Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff


Jimmy Cliff, Larmer Tree Gardens, 2015

Expanded from an article originally written for the TOPPERMOST website, where the writer choose just ten sample tracks by an artist. Vinyl purists may be dismayed at all the CD versions listed, but reggae albums and singles are usually in dreadful condition … which is why I acquired CDs, especially later … I was an early CD buyer.

  • Give and Take                                              Hard Road To Travel
  • Wonderful World Beautiful People          Jimmy Cliff (1969)
  • Many Rivers To Cross                                 Jimmy Cliff (1969)
  • Viet Nam                                                       Jimmy Cliff (1969
  • You Can Get It If You Really Want           The Harder They Come
  • Going Back West                                          Struggling Man
  • Black Queen                                                  Unlimited
  • Bongo Man                                                   Give Thankx
  • Terror                                                             Black Magic
  • World Upside Down                                   Rebirth

Jimmy Cliff made his first record in 1960 or 1961. He was born in 1948. His parents moved to Kingston when he was twelve. He changed his performing name from James Chambers:

Jimmy Cliff:  When I left the country and I went to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, to go to school, I left with a few songs that I had written with the hope of getting them recorded. I felt that I wanted to change my name. So, I was born in the cliffs of Somerton, in the mountains, the cliffs, you know. So, I just thought that, “Well, that’s quite appropriate. I will just put Cliff to my name.
Interviewed by Len Comaratta, COS, 19 July 2012

The main story goes that Leslie Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican used to run an ice-cream parlour and record store with his brothers, and it was called Beverleys in Orange Street, Kingston.  In 1961, Jimmy Cliff appeared outside the shop singing a song he’d written, Dearest Beverley hoping that Leslie Kong would go ahead and record him. Kong then launched the Beverleys record label specifically to record Jimmy Cliff. Against this, the 45Cat website lists three 1960 records on the Beverleys label by Lloyd Clarke (B001), Monty and Roy (B002)… and third, Cinderella by Eric Morris with Make It Up by Jimmy Cliff on the B-side, dated 1960. Make It Up is available on the Jimmy Cliff CD album of early Beverleys releases,  Jamaican Hit Singles 1961-1962.

It seems likely that Jimmy Cliff had a reason to go and sing outside that particular record store, and it wasn’t the hope of a free ice-cream. In those days record stores in Jamaica could run to basic recording facilities.

That was’t his first record either. The notes to Harder Road To Travel , the definitive CD compilation on Trojan (2010) say:

After victorious performances on Vere John’s much-feted ‘Opportunity Hour’ Jimmy had enough confidence in his abilities to audition for Count Boysie, who like an amazing number of local sound system operators had been keen to capitalise on the rapidly growing popularity of home grown recordings. After hearing the youth peform the original composition ‘Daisy Got Me Crazy’ the rookie producer arranged for him to attend a session at Federal Studios to record the number. Soon after cutting the song, Jimmy’s debut disc hit the streets, but the 45 failed to make any impression and his dreams were put on hold.
Laurence Cane-Honeysett, 2011

I’m Sorry was the first UK release. It was a split-single with Roarin’ by The Blue Beats on the other side and is dated 1961. There are two Jamaican copies online. The first is a white label promo with no record label, while the other is on the Hi-Tone label. In Jamaica, the other side is Lavender Blue by The Cavaliers Combo. The producer was Sir Cavalier.

I'm Sorry

I’m Sorry, Blue Beat in Britain, 1961

When he was fourteen, Dearest Beverley / Hurricane Hatty was on Beverleys label. The Jamaican version muddies the waters … it doesn’t have a catalogue number. There’s no reason to assume those WITH catalogue numbers came earlier.  In fact, those 2011 notes continue:

In 1962, after impressing local hit-maker Derrick Morgan, he was brought to the attention of Leslie Kong, owner of the newly-launched Beverleys Records.

A different story. You choose.



In the UK it was only the twelfth single on the Island label. Since Lately followed quickly.

