Wonderful World, Beautiful People

by: Jimmy Cliff

A fast follow-up to 1967's Hard Road, Jimmy Cliff's debut full-length, his self-titled album arrived in 1969. This second set would also introduce him to American audiences, with the set retitled Wonderful World, Beautiful People after the track selected as the first to be spun off on 45. The album would indeed charm the globe, its lavish arrangements, bouncy rhythms, and cheery lyrics gave Cliff his first international hit, breezing into the U.K. Top Ten and the U.S. Top 25. The powerful protest song "Viet Nam" followed "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" onto a single in the new year, and climbed even higher in the American chart than its predecessor. These two 45s vividly illustrated Cliff's thematic versatility, with the album almost evenly divided between powerful cultural numbers and more personal concerns. Of the former, beyond the poignant "Viet Nam," there was a soulful rendition of "My Ancestors," the infectious "Sufferin' in the Land," and most magnificent of all, "Many Rivers to Cross," a timeless masterpiece with which Cliff's name will forever be entwined. The song was majestic, while songs like "Time Will Tell" and "Use What I Got" were more intimate, as Cliff described his own impoverished childhood, and the strategies he used not only to survive but prosper. A reprised "Hard Road to Travel" and "That's the Way Life Goes" both address survival as well, reinforcing Cliff's universal message that no matter how tough life is, better days are possible. Cliff oversaw the album with his longtime producer Leslie Kong, creating a set that had a true island sound, but glossing the arrangements with symphonic overdubs that were so appealing to northern audiences. Kong's session band, Beverley's All Stars, were a dazzling backing band, and are notable throughout the entire album; their work as extraordinary as Cliff's own. More phenomenal recordings were to come, but this album remains one of the singer's most masterful. ~ Jo-Ann Greene

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