Jimmy Cliff – Many Rivers to Cross | Lyrics Meaning & Song Review

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In 1969, young Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff was going through one of the lowest times of his life. After moving to the UK, having enjoyed some success in Jamaica as a singer, Jimmy Cliff was unable to take a break from his new perspectives. England have not been kind to him as he struggles to do small gigs in pubs and clubs while waiting for a break. And that struggle fueled one of his most iconic songs “Many Rivers to Cross”, ironically, one that would help him overcome his problems.

“Many Rivers to Cross” was released as a single from Jimmy Cliff’s eponymous album in 1969. Although the song did not have much commercial success initially, over the years the song achieved status. “immortal” in music. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song 325th on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Plus, countless artists have covered the song since. especially John Lennon, UB40, Annie Lennox, Oleta Adams, Bryan Adams, Cher, and more.

Speaking with The Telegraph, Jimmy Cliff explained the inspiration, or rather the motivation behind “Many Rivers to Cross”; “When I arrived in the UK, I was still a teenager. I came full of vigor: I’m going to get there, I’m going to be up there with the Beatles and the Stones. And it wasn’t really like that, I was touring clubs, I didn’t perceive. I struggled, with work, life, my identity, I couldn’t find my place; frustration fueled the song.

Listen to “Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff


Buy “Many Rivers to Cross” on Apple Music and Amazon


“Many Rivers to Cross” Lyrics Song Meaning and Review

The phrase “many rivers to cross” is a metaphor for the countless decisions that all humans encounter in our lifetimes. Jimmy Cliff had several exciting life choices ahead of him at a very young age. And he picked one that he thought would be the best for his future: moving to the UK. However, not all rivers are designed to run smoothly. And Jimmy Cliff experienced it firsthand.

Jimmy Cliff also mentions “The White Cliffs of Dover” as something he encounters on his travels. These famous cliffs are located in Kent, England.

white cliffs of do 3335160a - Jimmy Cliff – Many Rivers to Cross | Lyrics Meaning & Song Review
“The White Cliffs of Dover” (Image: www.telegraph.co.uk)

Crossing these troubled waters, Jimmy Cliff realizes that it is only his power of will that drives him forward. And the only other thing that kept him afloat was his “pride”. Willpower and pride can be a double-edged sword. While it can give you enough hope to hang on if things don’t work out, the same can backfire and be quite devastating.

Jimmy Cliff wrote this song when he was only 21. And he sings that he was “washed for years.” This makes sense considering that Jimmy began his musical journey at the age of 14 in Jamaica. Her biggest hit was “Hurricane Hattie” at the age of 14. Jimmy has had some success in his homeland, but he goes so far as to compare all that success to “being failed” to what he had in mind for himself in the UK.

Watch Jimmy Cliff perform “Many Rivers to Cross” live in 2003

Then Jimmy Cliff talks about other traps in his life –“My wife left and she didn’t say why.” It may not be factual, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting his soul into those words. He draws a man with big dreams but has resorted to a man next to nothing. And these difficult times make one think of a man with the rarest means of survival: “Commit a terrible crime”.

But, luckily for Jimmy Cliff and also for us, he got his break shortly after this song. The song “Many Rivers to Cross” was included in the soundtrack of the 1972 film “The Harder They Come” in which Jimmy Cliff himself starred.

In 2008, an Annie Lennox cover helped propel the song to the Billboard Hot 100 for the very first time.

Let us know what you think of this song and how you relate to the lyrics in the comments below. Check out the full lyrics on Genius.

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