My Lucky Day copy

My Lucky Day / One Eyed Jacks was his Island single from 1963 … the original Jamaican label was again Beverley’s, a year earlier.  It’s ska with a lurching horn section and a long and languid sax solo, and Jimmy sounds incredibly young.

In spite of that Beverleys trusted his ear:

Jimmy Cliff: I started at Beverley’s and I had hits and I became one of the people who did the auditions for new artists and the other person, the senior person was Derrick Morgan. Desmond Dekker came and I auditioned him. The first song that I chose was ‘Honour Your Mother And Your Father’ and he got that one recorded and it was a big hit for him. And that was the start of his recording career. Now Desmond and Bob Marley used to work together at the same welding plant. So after I auditioned him and he got that song he went back and said to Bob, “I’m recording a song for Beverley’s after doing an audition with Jimmy Cliff – are you interested?” And he said yes. So he sent Bob down and he recorded about five songs and I chose three of them and then it went to Derek Morgan and he chose the same three and that was the beginning of his career as well. So at that point of time we were all on the same label and all worked under the same roof and we worked together for quite a number of years.
Interviewed by John Doran, Quietus 2013

King of Kings

King of Kings, Island 1963

He was still singing King of Kings and Miss Jamaica from that era in his 2015 live shows, in the ska section. King of Kings was from 1963, and the original single all sounds a bit Dr Doolittle because of the youth in his voice. Hearing it live in 2015 with the huge lion roars at the start, it’s Haile Sellasie, Lion of Judah that comes to mind rather than The Jungle Book.  Miss Jamaica sends itself up with joy:

Roses are red, violets are blue
Believe me I love you

He moved to the USA first, where he met Chris Blackwell of Island.

Jimmy Cliff: I was kind of well liked, and he say why don’t you come to England, and I say, well but I would prefer to stay here in America, the papers are writing about my voice and my dancing and all of that. He say, ‘Well I think you’ll do better in England than you could do here, because there are many over here like you but there are not many like you in England. And it made an impression on me, I went back to Jamaica and then accepted the offer to come to England a few months later, in 1965.
Interview, Moo Kid, August 2018

Jimmy did not see himself as exclusively ska or Jamaican in style. Island always saw his potential, and thus brought him over to England in 1965, where he spent the next two years with soul-oriented bands. Verden Allen and Mick Ralphs, later of Mott The Hoople, were in one of his bands, The Shakedown Sound. In 2013 he said of Many Rivers To Cross:

Jimmy Cliff: When you hear the line in that song, “Wandering I am lost, as I travel along the White Cliffs of Dover”, that came from the number of times I crossed the channel to the continent. Most of the time it was France but sometimes it was Germany. It was a very frustrating time. I came to England with very big hopes and I saw my hopes fading. And that song came out of that experience.
Interviewed by John Doran, The Quietus, 15 May 2013

Pride and Passion

Pride and Passion, Fontana 1966

In 1966 his Pride and Passion appeared on Fontana. Island’s Chris Blackwell had launched the major success of first Millie, and then the Spencer Davis Group, by issuing via the major Fontana label rather than on his own, still small, indie label, Island, and tried Jimmy Cliff on the same route. I’m not too sure about the impassioned spoken address to himself or lyric.

Use me as a tool
For I was but a fool …
My friends always tell me
Jimmy, she don’t mean you no good.

Give and Take

Give And Take, Island, 1967

Here is an example of Jimmy Cliff as a credible straight soul singer. Give and Take (aka Give A Little Take A Little) is from 1967, Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller recorded it. It’s a stomper, and should have been a natural addition to those Jackie Edwards’ penned Island hits (Keep On Running, Somebody Help Me). It was very nearly a hit, bubbling under for weeks.  In 1971, Jimmy Cliff produced a new reggae version by The Pioneers, which was a #35 hit. “G. Chambers” is Jimmy Cliff’s other songwriting name … his real name is James Chambers.

