Our top 10 Jimmy Cliff songs list presents the music of a Jamaican artist famed for his influence in the reggae, ska, and rocksteady music scenes. Born in 1944, Jimmy Cliff’s passion for music started when he was still in primary school. Jimmy Cliff was busy honing his songwriting skills during the start of his teenage years. His father was supportive, helping him get to Kingston to meet producers hoping to strike a recording deal.
Jimmy Cliff’s pursuits to have his songs recorded bore no fruits. However, knowing that his music career would end up a pipedream, he didn’t stop knocking at producer’s doors. It was his lucky day when he met reggae producer Leslie Kong. Leslie Kong is famed for his immense contribution to the success of several legendary artists, including Toots and The Maytals, John Holt, Joe Higgs, and Derrick Morgan. Jimmy Cliff convinced Leslie to have him record his music under his production.
The two hit the studio, marking the beginning of Jimmy Cliff’s music career. It took Jimmy Cliff his third single, “Hurricane Hattie,” to attract attention to his name. The vocals and songwriting skills exhibited by the fourteen-year-old new artist on the block mesmerized many. Jimmy Cliff continued releasing hit songs that gained airplay in Jamaica despite his short time in the music industry.
Several years later, Jimmy Cliff got a golden chance to represent his nation at the World’s Fair held in New York. He was also featured on a program named “This is Ska!” which allowed him to interact with other reputable names, including Prince Buster and Byron Lee and The Dragonaires. After signing a recording contract with Island Records, Jimmy Cliff moved to the UK. The label took a massive gamble by trying to sell his name in the UK, where the rock scene was burgeoning.
While the labels attempt to popularize Jimmy Cliff’s musical style initially failed, his singing proved irresistible with time. Island Records helped Jimmy release his international debut album. Hard Road to Travel (1967) was positively received, bringing Jimmy Cliff more attention. Jimmy Cliff released reputable songs in the following years, including “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and “Vietnam.”
Many artists hailed Jimmy Cliff, including legendary songwriter Bob Dylan who reviewed “Vietnam” as a magnificent protest song. He would later star in the 1972 film The Harder The Come. The film’s soundtrack was quite a popular release, helping popularize reggae worldwide. After releasing Cliff Hanger (1985) under CBS Records, Jimmy Cliff registered his first Grammy Award win for the Best Reggae Recording accolade at the 1986 Grammy Awards ceremony.
Other albums by Jimmy Cliff nominated for a Grammy Award include Club Paradise (1986), Hanging Fire (1987), Breakout (1992), Black Magic (2004), and Rebirth (2012). Rebirth (2012) won Jimmy Cliff his last Grammy Award under the Best Reggae Album category. In 2010, Wyclef Jean inducted Jimmy Cliff into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here we present the best Jimmy Cliff songs sampled from over his thirty albums.
#10- All for Love
Ushering us to the top 10 Jimmy Cliff songs is the invigorating hit “All for Love.” The song is featured on the album Journey of a Lifetime (1998). “All for Love” allows Jimmy Cliff to demonstrate his versatile musical artistry. While most of his previous releases featured reggae and ska elements, “All for Love” finds him inclining towards pop reggae. Bryan Adams had earlier teamed up with Rod Stewart and Sting to release a power ballad under the same title (but different lyrics).
#9- You Can Get It If You Really Want
“You Can Get It If You Really Want” is one of the most covered rocksteady songs from the early ‘70s. Jimmy Cliff had his performance to the song featured on the soundtrack album The Harder They Come (1972). One of the most popular versions of the song was the 1970 release by the Jamaican reggae, ska, and rocksteady artist Desmond Dekker. His version rose to the second position on the UK Singles Chart. Other artists who covered the song include The Cimarons, Sabrina, The Siren Six, and Stiff Little Fingers.
Coming in at number eight is the striking song “Vietnam” from Jimmy Cliff’s 1969 eponymous album. Iconic songwriters such as Bob Dylan praised “Vietnam” as one of the most reputable protest songs ever penned. A close friend to Jimmy Cliff, who got drafted for the Vietnam War, inspired him to write this heartrending anti-war song. The song rose to the forty-sixth position on the UK Singles Chart. “Vietnam” inspired Paul Simon to release his hit single “Mother and Child Reunion.”
#7- Wild World
“Wild World” is an original song by Cat Stevens inspired by the end of a relationship. The song’s lyrics allude to grief about the end of the romantic relationship and the anticipation of what life holds. Jimmy Cliff covered the song having his version rise to number eight on the UK Singles Chart. Maxi Priest, Barry Ryan, Jonathan King, and The Ventures also covered the song.
#6- Guns of Brixton
Number six on our top 10 Jimmy Cliff songs is the dazzling hit “Guns of Brixton.” The song is an original release by The Clash. Jimmy Cliff covered this song, releasing it on his Grammy award-winning album Rebirth (2012). The song has also been covered by Anti-Flag and sampled by Fatboy Slim for “Dub Be Good to Me.”
#5- We All Are One
“We All Are One” is one of the best Jimmy Cliff songs from The Power and The Glory (1983). The song features the theme of universal love reminding all that we are one! “We All Are One” was released when the world needed redemption from racism. Jimmy Cliff gives the example of how kids interact with each other while having fun without regard to their physical differences.
#4- Many Rivers to Cross
After a successful start of his career in his homeland Jamaica, Jimmy Cliff set off for the UK in pursuit of a breakthrough on a global platform. However, things were not as easy as Island Records and Jimmy Cliff had projected. Initially, Jimmy settled for performances in small gigs, hoping that his patience would bear fruits. His struggles saw him release the hit “Many Rivers to Cross.” The song is featured on his 1969 eponymous studio album.
#3 – The Harder They Come
Coming in at number three on our top 10 Jimmy Cliff songs is the reggae song “The Harder They Come.” The song is featured on the soundtrack album under the same name. Jimmy Cliff came up with the line “The Harder They Come,” having Perry Henzell task him with writing and recording a theme song for the film. Its lyrics serve as a motivation to ride past tough times since there’s always a chance that you will emerge victorious. Multiple artists have covered the song, including Joe Jackson, Madness, Rockers Revenge, and Jerry Garcia Band.
#2 – Reggae Night
“Reggae Night” is one of Jimmy Cliff’s catchiest reggae releases. The song is featured on the album The Power and The Glory (1983). “Reggae Night” was penned by La Toya Jackson and Amir Bayyan. La Toya Jackson is a famous singer-songwriter and sister to Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. “Reggae Night” became an international hit, helping popularize the reggae genre further. The song topped the charts in New Zealand.
#1- I Can See Clearly Now
Number one on our top 10 Jimmy Cliff songs list is the incredible cover hit “I Can See Clearly Now.” Pop and reggae artist Johnny Nash initially released the song in 1972. “I Can See Clearly Now” became an international hit and his best song, having his version reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Jimmy Cliff covered the song, with his version featured on the soundtrack to the 1993 sports film Cool Runnings. His version was a success, rising to the eighteenth position on the Billboard Hot 100.
Top 10 Jimmy Cliff Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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