Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 3 December 2020

From soul to punk: 10 times Johnny Nash's hit 'I Can See Clearly Now' has been covered

Released in 1972, it remains the late singer's towering achievement

Singer and actor Johnny Nash found fame when he turned from R&B to ska and reggae. RB/Redferns
Singer and actor Johnny Nash found fame when he turned from R&B to ska and reggae. RB/Redferns

American singer Johnny Nash has died at the age of 80.

According to a statement from his family, the singer, songwriter and producer died on Wednesday from natural causes after years of declining health.

The news caps off a stellar and eclectic five-decade career that saw Nash score hits in styles including pop, gospel, reggae and Motown. A number of his musical peers have rushed to pay tribute to the star.

Culture Club singer Boy George revealed it was Nash who inspired his love for the reggae subgenre Lovers' Rock. "So many amazing tunes and a voice like silk," he said.

British reggae giants UB40 summed it up succinctly: "Another legend gone."

While Nash produced a number of hits such as Stir it Up and Cupid, it was 1972's I Can See Clearly Now that was his calling card. Carried by his mellifluous tenor, his ode to positivity in trying times topped the charts in the US and remains a stirring anthem heard during all sorts of occasions, from weddings to sporting events.

With its lilting melodies and strikingly direct lyricism, the inspirational track has been covered by generations of singers across different styles including pop, rock, folk, a capella and even punk.

From Ray Charles to Screeching Weasel, here are 10 successful versions that channel the spirit of the original.

1. Jimmy Cliff (1993)

Released as part of the soundtrack to the hit comedy Cool Runnings, Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff's take remains the most popular of the bunch. Not only was it a hit, but it helped introduce Nash to a new generation of fans. Performed passionately with an added reggae back-beat, I Can See Clearly Now remains a key part of Cliff's concerts. He performed the track as part of his encore at 2011’s Womad Abu Dhabi

2. Ray Charles (1977)

As the lead track to his 1977 album True to Life, Charles injected the song with dollops of gospel and soul. Over sweet organs, blaring horns and female backing vocals, Charles carries the tune with a relaxed vocal take.

3. Nancy Sinatra (2013)

Taken from her cover album Shifting Gears, Sinatra strips it down to only an acoustic guitar for a version that is as sweet as it is soothing.

4. Gladys Knight and the Pips (1973)

A vocal powerhouse of a performance. The Motown group trade verses and add chirpy backing vocals while the production is full of string arrangements. It may not be the most subtle take, but it is enchanting all the same.

5. Hothouse Flowers (1990)

The Irish rock group give the song the power ballad treatment and scored a hit in the British charts. After a moody piano introduction, the track builds up to a galloping pace and an epic saxophone solo in the finale.

6. Anika Moa (2019)

Released as part of her series of children's album Songs for Bubbas 3, New Zealand singer Anika Moa delivers an irresistibly charming ukulele version that perfectly captures the song's sentiment.

7. Soul Asylum (2004)

Such was the reception during their shows, the alternative rock veterans added the song to live album After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom. Is it any good? Well, it's Soul Asylum. So expect big crunchy chords and emphatic vocals.

8. Screeching Weasel (1991)

While it may look jarring on paper, this frenetic version by punk group Screeching Weasel works. A lot of that is due to the pop-punk genre’s affinity for bright melodies and big hooks. This is a fun and turbo-charged romp.

9. Peter White (2016)

Revered British guitarist Peter White gives us all the feels with this faithful instrumental cover. He skillfully adapts Nash's vocal melodies to the acoustic guitar while the backing band injects a welcome bluesy groove.

10. Bobby McFerrin (2011)

The vocal virtuoso wows the crowd in this live take form a concert in the US. A duet with the audience, McFerrin has the crowd providing the vocals while he delivers the musical accompaniment with dazzling precision.

Updated: October 7, 2020 05:54 PM

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