Hard Road to Travel 1st

Hard Road To Travel, Island 1967

His first album, all produced by Jimmy Miller, was Hard Road to Travel and includes Pride and Passion, Aim and Ambition, Let’s Dance, The Reward, Give and Take, I Got A Feeling and the title track. Pride and Passion is an impassioned pop ballad … that was reggaefied in 1971 when he produced it for The Pioneers (and I think greatly improved it). Aim and Ambition sounds like the Rolling Stones with an Atlantic horn section.  I’d sum the album up as soul … but Brit-soul. The backing vocalists included P.P. Arnold, Madeleine Bell and Doris Troy. It also includes a cover of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Island tried him on duets with Millie (Hey Boy Hey Girl) and Jackie Edwards (Set Me Free).  Set Me Free is magnificent, and with its swirling organ would sound fine next to Spooky Tooth, and was a long-considered near miss from the ten.

A year later, Jimmy recorded Waterfall by Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campbell-Lyons, aka Nirvana (the UK group).  It was a major hit in Brazil. It would have been perfect for The Foundations or Hot Chocolate a few years later. So would The Reward fit them. Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrow was produced by Paul Samwell-Smith of The Yardbirds.  He had spent some time in the UK and Brazil trying these different styles, with no hint of his ska beginnings. Like Jackie Edwards, he wasn’t sounding Jamaican and was trying  for chart material.

I Got A Feeling is another straight rockin’ club soul record. Add Set Me Free and you could see him competing with Geno Washington or Jimmy James ad The Vagabonds.

In the meantime, back in Jamaica, reggae had appeared.

Wonderful World Beautiful People copy

Wonderful World, Beautiful People, Trojan, 1969

Island and Trojan Records were closely linked in the late 60s … Island co-owned Trojan and divvied up its existing reggae and rock between the labels.

Hard Road to Travel x 2

Hard Road To Travel appeared first as the B-side of I Got A Feeling on Island in 1967, then re-emerged as the B-side of Wonderful World, Beautiful People on Island in 1969.

Jimmy’s UK record releases switched to Trojan, then back to Island in late 1970 when the labels parted ways. Wonderful World Beautiful People was a very early reggae hit (UK #6 in late 1969). At the time Paul McCartney was enthusing about Trojan’s Reggae Chartbuster compilation series, as well as pastiching it in Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da. If it was good enough for Paul, it was good enough for me and I started buying them. Wonderful World Beautiful People was exactly the kind of Trojan record that the general public loved and deep reggae fans get sniffy about.  It was actually composed while Jimmy was in Brazil, and there’s a touch of that in it, as well as a belated summer of love vibe. Trojan started the style of taking a Jamaican track and sweetening it with string arrangements recorded in London. This song defined the style though and remains a perfect example. I defy anyone to get through without a smile appearing on their face. Listen out, as in every Jimmy Cliff song, for the drums, and the treble tom-tom sound.

Jimmy Cliff LP sleeve

The Jimmy Cliff LP is dated 1969 and marked a return to working in Jamaica and recording with Leslie Kong. I bought mine in late 1970. (In some countries it was issued as Wonderful World, Beautiful People).

It was an extraordinary album, a fully-formed masterpiece, though being a reggae LP it compiles singles … or rather it generated singles. Wonderful World Beautiful People, Many Rivers To Cross, Viet Nam … three essential Toppermost tracks, plus Come Into My Life. Hard Road To Travel (first done on the previous LP) opens it.  You need to compare the 1967 track (also an Island 45) and the 1969 one. In 1967, complete with He’p me somebody, pleeeze … it sounds like Otis Redding wrote it, and it sounds like it was recorded in Memphis too. The 1969 version (the one on the compilations) is burbling reggae bass, choppy rhythm guitar, vocal dancing over the top, that girl chorus and those metallic drum interventions. The comparison demonstrates the total switch in style. If we had fifteen, both versions would go in.

Jimmy Cliff LP centre

Time Will Tell launches the album with the complex reggae rhythm, the distant girl chorus, warbling bass and those drum flourishes. The Jimmy Cliff album was his first Jamaican recording in five years, and included future Wailers Aston Family Man Barrett on bass, and Carlton Barrett on drums. 

