It was nothing but blue skis for Johnny Nash on Nov. 4, 1972, when his gentle reggae-tinged "I Can See Clearly Now" began a bright four-week run on top of the Billboard Hot 100.
Though the song is credited with helping bring reggae into the American consciousness, Nash's career was considerably varied for more than a decade before "I Can See Clearly Now" charted. He started as a pop singer in the vein of Johnny Mathis in 1958. In the mid-'60s, after briefly working for a label he co-founded, Nash moved to Jamaica to try his hand at promoting American artists to Caribbean audiences.
Things changed in 1967 after catching a concert by an up-and-coming Bob Marley and The Wailers. Nash immersed himself in reggae music, writing and recording the song "Hold Me Tight" in Jamaica. It reached No. 5 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts. By the '70s, he and Marley were looking to collaborate together; Nash recorded several of his tracks for I Can See Clearly Now, including "Guava Jelly" and the co-write "You Poured Sugar on Me." Most notable was a rendition of Marley's "Stir It Up," a Top 20 R&B hit a full year before Marley re-recorded it for his landmark Catch a Fire.
A popular, if unverified, story maintains that Nash's signature song was inspired by recovering from cataract surgery. While there's no proof of that, there's plenty of proof as to how beloved "I Can See Clearly Now" remains nearly five decades from its original release. Ray Charles' version reached the Top 40 of the R&B charts in 1977, and another reggae artist, Jimmy Cliff, took a version for the soundtrack to the film Cool Runnings (based on the true story of Jamaica's bobsled team) into Billboard's Top 20 in 1993.
Read More: Johnny Nash: Classic Soul 1973 Interview
Nash, who passed away in 2020, was always bemused about helping bring reggae to the Western world. "Reggae is something entirely new to the States and without taking the credit, we have done quite a bit towards bringing the music to people over there," he said in a 1973 interview. "It was really funny for people who'd known me from before seeing me do things like 'I Can See Clearly.'"
But he was just as quick to note: "I've been doing all kinds of music over the years and reggae is just another chapter in the story."