This Jimmy Cliff song was first recorded in 1970 by Desmond Dekker, climbing to #2 in the UK charts. In 1972 Cliff cut his own version, which was included on the soundtrack of the movie The Harder They Come. The film, in which Jimmy Cliff starred, featured other Cliff songs such as "Many Rivers To Cross," and "Wonderful World Beautiful People." The soundtrack is considered to be a breakthrough for reggae in the United States, opening up the way for Bob Marley and other Jamaican artists.
"You Can Get It If You Really Want" has been adopted by various political groups. In 1990 it was used as a campaign anthem during the 1990 Nicaragua elections by the ruling left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front. They didn't get what they really wanted and were driven from power. The Jimmy Cliff number was also used to close the British Conservative Party's leader David Cameron's speech during their annual conference in October 2007. The conference was deemed to be a success and in 2008 the song was used by the Conservatives as a catchphrase for a package of newspaper advertisements, billboards, web messages and a broadcast by Cameron to promote what he claimed was a shift away from "old politics". The Conservative leader said "Rome was not built in a day, opposition will come your way; but the hotter the battle you see, it's the sweeter the victory; you can get it if you really want." It appears that Cliff was not impressed by Britain's traditionally right of center party adopting his song. He said "I'm from the lower class of society and I tend to support them rather than the upper class."
Asked by Uncut magazine how he felt about David Cameron using the song at a Conservative Party Conference, Jimmy Cliff replied: "I have a dislike for politicians as they're not truthful people. It's the nature of politics that you cannot be straight, you have to lie and cheat. So I didn't like David Cameron using my music, but I didn't say stop. The opposite side of politics, the Sandinistas in South America, also used that song. But I make my music for people. I looked up the meaning of politics - poli means people and tics is a bloodsucking parasite."