Many Rivers To Cross certainly isn’t reggae. It’s a poignant melody that seems timeless … along with Yesterday, Midnight Train to Georgia, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (as improved by Roberta Flack). You can’t believe that a tune with that melancholy perfection has not been around forever.

Jimmy Cliff: Many Rivers To Cross was drawn from many sources. “Like I thought about some of my ancestors crossing over the Middle Passage and all of that, to go to Jamaica and Brazil and the United States and all the places they were taken to. And I thought about the journey I made from the countryside going to Kingston. I thought about how other people were feeling, like the so-called Indians of North America… that’s how it came from many different sources.
Interview, August 2018

In his original the organ leads off so deep and low and churchified, but then his voice comes in so high and pure that it’s always a shock. It works beautifully as an instrumental, as the 1990s edition of The Band proved live (you can find it on Jim Weider’s 1997 album Big Foot, with most of The Band), but the words resonate so powerfully too. Crossing rivers and the melody make you think “River of Jordan” but he personalizes it, and you can take it for the desperate migrants of 2015:

Many rivers to cross,
But I can’t seem to find my way over.

Wandering I am lost
As I travel along white cliffs of Dover

Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive  because of my pride

Vietnam ps

Viet Nam, German picture sleeve, on Island 1970

Viet Nam was called ‘the greatest protest song ever’ by Bob Dylan. It brings back strong memories for me. We used to do an extract from Terence McNally’s One-Act play Botticelli on a regular basis in our theatre shows for foreign students and we bookended it with Jimmy Cliff’s Viet Nam at high volume. We also used to use You Can Get It If You Really Want (along with The Wailers’ Stir It Up) in productions of Zigger Zagger. We played them at high volume through a loud system and Viet Nam always got everyone clapping along in contrast to that chilling lyric

Mistress Brown, your son is dead …

Jimmy Cliff: I‘ve always had a global outlook, and [have been] connected and tuned in to what was going on globally, so the Vietnam war affected me just as it would have affected someone who was living in the US or UK. But, furthermore than that, I had a good friend who had migrated to the US and got drafted into the army. The war blew his mind. He came back from Vietnam and he didn’t know me. I was his best friend, and he didn’t know me. It blew his mind. And he was an artist too, a brilliant artist. He could draw and all those kinds of things, in school. And this really affected me a lot, so it’s a combination of all those things.
Interviewed by Len Comaratta, COS, 19 July 2012

Chris Blackwell: Viet Nam is the best thing he’s done … I wanted it released in America but the people there said, well, how can you have a sad song played with such an upbeat? So they didn’t release it.

One listener was Paul Simon who went to Jamaica and booked Jimmy Cliff’s session band for Mother and Child Reunion.

You Can Get It If You Really Want copy

You Can Get It If You Really Want: Desmond Dekker, Trojan 1970

Desmond Dekker recorded the major hit version of Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want in 1970 (UK #2). It was produced by Jimmy, as was the hit version of his song Let Your Yeah Be Yeah by The Pioneers (UK #5 in 1971), followed by the Pioneers reggae versions of Give and Take / Pride and Passion.

Let Your Yeah be Yeah

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah: The Pioneers, 1971

He was profiling more as a songwriter and producer, though he had time for a hit with his reggae version of Cat Stevens’ Wild World.

Jimmy Cliff: I met Cat Stevens, as he was called then. I heard the song [‘Wild World’] from his publisher who said, Cat Stevens wrote it but he doesn’t like it. I said,’What?! This is a great song!’ And I got to speaking to him on the phone and then we started singing the song to each other down the line! He had a West Indian band at the time and he went into the studio to record the song soon after that and I went in and helped with the singing and the recording. And then I recorded it myself.
Interviewed by John Doran, The Quietus, 2013

Wild World copy

Wide World, Island 1970

Also in 1971, Bongo Man appeared as a single. It was credited to James Chambers, the name he was born with, on a “split 45” with Ken Boothe on the B-side, on Trojan’s subsidiary label, Summit. The 1967 singles, As and Bs are all credited to G.Chambers on the original 45s, but Jimmy Cliff on later compilations. Why the subterfuge? It was produced by Leslie Kong and Island and Trojan had already parted ways.


