The 1969 Song of the Day is- “Many Rivers To Cross” by Jimmy Cliff. The song was written and performed by a 21 year old Jimmy Cliff in 1969. Cliff has been associated most with reggae and ska music but Many Rivers To Cross is more of a spiritual than anything else. In fact when I found out years ago that Cliff was the writer of the song it surprised me because it seemed like one of those songs that had surely been around forever.
I first discovered this song back in the late 70’s. I had read somewhere, I think it was a list of great albums possibly- that the soundtrack to The Harder They Come [ a Jamaican crime film } was a great album. I bought the album- the first ‘reggae’ album I ever bought- and they hadn’t lied it is a great album- one of the great soundtracks ever. Of the 12 songs on the original release of the soundtrack- Jimmy Cliff performs six of the dozen songs. Cliff also stars in the movie.
The writing of Many Rivers To Cross was fueled the frustration Cliff was feeling at the time. He had moved to the United Kingdom at age 14 and had huge ambitions- he was going to be as big as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He found the going much more difficult than he expected- he was struggling with his work, life and his identity. He had come to England full of hope and his hopes were fading. I find it incredible that a 21 year old could write a song like this that is so universal. It is not only a powerful song but a great performance by Jimmy Cliff. At the end of the year when I make my Top 40 of 1969 this has to be on it somewhere I’d think.
Maybe I thought this song was an old traditional song because of the volume of artists who have covered it- John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Joe Cocker, Percy Sledge, Eric Burdon and The Animals, Linda Ronstadt, Annie Lennon, Bryan Adams, UB40 which had a hit with it- among others. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked Many Rivers To Cross at #325 on their 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list.