Many Rivers To Cross — Jimmy Cliff

No Words, No Song
4 min readAug 6, 2022
Photo by Rolands Varsbergs on Unsplash

Brits are more likely to think of “Many Rivers To Cross” as an early-80s hit by UB40, but Jimmy Cliff wrote the song, and originally recorded it, 15 years earlier.

“Many Rivers To Cross” is often described as a reggae song, which I can understand as Jimmy Cliff is usually regarded as a reggae artist, but for me “Many Rivers To Cross” almost has a gospel quality — not just from the heartrending lyrics, but in the pleading style in which Jimmy Cliff sings it.

And, of course, crossing rivers, pushing through the obstacles strewn in your path, and enduring seemingly endless hardship before reaching the promised land, very much draws on biblical imagery.

But round here, we’re generally less concerned with the academic classifications of songs and lyrics, and much more concerned with celebrating the song itself, and its songwriters.

Jimmy Cliff had both literal and metaphorical rivers to cross himself…well, perhaps more oceans than rivers, but I think the general point still holds.

He grew up in Jamaica and worked hard through his teenage years to find recognition as a recording artist. Despite having some modest success, his career wasn’t going anywhere fast, so he decamped to London to start from ground zero all over again.



No Words, No Song

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.