In 1969 Jamaican singer and musician Jimmy Cliff wrote and recorded Many River To Cross. The 21-year old musician's song told the story of his struggles to find success as a singer after moving to the UK. Cliff began writing songs when he was in primary school, and by the time he was fourteen he had his first hit single in Jamaica, and he had adopted the stage name Jimmy Cliff. He moved to the UK as a teenager, and he expected it would be easier for him to "make it." He wrote this song out of frustration. In the song, when exclaims "wandering I am lost, as I travel along the White Cliffs of Dover" he is referring to the many times he traveled to the mainland and back across the Strait of Dover (between England and France) chasing gigs in France and Germany. At the time, he felt his dreams were fading away. He had written the song while working on his second album for Island Records. The song was included on that album, which was originally released as Jimmy Cliff. The album was later retitled Wonderful World, Beautiful People, taking it's name from the album's single that scored a US release. Meanwhile, less-noticed Many Rivers To Cross made it into the movie and soundtrack of the 1972 film The Harder They Come - a film starring Jimmy Cliff, portraying a character based on notorious real-life Jamaican criminal Rhyging. The influential movie is credited with bringing worldwide attention to reggae music, and sparking a breakthrough for reggae music in the United States. Although the movie is in English, the heavy "Patois" accent in the film required subtitles for the films release in the US. It was the first time an English-language film was released with English subtitles.
In 1967 Comme d'habitude, the original version of My Way, was written by French composer Jacques Revaux and lyricist Claude Francois. The original French version of the song was about a relationship falling out of love, and it was inspired by Francois' recent breakup with French teenage pop sensation France Gall. The 4-year relationship had started after Francois' wife left him, and the relationship ended the year he finally divorced his wife. Francois had been a popular singer know for his French reworks of American songs. Moving foreward, he re-invented his stage show to feature a bevy of female dancers, and after reworking a previously scraped song he had a chart topping hit with Comme d'habitude - which translates to "As Usual." In 1968 Paul Anka re-worked the song with new English lyrics for Frank Sinatra, and on December 30, 1968 Sinatra recorded the song that would become his signature song. Sinatra later confessed he loathed Anka's rework song and it's lyric's message. Just before Anka's re-work, David Bowie had re-worked the song into English first - only to have it rejected. Throughout his fabled life, Claude Francois continued having relationships with well-known singers and models, at one point having 2 children with model Isabelle Foret - hiding news of the second so he wouldn't ruin his image as being a "free man." In 1971, the exhausted ladies man was forced to take a brief break after he collapsed on stage. He later started a record label and modeling agency, and acquired a celebrity magazine. After a couple of bizarre brushes with death, he tragically died in 1978 after he accidentally electrocuted himself while taking a bath. And in the years that followed, apparent offspring surfaced. The 2012 biographical film about him was appropriately titled My Way. And that defining song - it was apparently a favorite of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was known to blast My Way in his cell while he was on trial for crimes against humanity in 2002. The first line of the song goes - "And now, the end is near, and so I face my final curtain." Interestingly, in 2017, just after his inauguration, Donald Trump requested the song for his awkward and somewhat bizarre first dance as newly elected president of the United States.
Gil Scot-Heron's poetic masterpiece Winter In America was not originally included on his 1974 album titled Winter in America. That monumental album was recorded by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jones in tiny D&B Sound Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland for Strata East Records - their only release on the small independent jazz label. The album included the grim dancfloor classic The Bottle, which would be the only single from the album. The Winter in America album had been released with a very limited pressing, and quickly became hard to find and rare. When the album was re-issued on CD 30 years later, a live version of the song Winter in America recorded in 1982 was included on the album. The song Winter in America was first introduced on the duo's following studio album in 1975 - The First Minute of A New Day. The former album's Winter in America title was actually conceived before the song - it had been intended as a metaphor for the urban sociological theme of the 1974 album. Originally the plan was to title that album Supernatural Corner, and the fantastic cover art had been commissioned for an album titled as such. Supernatural Corner had referred to a seemingly haunted house Gil and Brian had shared in Washington DC's Logan Circle. Although they kept the commissioned cover art for the Winter in America album, the original title and title song were both scrapped.
The Blackbyrds is a jazz-funk band formed in Washington DC in 1973. The group and it's name were inspired by trumpeter Donald Byrd, the teacher of the group of Howard University students that started the band. They released seven albums between 1973 and 1980, and had several hit songs including 1974's Grammy-nominated Walking In Rhythm. In 1975 they released their third studio album City Life, which included the song Rock Creek Park. The song was a tribute to expansive nature oasis that stretches across Washington DC, which was a popular spot amongst the band members. On the song, the female vocalist that chants "Do It" is Merry Clayton, who was not a Howard University student. She was a vocalist best known for singing on the Rolling Stones 1969 recording of Gimmee Shelter, singing duet with Mick Jagger. Then, in 1972 Clayton was the original Acid Queen in the first production of The Who's Tommy in London, and in 1974 she sang backup vocals on Lynard Skynard's hit song Sweet Home Alabama. She had started her career in 1962 singing a duet with Bobby Darrin on Who Can I Count On - when she was 14 years old. Her additional singing and acting credits are immense and impressive. In 2013 she was prominently featured in the documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom - an Oscar-winning film about the contributions of lesser-known backup singers.
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