Bongo Man: Live 2015

The song appears on Island compilations as Jimmy Cliff, and it gave its title to the documentary film in 1982, centred around a Jimmy Cliff concert. It’s a key song. Massed bongos and flute with a wildness that approaches the realms of Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari (that’s really deep Jamaican) rather than the smoother pop reggae sounds of Trojan. I’m choosing the longer 1978 version from Give Thankx.  I’d rather have a 2015 live version though. It opens every Jimmy Cliff concert with most of the band on bongos.

Synthetic World

Synthetic World, Island 1970

He went to Miami to record Synthetic World, a straightforward attempt again at rock stardom. It flopped, surprisingly (Psychedelic music is on my mind … so you see my patience is getting thin …). The follow-up was Goodbye Yesterday / Breakdown in 1971.

Another Cycle


Another Cycle

The next move was the Another Cycle album, recorded in Muscle Shoals. It has the Muscle Shoals people throughout … Sitting in Limbo is the best-known song. The title track, Another Cycle, is a slow thoughtful and anthemic song in the Many Rivers To Cross style, but it tries a tad too hard with the overwhelming backing vocals. Listen to the start of Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrow from 1971. Is it like the start of Knocking on Heaven’s Door or not? Jimmy Cliff recorded it two years earlier.

Jimmy Cliff:  After the album called Wonderful World, Beautiful People – that album had on it Vietnam, Wonderful World, Beautiful People, Hello Sunshine, and a few other songs that were quite popular — I didn’t continue on the same track of reggae music. I went to Muscle Shoals in Alabama and recorded an album called Another Cycle, and so that chapter of reggae was not completed, and it was kind of not pleasing to a lot of my fans, and friends, and critics, and all of that. I knew in the back of my mind, always, that I had to complete that chapter.
Interviewed by Len Comaratta, COS, 19 July 2012


The Harder They Come: film poster

Jimmy Cliff regained You Can Get It If You Really Want for the 1972 film The Harder They Come where it appears in two versions.  It’s an interesting combination, typical for Jimmy Cliff, where a reggae rhythm has the addition of soul horns with a prominent trumpet part. The film made Jimmy Cliff the first international reggae star.

Many Rivers To Cross ps copy

Many Rivers To Cross re-appeared on the soundtrack, with the other highlights being The Harder They Come and Sitting in Limbo.  The Melodians 1970 song Rivers of Babylon is on there too, and Jimmy Cliff features it live to this day. The title song, The Harder They Come, is a tougher  rethink of 1971’s The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall. He shifted it from gentle and wistful singer-songwriter to urgent reggae. You should hear both versions.

This was the point where Chris Blackwell of Island Records decided he could certainly make Jimmy a megastar, whereupon Jimmy promptly left Island to capitalise on his success with major labels (EMI in the UK, Reprise in America, then CBS). Blackwell was deeply hurt, and put his efforts instead into his latest discovery … Bob Marley and The Wailers. He said he had wanted to make Jimmy Cliff the ‘rebel’ after the film, but The Wailers were ‘the real thing.’

Jimmy Cliff:  Chris Blackwell, I think, had his own concept of how he wanted to market Jimmy Cliff, and I had my own concept of how I wanted to be in the world. I guess we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on all of that, so that’s how we parted company for some time before we got back together.
Interviewed by Len Comaratta, COS, 19 July 2012

Going Back West appears on Struggling Man the last Island album in 1973, right after The Harder They Come. It also appears on non-UK albums a couple of years earlier, so must date from 1971.  The personal lyrics are exploring his potential moves in his life … from Island, and also to Islam. Sooner or Later includes:

It’s getting to the point
Where I can’t hang round no more
It’s getting to the point
Really have to open up the door

My  choice has to be Going Back West though:

Listen to my story of what became of me … 

It might be aimed at Chris Blackwell …

I met a businessman,
who said he got some friends back east,
said “Why don’t you come along?
Well we could help you at least.
Make you into a big star, by playing your guitar,
But the joke was on me, they left me flat, you see.

