Throwback Thursday: Jimmy Cliff, “Give a Little, Take a Little”

December 1, 2011

Words by Eddie STATS Houghton

No, I am not old enough that I have strong memories about the first time I saw this 1967 Jimmy Cliff performance of “Give a Little, Take a Little” on British TV (in fact this might be the first time). But it is bringing up strong memories of two nights ago when I was lucky enough to sit in a small room at Miss Lily’s Variety and listen as the legendary performer shared some anecdotes from the very beginnings of reggae music, punctuating a studio anecdote about Bob Marley or Derrick Morgan with a spontaneous acoustic rendition of the song in question (the pictures here will provide a reminder for those who were there. For everybody else, you’ll have to wait for LargeUp TV webisode coming very soon!) That experience is what started a series of conversations and arguments around the LargeUp office about Cliff’s merits as a singer and songwriter, his contributions to reggae music and music in general. And this performance of “Give a Little, Take a Little” is a time-capsule that to me sums up the Jimmy Cliff paradox I’ve been trying to wrap my head around since; watching him shuffle and glide across the stage through this soul number like a prehistoric Aloe Blacc illustrates perfectly the fact Cliff was molded in a time when Jamaican music was in many ways still basically soul for British people. He is in fact a soul/folk/pop singer-songwriter–who just happened to help invent reggae.