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Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff OM (born James Chambers, 1 April 1948, Somerton District in St James, Jamaica) is a Jamaican reggae musician, best known among mainstream audiences for songs like "Sittin' in Limbo", "You Can Get It If You Really Want It", "Many Rivers to Cross" from The Harder They Come, a film soundtrack which helped popularise reggae across the world , and for a cover of "I Can See Clearly Now" from the film "Cool Runnings."


Cliff moved to Kingston in 1962. After two singles that failed to make much impression, his career took off after his "Hurricane Hattie" became a hit, while he was aged just 14. It was produced by Leslie Kong, with whom Cliff would remain until Kong's death as his later local hit singles included "King of Kings", "Dearest Beverley" and "Pride and Passion". In 1964, Cliff was chosen as one of the Jamaican representatives at the World's Fair and Cliff soon signed to Island Records and moved to Britain. Island initially (and unsuccessfully) tried to sell Cliff to the rock audience, but his career took off in the late 1960s. His international debut album was Hard Road to Travel, which received excellent reviews and included "Waterfall", a Brazilian hit that won the International Song Festival.

"Waterfall" was followed in 1969 by "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam" in 1970, both popular throughout most of the world. Folk rock singer-songwriter Bob Dylan even called "Vietnam" the best protest song he'd ever heard. Wonderful World included a cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World", which was a success in 1970.

Leslie Kong died of a heart attack in 1971. The soundtrack to the reggae film The Harder They Come was a huge success that sold well across the world, but did not break Cliff into the mainstream. After a series of albums, Cliff took a break and traveled to Africa, exploring his newfound Muslim spirituality. He quickly returned to music, touring for several years before he recorded with Kool & the Gang for Power & the Glory (1983). (During the 1981 River Tour, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band added Cliff's little-known "Trapped" to their live set; it achieved great prominence when included on 1985's We Are the World benefit album.) The follow-up, Cliff Hanger (1985) won a Grammy Award, though it was his last major success in the U.S. until 1993. He continued to sell well in Jamaica and, to a lesser extent, the UK, returning to the mainstream pop charts in the U.S. and elsewhere with a version of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" on the Cool Runnings film soundtrack in 1993 .

In 2002, Cliff released his new album, Fantastic Plastic People in Europe, after first providing free downloads using Delacove's People Music Media p2p software. This album featured collaborations with Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox, and Sting as well as new songs that were very reminiscent of Cliff's original hits. In 2004 Cliff completely reworked the songs, dropping the traditional reggae in favor of an electronica sound, for inclusion in Black Magic.

Cliff has also covered The Tokens' song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

His recording of 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' was used as a campaign anthem by the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the 1990 election in Nicaragua. It was also adopted by the British Conservative Party during their annual conference in October, 2007. It is unclear whether Mr Cliff endorsed either party.

Acting career

In addition to providing the music for the 1972 film The Harder They Come, Cliff also starred as reggae singing hopeful Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin.

Cliff also appeared as Jamaican musician and revolutionary Ernest Reed in the 1986 comedy Club Paradise, co-starring with Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole, and contributed several songs to the soundtrack, including "Seven Day Weekend", which he sang with Elvis Costello.

Cliff appeared in Marked for Death in 1990 performing John Crow with the Jimmy Cliff Band.

Cover versions of Jimmy Cliff songs

  • Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones recorded "The Harder They Come" as a B-side to his single featuring "Run, Rudolph, Run", written by Chuck Berry, in 1978.
  • The song "Many Rivers to Cross" was covered in 1982 by Joe Cocker on his album, Sheffield Steel. Also by UB40 on their Labour of Love album in 1983, this song was also recorded by the Animals in their reunition album "Ark" in 1982.
  • His 1972 song "The Harder They Come" has been covered by Madness in 1992, Joe Jackson, Cher, Rancid, Willie Nelson, Joe Strummer, Jerry Garcia Band, Desmond Dekker, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, Pat MacDonald, Poison Idea, Kahimi Karie, moe. and Guster.
  • New Order covered "Vietnam" on their 2003 compilation War Child: Hope.
  • Bruce Springsteen covered "Trapped" live.
  • La Toya Jackson covered "Reggae Nights", a Grammy award-winning song that she co-wrote, for her album No Relations.
  • Desmond Dekker's version of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" features the same arrangement but the vocal work is quite different.
  • The song "Many Rivers to Cross" was also covered in 1974 by Harry Nilsson, on his album Pussy Cats, which was produced by John Lennon.
  • Harry Nilsson's version of "Many Rivers to Cross" was covered by The Walkmen on their track-by-track cover of Nilsson's Pussy Cats album, released in 2006 .
  • The song "Sittin' In Limbo" has been covered by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Willie Nelson, Fiona Apple, and The Neville Brothers.
  • Pat MacDonald covered "The Harder They Come" on Bridging the Distance: a Portland, OR covers compilation released in 2007 (Arena Rock Recording Co.).
  • Boney M. covered "Going Back West" in 1982 and it was included on their 1984 album Kalimba de Luna - 16 Happy Songs.
  • The song "Struggling Man" was covered by the Jerry Garcia Band frequently during live shows from 1990 to 1995.
  • Many Rivers to Cross was remixed by Cafe del Mar DJs for the Cafe del Mar 9 compilation.
  • Annie Lennox sang "Many Rivers to Cross" for American Idol's charity special Idol Gives Back in 2008. The performance is sold on iTunes with proceeds going to the charity.
  • Blacksburg area reggae band Dubnium has been known to play "Harder They Come" during their live performances

Album discography

  • Hard Road to Travel (January 1968)
  • Give Thanx (1969)
  • Jimmy Cliff (December 1969)
  • Wonderful World, Beautiful People (1970)
  • Another Cycle (September 1971)
  • The Harder They Come - 1972
  • Unlimited (August 1973)
  • Struggling Man (June 1974)
  • House of Exile (December 1974)
  • Brave Warrior (1975)
  • Follow My Mind (November 1975)
  • In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff (1976)
  • Give Thanx (1978)
  • I Am The Living (July 1980)
  • Give the People What They Want (September 1981)
  • Special (July 1982)
  • The Power and the Glory (October 1983)
  • Cliff Hanger (August 1985)
  • Club Paradise (1986)
  • Hanging Fire (March 1988)
  • Images (October 1989)
  • Save Our Planet Earth (October 1990)
  • Higher and Higher (May 1998)
  • Humanitarian (June 1999)
  • Fantastic Plastic People (2002)
  • Black Magic (2004)