Johnny Nash / I Can See Clearly Now

An infinite number of songs can each be THEgreatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is 

Written by Johnny Nash
Produced by Johnny Nash
Single, Epic Records, 1972

The 1970s began with such promise. Not for everyone, sure, but I was in fourth grade when the calendar’s page turned to its first glimpse of 1970. I was nine, soon to be ten years old, and I had already spent a short lifetime as a misfit. I was the weird kid who sang to himself and others, who drew cartoons, who read too much, who didn’t play sports, and didn’t fit in. 
And then, suddenly, I did fit in. Fourth grade. Somehow, I belonged. That had never happened before. In with the in crowd! 

I even started digging baseball (a lot), and some of my friends shared my interest in superheroes. I was–could it be?!–popular. The euphoria was fleeting, and over before I even had a chance to realize it had happened.

Because of my reading skills, September 1970 found me in sixth grade at a new school, bypassing fifth grade with my peers back at the old elementary school. From fourth grade directly to sixth grade? Unnatural. That’s how I felt. That’s what I was. Unnatural. There would be no further quaint notion of ever again fitting in.
I still had my dreams. I still had my comic books. And I for damned sure still had my radio.
In eighth grade, I came as close as I ever would to rejoining the mainstream. Sixth grade was awful. Seventh grade was worse. But eighth grade…! Eighth grade was an opportunity. I could see it so clearly.

In the early to mid ’70s, I had no idea what reggae music was. None. I think I first encountered the word “reggae” in high school, either when John Lennon mentioned it to Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow TV show, or when a classmate and I were trying to figure out what the hell Stevie Wonder was singing about in “Boogie On, Reggae Woman.” I recall wondering if reggae might be the same as raga, which I’d seen referenced in (believe it or not) a Teen Titans comic book. It was not, but what did I know?

My rudimentary understanding of reggae didn’t begin at all until college (Peter Tosh singing with noted reggae star Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live, and name-checks of Toots and the Maytals in Playboy), and post-college on adventurous Buffalo radio stations that played DillingerYellowman, and Steel Pulse. I have no recollection of when or where I first heard Bob Marley and the Wailers, at least not directly. I knew Eric Clapton‘s cover of Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” and before that, I knew a cover of Marley’s “Stir It Up,” the latter courtesy of a singer named Johnny Nash.

Johnny Nash, of course, was already familiar to me because of his previous hit, “I Can See Clearly Now.” “I Can See Clearly Now” entered Billboard‘s Hot 100 in September of 1972, the same month I entered eighth grade. I would much, much later come to understand that the chunky and irresistible rhythm of “I Can See Clearly Now” was derived from reggae, albeit a very pop-friendly, mainstream American derivation of reggae. Not knowing any better–not knowing 

anything, really–I was fascinated, captured by its inviting sound, its comforting sway. I think I can make it now, the pain is gone. Maybe eighth grade could be okay, too.

Johnny Nash was not exactly a rookie singer in ’72. Nash had been making records since the ’50s, mostly with limited success. But he did have a smash hit with “Hold Me Tight” in 1968. “I Can See Clearly Now” was my introduction to his work.

I’ve often described the period of 1976 to 1977 as my musical crucible, a time when my discoveries of punk rock and FM radio and my increasing awareness of oldies forged the durable nature of my expanded rockin’ pop tastes. 1972 to ’73 was just as important. With my radio by my side, I thought maybe–maybe–I could make it now. Just like the song said.

I started trying to write. I kept on trying to draw, and spent a lot of time in art class working on a superhero comic strip I called Jack Mystery. I started a comic book club at school. I had some friends; I still felt picked on, bullied, but there were moments of light. I even talked to girls. Sometimes. 

(I also got my ass kicked because I had a smart mouth, and I often refused to back down from a fight, even though I had no chance of winning it. It took me decades to understand how much I contributed to my own malaise. I guess I couldn’t see as clearly as I thought I could.)

The radio was my truest friend. The radio played pop music both old and new, The Beatles and The RaspberriesChuck Berry and SladeStealers WheelThe O’JaysThe HolliesThe KinksElton JohnThe TemptationsSweet.

Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” seemed the song most emblematic of my hopes, my cautious optimism, my musical equivalent of an eye on the prize. The prize was elusive; I could indeed see all obstacles in my way, and all of the bad feelings didn’t disappear, in spite of the song’s promise. But I still believed in its blue skies. A bright sunshiny day? Why the hell not? Begone, dark clouds; I’m looking straight ahead.


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