• Dennis Howard

The Power of the Jamaican Lyrics Pen

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Dennis Howard


Jamaican popular music has achieved international acclaim, and many of our artists are global icons. Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals and Sean Paul come to mind. There are songs written by Jamaicans that have gained the respect and admiration of recording artists all over the world.

These compositions have been covered numerous times and have taken their place among the great pop lyrics of all times. The songs span all genres of Jamaican popular music (JPM) staring with mento to one beat. Here are some of the songs.

Day O (Banana Boat Song) - Traditional

This song is a traditional folk song titled 'Day Dah Light'  and was recorded during the mento recording period in the 1950s as were many classic folks song at the time. The song was introduced to Jamaican-American Harry Belafonte by cultural hero Louise Bennett. 

With additional lyrics from Barbadian Irvin Burgie, Belafonte recorded it for his record-breaking album Calypso in 1956. Known in America as a calypso song Harry Belafonte version is mento. The song reached Number 5 on the Billboard charts in 1957 is the signature song for Belafonte.

The song is ubiquitous with the Caribbean and has been utilised extensively in movies, television and sampled by many genres of popular music including 6 Foot 7 Foot by Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz (2010), Don't Wanna Go Home by Jason Derülo (2011), Heart's a Mess by Gotye (2006) 

You're Wondering Now - Andy and Joey

Andy and Joey did this ska classic, written by Rueben Anderson for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd on one of his many imprints C & N Records in 1964. The song did not carry the prestige of other ska classics produced by Dodd but managed to catch the attention of the British music scene who have covered the song repeatedly. 

British act who have covered the song includes Amy Winehoues (2007) and two-tone giant the Specials,1979 Ultraje a Rigor 1990, The Skatalites 1994, Frantic Flintstones (2001), Skanic with Lynval Golding (2001), AOEQ, (2011), The Values ft. Roland Gift (2012) and Learners (2015) 

Many Rivers to Cross - Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff wrote this song as an expression of the frustration he was feeling, about the lack of success he was experiencing in his career at the time. After performing at the World's Fair in 1964, he was signed by Chris Blackwell of Island Records and moved to the UK in search of fame and fortune. Things were not working out, hence the lyrics of the song. 

He recorded the song in New York in 1969, and it appeared on his sophomore album, Jimmy Cliff. The song did not take off until it reappeared on the soundtrack from the cult classic The Harder They Come. In the movie the piece appeared at a very poignant scene when Ivan had reached a turning point in his life of crime. 

The song is covered by some of the greats of popular music including Harry NilssonJohn LennonJoe CockerPercy Sledge, Desmond Dekker, UB40CherThe Brand New HeaviesEric Burdon & The AnimalsThe Walker BrothersMarcia Hines, Toni ChildsOleta AdamsLinda RonstadtAnnie LennoxBryan AdamsArthur Lee, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Barnes.