Struggling for recognition, identity and respect
I got a lot of promises, they told me not to fret
Said “We will stand by you, if the going gets rough.”
But when I started sinking, they didn’t even bluff …


Struggling Man, Island 1973

Struggling Man

Struggling Man. This is the Japanese CD to show the full design. I’ve been looking for a vinyl LP for years and when I find one, I’ll frame it.

The Struggling Man album is as strong as the 1969 one. Try the title track, Let’s Seize The Time and the cover of Dave Mason’s Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving, (both great blues treatments, not reggae at all) and then Sooner Or Later. It coheres as a whole. The single was Trapped / Struggling Man,  which Cat Stevens produced, though Trapped wasn’t on the album.

Trapped copy

Trapped is a classic railing against the record industry lyric too:

Well it seem like I’ve been playin’ the game way too long
And it seems the game I played has made you strong.
Well when the game is over, I won’t walk out a loser,
And I know that I’ll walk out of here again
And I know that someday I’ll walk out of here again
But now I’m trapped, oh yeah! …

Trapped didn’t do much at the time, but in 1981 Bruce Springsteen bought a Jimmy Cliff cassette, and decided to incorporate it in his stage shows, in a slower, rockier version. It stayed in right up to the massive Born in The USA tour and beyond.  Bruce had certainly had his own ructions with the record industry and the lyric appealed. Bruce then put his version on the We Are The World charity album, which sold millions, with Trapped as the most popular track after the title song.

Jimmy Cliff: I look at it as a compliment. … He’s an artist in his own right and he’s written a lot of good songs, too. It’s good when an established artist does your work and does it in his way. I’ve also done other people’s work. I recorded Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’, a big hit in Europe, and I did it my way. From a commercial point of view, I didn’t gain from ‘Trapped’. All the royalties were donated to the cause and I gained in the moral sense that I have done something for the cause.

Jimmy Cliff was definitely aggrieved by Island and Trojan.  Reading histories of Trojan, they have surprisingly little to say about him. Trojan were always into cash deals for Jamaican master recordings, and he wanted to work with the major labels instead.

Rob Bell of Trojan: I just basically assumed that 95% of the people we dealt with were probably crooks to start with.

His horizons were bigger than a reggae ghetto. He must have been an astute wheeler dealer, because he signed to EMI for Europe, and Reprise for America. That was later a common pattern, but back then the likely route would be linked labels, like EMI in the UK, Capitol in the US. Or Reprise in both. I have the Reprise version. The only front sleeve difference is the addition of the EMI logo on the UK release. It makes me suspect that Reprise might be the “original” or master version in his eyes.


Unlimited, EMI 1973

Unlimited centre

Unlimited: Reprise 1973, centre label

Note the text: Produced by Jimmy Cliff. All songs written by Jimmy Cliff. This was a man in control of his own work and destiny.

Unlimited is under-rated and should have been a major seller. It has Under The Sun Moon and Stars and On My Life / Oh, Jamaica, both singles, as singalong chants.

On My Life

On My Life, EMI 1973 from Unlimited

On My Life is classic Trojan pop reggae. Poor Slave is very much in The Wailer’s Slave Driver mode. The Price of Peace has phenomenal bass playing from Jack Jackson. Black Queen is bass-heavy sensual reggae. But perhaps the album wasn’t reggae enough, definitely a move away from Trojan-lite. Be True sounds like Curtis Mayfield and Commercialization nods to contemporary Marvin Gaye. I See The Light is spiritual searching. Rip Off is in a lyrical area Van Morrison has often explored.  Was it too eclectic, perhaps, in a year when reggae was so hot?

I've Been Dead 400 Years

I’ve Been Dead 400 Years borrows the backing chorus (almost) from The Wailers 400 Years. It’s labelled as the B-side of Look What You Done To My Life, Devil Woman, but it’s the track he chose for The Best of Jimmy Cliff.

The CD The Best of the EMI Years has the cream of Unlimited, House of Exile (1974) and Brave Warrior (1975).

