Although often mistakenly attributed to Bob Marley, the Texas singer Johnny Nash wrote this song for inclusion on his 1972 album of the same name and recorded it in Kingston, Jamaica. The Bob Marley link probably comes from the fact that he was an assistant producer and a session musician on the album. Also the backing band on the original recording was his group The Wailers and he was the writer of “Stir It Up” which was Nash’s next hit.
Johnny Nash released the single version in 1972 after recording it in London with the session musicians being members of the Average White Band. “How Good It Is” on the flip side and it became a huge hit in the United States and the United Kingdom. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Adult Contemporary charts in the US and achieved the No. 5 position in the UK. It was certified gold in November 1972. It was then re-released in 1989 but only managed to reach No. 54 on the UK Singles chart.
21 years after the original release of the Johnny Nash version, Jimmy Cliff recorded a cover of it for inclusion in the movie Cool Runnings, which was released in 1993. The single was released with “Sweet Jamaica” on the flip side and this version achieved No. 18 on the Billboard Top 100 and No.23 in the UK. It was more popular in New Zealand and France where it hit the No. 1 spot and the French release reached silver status.
Since the song made it’s re-appearance in Cool Runnings, it has since featured in many other movies that include Antz, Deep Blue Sea, Eagle Eye Cherry, Grosse Point Blank, Hitch, Shrek 2 and Thelma & Louise among several others.
A popular song to be covered by countless artists from a whole range of musical genres, it has been recorded by Aswad, Susan Cadogan, Ray Charles, Neil Finn, Hothouse Flowers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, James Last, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, Donny Osmond, Sonny & Cher, Soul Asylum and Toots & The Maytals to name just a few of many.
A French version of the song, entitled “Toi et le soleil”, was recorded by the singer Claude Francois.