American singer and songwriter John “Johnny” Nash has been a popular artist since the 1950s, thanks to his blend of traditional pop music and reggae. Born in Houston, Texas, in 1940, he was a pioneer of the music industry, as he was one of the first non-Jamaican artists to play reggae music in Kingston.
His recording career began in 1958, at the age of 18, when he was snapped up by a variety of labels such as Chess, Groove, Warners and Argo. Establishing himself as a well-respected recording artist, he released around 20 singles by 1964.
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He formed his own record label, JAD, with producer Arthur Jenkins and entrepreneur Danny Sims, using their initials for the label’s name. Nash and Sims had first gone to Jamaica in 1965 and Nash fell in love with the local music. He first became aware of Bob Marley in 1967 and went on to hire him as a songwriter.
JAD records famously signed Bob Marley and the Wailers after Nash finally met them in Jamaica in 1968. Bob and Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh had introduced Nash to the local music scene and they developed a close working relationship.
In terms of his own recording career, Nash’s most famous hit single was I Can See Clearly Now in June 1972 – the title track of his album of the same name. Nash had written the song himself and it shot straight to number one in the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for four weeks.
It sold more than one million copies and he received a gold disc in November 1972 as a result. As well as containing his own compositions, Nash’s album included four original songs written by Bob Marley, including Stir It Up, which was to be the second hit single for Nash.
The opening lyrics to I Can See Clearly Now are among the most famous in the history of popular music. They have been described as going through hardship to find hope. When Nash wrote the intro, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone,” it was interpreted as going through a transition from cynicism to optimism.
He writes that there’s going to be “nothin’ but blue skies” now, offering hope to anyone who has been through difficult times. It has become one of the most enduring songs ever to emerge from Houston.
When the song was released, critics agreed a cursory listen couldn’t possibly do it justice. The chorus alone, with its simple words of hope, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day”, turned it into a feel-good song. No matter what has preceded the sun, the narrator has come out the other side and is filled with new hope.
Nash sings, “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind,” and it feels like winter and spring have transformed into summer. Backing vocalists join him for the words, “Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue sky,” and it feels like a friendly communal gathering at the end of a long and arduous journey.
Since Nash first released the song in 1972, there have been numerous cover versions, as it seems to ring true to later generations of artists. Reggae stars Toots and the Maytals and Jimmy Cliff both recorded it. So did the Mamas and Papas, Sonny and Cher, Donny Osmond and New Orleans jazz legend, Kermit Ruffins.
The song opens with a low bass and has more than a smattering of the Jamaican influence Nash experienced while staying there in the 1960s. He part-wrote the song in Jamaica and finished it off in Sweden. The pop song with a Caribbean influence appeals to people who like various musical genres.
Although Nash hasn’t released a new album for more than three decades, the 78-year-old is always remembered for I Can See Clearly Now, which still receives airplay. It often appears on the soundtrack for films and is used in commercials.
It was on the soundtrack of Cool Runnings, the 1993 American comedy film based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsleigh team’s bid for success at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
Today, Nash lives a relatively quiet life, but is never going to be forgotten after writing one of the greatest pop songs in history.
The lyrics are particularly fitting at present, as the rain has indeed gone and it’s going to be a “bright sunshiny day,” according to the weather reports. In fact, it may well be a sunshiny summer, with scorching weather and a continual heatwave predicted.
Temperatures are rising all over the globe and weather forecasters say the trend is set to continue. Make sure you’re prepared by investing in a good sunblock – and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration! Wear light, loose clothes to avoid that uncomfortable, constricted feeling during a heatwave.
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