Jimmy Cliff never stopped recording, and quality is consistently high too. I bought a few albums from the next period … Unlimited from 1973, right after he left Island (EMI in Europe, Reprise in America) then from ten years later the three CBS albums … Special (1982), The Power & The Glory (1983), Cliff Hanger (1985). You can see Jimmy’s own view of these albums in the tracks he still performs live.


Give Thankx, Warner Bros, 1978

Stand Up and Fight Back

The Give Thankx album in 1978 was recorded in Hollywood with Bob Johnson co-producing with Jimmy Cliff. It was released on Warner Brothers, and introduced Bongo Man, a classic live song for Jimmy Cliff for decades. Stand Up and Fight Back took him into Bob Marley territory.

Special Jimmy Cliff

Special, CBS 1982

CBS / Columbia was arguably “top label” in 1982 (Michael Jackson and ABBA on subsidiary Epic, Bruce Springsteen) , and that was the next destination.  Special has Treat The Youths Right, and Love Is All. Treat The Youths Right was a highlight of 2015 shows. On Special the main backing band is credited as Oneness, and includes Ansel Collins on keys. Ron Wood turns up on guitar on two tracks.

Roots Radical offer

The album contained an unusual Special Offer … a 12″ single with dub mixes of Roots Radical and Love Is All. My LP was secondhand and I am still upset that the offer ceased in October 1982. The mailing cost must have been very high. It indicates that CBS had faith in him.

Love Is All

Love Is All, CBS 1982 from Special LP

The Power & The Glory

The Power & The Glory, CBS 1983

The Power and The Glory has Reggae Night. Songs like We All Are One are far closer to Stevie Wonder (Boogie on Reggae Woman) than they are to Jamaican material.  Impeccably recorded though with the Oneness Band Kool and The Gang are credited with overdubs..

Reggae Night is Lionel Richie territory

We All Are One

We All Are One demo

We All Are One, CBS 1983, promo copy. .

Reggae Night

Reggae Night, CBS 1983. From The Power & The Glory LP

Cliff Hanger has Reggae Street and won a Grammy.

Cliff Hanger

Cliff Hanger, CBS 1985

Then comes Hanging Fire in 1987-8. Still on CBS. He is still crediting the Oneness Band, recorded at Tuff Gong in Jamaica.

Hanging Fire LP

Hanging Fire, CBS, 1987 on the record centre, 1988 on the sleeve

Two tracks on Hanging FireLove Me, Love Me  and Girls and Cars were recorded in The Congo. The Grand Zico Band of Zaire backs Love Me, Love Me and the Afriza International Band of Zaire is on Girls and Cars.1987? Just a year after Graceland?  Was he after a touch of that African magic? It sounds like a heavy sythesizer beat track to me on both tracks. Girls and Cars at the beginning sounds more rap than African, though he does pick up an African sway and drums.

He kept busy in film, with Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole in Club Paradise and with Stephen Segal in Marked For Death.

There are more than a dozen albums out that there I haven’t heard. Instinct, and the later ones I have heard, make me confident that the selections from 1967 to 1973 are the cream of his work, his golden period. Through the 80s and 90s and 00s he remained a major star in Africa and Latin America. There were a lot of albums, many out of print and commanding high amazon reseller prices.

Shout for Freedom

Shout For Freedom, Prism, 1992

Shout For Freedom was recorded in Jamaica in 1992, except for the title track which was recorded in Zaire with the OZ Band in 1988.


Breakout 1992

In 1992, Breakout included Samba Reggae – he has never lost popularity in Brazil.

He featured on the Sun City charity record, and sand backup on The Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work.


Cool Runnings, OST, Columbia 1993

Cool Runnings the 1993 film gave Jimmy Cliff a further hit with the revived Johnny Nash song I Can See Clearly Now, which he does better than the original. His live performances always include it, along with the song he wrote for the Pioneers, Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, and The Melodians, Rivers of Babylon … a major feature of the film The Harder They Come even if he didn’t sing it. He’s also the voice on Hakuna Matata on The Lion King soundtrack.

