(2003/BR MUSIC) 23 tracks 1966-1994 Original Sony/Universal
the island of Jamaica became independent in 1962, it wasn't long before
the musical movements of the Caribbean ex-British colony gained
enthusiastic fans elsewhere. First there was ska, followed later by
'rock steady', which evolved into a faster version in 1969, reggae. This
was a music genre that many would embrace with varying degrees of
success, including rock giants David Bowie and Eric Clapton, for whom
reggae was even considered one of the purest types of music. Originating
in the Black neighbourhoods of Kingston, reggae spread to the U.K. and
rapidly achieved worldwide popularity - due in large part to its
underlying, catchy, dancing rhythm and the unmistakable Jamaican
interpretation, complete with local pronunciation, intonation and
concepts of harmony.
Jimmy Cliff was born in St. Catherine,
Jamaica, on April 1, 1948, as James Chambers, and he had music in his
blood from early on. He performed in local shows and at parish
festivals, and at age fourteen he moved to Kingston and changed his last
name to Cliff - to indicate the artistic heights he intended to reach.
After the release of two singles that enjoyed little success, producer
Leslie Kong took charge of Jimmy and gave him his first hit 'Hurricane
Hattie'. From then on, Cliff was loyal to this producer until his death
in 1971. These two were responsible for Jamaican ska taking the U.K. by
storm. Island Records released Jimmy's singles there and 'Miss Jamaica',
'King Of Kings', 'One Eyed Jacks' and 'Pride And Passion' are real
classics from the ska period. n 1964, Jimmy Cliff had become such a big
star that he was sent to the World Fair as one of Jamaica's I
representatives, followed by a successful sojourn in Paris. Jimmy jumped
at the chance when Chris Blackwell, head of Island Records, asked him
to move to the U.K., offering him a record contract.
Records, trying at that time to distance itself somewhat from pure
Jamaican music and enter the more progressive rock field, asked Cliff to
write songs that could cross over to that market. This endeavour was
not without risks, but it was definitely worth a try. Success did not
take long. Jimmy Cliff's superb debut album 'Hard Road To Travel' was
released in 1968 and the same year the singer won the International Song
Festival in Brazil with 'Waterfall'. A year later saw the international
breakthrough of 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People'. This single became
number 6 on the U.K. charts and made the Top 25 in the U.S.A. Soon
afterwards, Jimmy again achieved renown with 'Vietnam', which Bob Dylan
called 'the best protest song I've ever heard'.
Both 'Hard Road
To Travel' and the album 'Jimmy Cliff', released in 1969, contained
painful, emotionally charged songs that deserved a place on the charts,
as demonstrated by 'Sitting In Limbo' and 'Many Rivers To Cross'. His
cover of Cat Stevens' plaintive 'Wild World' was another big hit for
Jimmy Cliff in 1970. Although he is in fact reggae's first real
superstar, purist ethnic music fans complained that Cliff was becoming
more and more commercial. Jimmy vigorously defended himself in the music
press. 'Commercial,' he said, 'is not another word for 'lousy'. What's
wrong with reaching millions of people with my music and giving people a
great deal of pleasure in the process?
Although Jimmy Cliff's records have never enjoyed great commercial success in the U.S. his musical influence is unquestioned. Two of his recordings, neither of which ever reached the charts, have been selected for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many Rivers To Cross  and The Harder They Come  are also among 'Rolling Stone' magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Jamaican-born (April 1, 1944) James Chambers' biography quotes him as saying, "I was making music from the day I came out of my mother's womb." He does not explain when and why he changed his name to Jimmy Cliff, although some have figured that he took his new name from British pop star Cliff Richard. His reggae music was an outgrowth of ska, an upbeat, up-tempo musical style that emerged as Jamaica gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962. Cliff began writing music and became a star in his own country with the song, Hurricane Hattie.
In 1969 Cliff had his first hit in the U.S. with Wonderful World, Beautiful People [#25] a song he wrote after extensive tours in both Europe and South America. A year later Viet Nam was released. It is a song about two letters. The first letter is from a friend fighting in Vietnam who says that he'll "be coming home soon." The second, in the form of a telegram to the soldier's mother, arrives a day later and it says, "Your son is dead." Then, as a chorus chants "Vietnam" over and over, Cliff sings, "Somebody please stop that war now."Viet Nam got some AM airplay as the B-side of Come Into My Life [#89] but was otherwise largely confined to FM radio.