Jimmy Cliff – Reggae Greats

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I actually have little use for reggae – I find the tempos way too slow, so slow that it almost causes anxiety. Ska, of course, I love. I am not sure what compelled me to pick this up, but I like it more than I thought I would. Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers in Jamaica. After considerable success there, he went to England, where he eventually had a number of hits (none of which appear on this compilation). He moved back to Jamaica and his starring role in 1972’s The Harder They Come led to worldwide popularity . . . for reggae but not so much for Cliff personally. Cliff converted to Islam and changed his name to El Hadj Naïm Bachir. Since then, he has worked with Joe Strummer (the Clash) and Tim Armstrong (Rancid), as well as the Stones and Elvis Costello. He appeared in a Steven Seagal movie (Marked for Death). His song “You Can Get It If You Really Want” has been used as a campaign anthem by both the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the British Conservative Party (it has also been covered by Desmond Dekker, for whom Cliff did some production work). He sang on the Cool Runnings soundtrack and released a version of “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King.

What I Think of This Album

The soundtrack to The Harder They Come is supposed to be one of the great reggae albums. Every Jimmy Cliff song on that soundtrack is included in this compilation.

The liner notes on this thing are basically non-existent. It would be nice to know who played the wonderful organ on “Vietnam,” for example. Cliff has an immensely appealing voice, sweet and smooth. And his songwriting is excellent. “Struggling Man,” “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,” and “Sitting In Limbo” (co-written with Guilly Bright) are all superb. There is a soul element to excellent “The Harder They Come,” and an incongruously joyous gospel sound to the jumpy “Sufferin’ In the Land.” The stately “Many Rivers to Cross” is a bit overcooked. “Hard Road to Travel” is fantastic. Goddammit, I really wish I knew who the musicians were on these songs. The bright “You Can Get It If You Really Want” is warm and welcoming.

The Best Thing About This Album

The anonymous musicianship.

Release Date

1985

The Cover Art

The more I look at it, the more I like it. This is by British artist Cathie Felstead – I can’t tell what the medium is. Can you spot the taxi and the motorcycle?

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