He appeared at Woodstock 94 and the full 1 hour 43 minute concert is available on YouTube. Inexplicably, like The Band, he is not on the double CD release.


Humanitarian appeared in 1999, distinguished by covers of Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da and You’ve Got A Friend. Daniel Lanois was one of the producers.

Fantastic Plastic People

Fantastic Plastic People in 2002 garnered attention. It contained the first  releases of Terror and Fantastic Plastic People, which were repeated on Black Magic. Over The Border is outstanding.

Black Magic

Black Magic, SPV, 2004

Black Magic (2004) attracted interest from reviewers because of the urban, electronic and world sounds and guest artists like Wyclef, Kool & The Gang, Spice, Dave Stewart, Joe Strummer, Sting, Jools Holland, Sly Dunbar. The tracks I like far the best are just Jimmy Cliff though. Fantastic Plastic People from 2002 got airplay.  The City is lovely. On Terror (which starts … September Eleventh it was hell in heaven …) he sounds more like Talking Heads meets Hip Hop rather than Jamaican. Beverly Skeete sings backing vocal, and it has the power of Viet Nam. The YouTube track Terror (September 11th) – Yellow Version starts with just Jimmy Cliff’s acoustic guitar, and is a quite different version. / mix. It’s two minutes shorter, has mainly lost the prominent ‘Arabian flute’ and some verses. I can’t choose between them. I just wish I had the YouTube track on audio too.

KRCW Sessions

The KCRW Session, UM, 2012

I realized what I’d been missing when I heard him live on the radio promoting Rebirth in 2012, just Jimmy Cliff and acoustic guitar. A recent release, Live at KCRW is an acoustic radio broadcast from Los Angeles from the same promo tour, with selections from the album and early hits. The voice has deepened over the years, but it’s also stronger.

It opens with a re-make of  Trapped. Jimmy Cliff re-recorded it in 1989 for Images adding a Caribbean rhythm more strongly than on the original. The simple, stripped down solo Many Rivers To Cross is sublime singing. I thought about choosing it over the original, but I love the organ part on the original too much.

Rebirth CD

Rebirth, CD, Universal- Trojan, 2012

Rebirth is what it says on the title. One More is the favoured track on live shows, and appears twice. Live he takes it down to just a chant of “One more!” then walks off leaving the audience chanting it for an encore. It’s a good opportunity. The album scores played right through. I’d pick out his life history rapped out in Reggae Music, boiling horn-led Stax era soul in The Outsider, the Marleyesque Rebel Rebel, the melodies of Cry No More and Children’s Bread. He covers The Clash’s Guns of BrixtonThe Outsider harks back to his 1966-1967 soul singer days, and does so brilliantly. But I’m going to choose the opening reggae track, World Upside Down as the representative while recommending the album as a whole as essential listening.

Nearly sixty Years of songwriting, singing and production? He deserves a “Bubbling Under”!

  • King of Kings                                                               Island 070 / Live
  • Hard Road To Travel (1967 version)                        Hard Road To Travel
  • Wild World                                                                  Island 45 WIP 6087
  • The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall       Wild World (Europe)
  • Synthetic World                                                          Island WIP 6097
  • Trapped                                                                        Island 45 WIP 6132
  • Under The Sun Moon & Stars                                   Unlimited
  • Treat The Youths Right                                              Special
  • I Can See Clearly Now                                               Cool Running
  • The Outsider                                                             Rebirth


I’ve got three Island / Trojan CD compilations. The original Trojan Many Rivers To Cross: Best of Jimmy Cliff has very poor sound.

Best of Jimmy Cliff Mago

Island / Mango’s The Best of Jimmy Cliff is way better, but you really only need 2010s Harder Road to Travel: The Collection, a double CD with 40 tracks (Trojan / Island)

A Harder Road to Travel

It has a previously unreleased A Little Bit of Soap, a classic piece of reggaefying a known song.

best of emi years cliff

 Jimmy Cliff 1973-75 The EMI Years is definitely worth finding.

2012’s Rebirth is essential. But if you see Unlimited or any other complete albums, grab them.