatelle, Boomtown Rats, Blondie, The Clash, T.R. Dallas, John Lennon, Johnny Logan, The Nolans, Queen, Brendan Shine, Split Enz, U2, Dennis Waterman.

1981: Big Tom, The Blades, The Boomtown Rats, Phil Collins, Joe Dolan, Electric Light Orchestra, Foster and Allen, The Fureys and Davey Arthur, New Order, OMD, The Police, Queen/David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, The Undertones

1984: Band Aid, Eurythmics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Howard Jones, Madonna, Nik Kershaw, Cyndi Lauper, John Lennon, The Smiths, Talk Talk, Tears for Fears, U2, Wham!

The 90s


The ’90s were not an easy decision. Honestly it was a toss-up between two years with great bops behind them. In the end it came down to 1998. Even though I was a mere baba in the late nineties, I grew up as the youngest of four and was forced to listen and watch whatever my siblings wanted. Songs and iconic pop culture moments of the nineties (especially the Spice Girls) were on a loop in my household. With that, the nineties had a pretty good impression on my memory.

Here’s what happened this year:

Plans for the Spire were revealed and clamping was introduced in the city centre- riveting.

1998 was a landmark year for peace in Northern Ireland, The Good Friday Agreement was made and voted on in April.

Viagra, produced in Ringaskiddy Cork was described as “the wonder drug of 1998” and pinned as the next recreational drug of the young generation.

Tour de France came to Ireland this year and swimmer Michelle de Bruin was banned from international competitions for four years after facing drug allegations.

Slane Castle held a concert for the first time in 3 years. It hosted Robbie Williams and The Verve in Summer 1998.

Ireland’s under-16 and under-18 soccer teams won the European Championship.

The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal unfolded. Pop over to 34 seconds to hear his iconic line:

Honourable mentions:

1994: The unusual song mix of 1994 is all brought together by the iconic moment of the Riverdance at the Eurovision. Say what you want about Riverdance but there is absolutely no denying that it was a turning point for Irish dancing and culture. Other artists featured this year are A House, Boyzone, The Cranberries, Crowded House, Deep Forest, Paul Harrington/Charlie McGettigan, Oasis, Perez ‘Prez’ Prado, R.E.M., Shampoo and Whigfield.

1990: This year gives us a taster of one of the most popular genres of the decade, Happy Mondays represent the towering ’90s Brit Pop. Other artists include The B-52’s, The Charlatans, , EMF, Enigma, The La’s, Liam Harrison/Goal celebrities, Kylie Minogue, Luciano Pavarotti, The Sawdoctors, Sinéad O’Connor and Something Happens.

1999: The final year of the decade and hip hop finally reaches RTÉ. This year features Basement Jaxx, B*Witched, The Cardigans, Fat Boy Slim, Lauryn Hill, Ronan Keating, Britney Spears, Stereophonics and Westlife.

The 00s


The noughties Reeling in the Years is a little bit too close to home. Most of us remember it well, the world was on the brink of a god awful recession after the Celtic Tiger and the first iPhone was launched by Steve Jobs. Similar to the 1980s, recessions make good music. 2007 saw a load of solid bops in the charts.

Here’s what happened this year:

The Mahon Tribunal examined Bertie’s financial affairs.

Three-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing while on holiday in Portugal.

The country saw its first black Mayor. Nigerian Rotimi Adebari was elected Mayor of Portlaoise 7 years after coming to Ireland as an Asylum Seeker.

A general election took place, politicians flocked to take photos of babies and puppies in the streets. Fianna Fáil went into coalition with the Greens- looks familiar.

Irish shoppers flocked to New York for their fill of Uggs and velour tracksuits.

An economic crash lead to recession and a property bust in Ireland.

‘God Save the Queen’ was sung for the first time in Croke Park during a rugby game between Ireland and England. Ireland absolutely trounced them. Look at the difference in the crowd’s reaction after each anthem:

Honourable mentions:

2009: *Shudders* how on earth were these songs released 11 years ago (Still bops though)? This year featured The Black Eyed Peas, The Coronas, Florence + the Machine, Lisa Hannigan, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga, La Roux, Temper Trap and Westlife.

2002: Female pop icons of the noughties shone through this year. Artists included Coldplay, Elvis vs JXL, Jerry Fish & The Mudbug Club, Avril Lavigne, Kylie Minogue, Pink, Electric Six, Sugababes and Westlife.

2004: Anyone else have distinct memories of watching the video for ‘Hey Ya!’ on MTV’s chart toppers on a Saturday morning? This year also featured Anastacia, The Black Eyed Peas, Counting Crows, Keane, Natural Gas, O-Zone, Snow Patrol and U2.