The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we examine The Harder They Come (Soundtrack) by various artists.
For those of you who have yet to see the iconic 1972 motion picture, it’s a Jamaican crime film directed by Perry Henzell . It stars reggae vocalist Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe (a thinly-disguised fictional version of Rhyging, an actual Jamaican criminal from the 1940s). Although its initial release in New York City in 1973 garnered little attention, it became a cult film once played at midnight across the country a couple months later.
The original vinyl release included a dozen tracks. The performers on the platter include: Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, The Maytals, The Melodians, Scotty and The Slickers (vocals), Jackie Jackson (bass), Winston Grennan (drums) and Beverley’s All-Stars (additional instruments). Side one opens on “You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff. It’s a strong opener.
The second selection is “Draw Your Brakes”. This one is a cover of a 1965 ska tune by Derrick Harriott, Texas Dixon and Keith Rowe and is performed by Scotty. (It would later be sampled by the likes of the Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice.)
The haunting, Rastafarian “Rivers of Babylon” while performed by the more obscure group The Melodians is also critically-acclaimed in terms of being up to the standard set by Cliff on this soundtrack. Another Cliff composition follows. Titled “Many Rivers to Cross”, this is considered one of his best songs ever.
The Maytals’ “Sweet and Dandy” is a lost treasure and works well in this compilation. The first side closes with another Cliff cut. This one is the memorable title track to the film The Harder They Come.
The flip side opens on “Johnny Too Bad”. Oddly, while sources sometimes have little to say about this virtual anthem of “Third World” rebellion, the truth is it encompasses the politics of Jamaica, the culture that nurtures the reggae genre as well as the sensibility of the movie.
“007 (Shanty Town)” hails back to 1967. It is the ultimate rocksteady “rude boy” record. The title makes reference to what rude boys (think “gangstas”) thought was “cool”—specifically the imagery in early James Bond films.
The next number is “Pressure Drop” by The Maytals. This, too, is considered a treasure by many critics. The remainder of the work is music by Cliff. First is “Sitting in Limbo” which Cliff co-wrote with Guillermo Bright-Plummer.
A slightly longer “You Can Get It If You Really Want” follows. The closing cut is a shorter reprise of the titular tune. Cliff’ cuts are some of the purest reggae recordings he has ever done.
It hit American record racks on the Island label in 1973; the nearly 40 minute album peaked at number 140 on the Billboard 200. It may not have soared to multi-platinum status but it remains as influential as anything else released in the 1970s be it the Clash, Patti Smith or The Rolling Stones. In 2003, it was ranked at number 119 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Later the same year, Universal Music Group issued a Deluxe Edition of the platter which featured the original remastered LP on one disc. A second disc included bonus material presenting additional singles from the early days of reggae. It’s titled Reggae Hit the Town: Crucial Reggae 1968-1972 and includes such songs as Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”, “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker and The Aces and “Guava Jelly” by Bob Marley.
This is one of the greatest reggae samplers ever and had a significant influence on college crowds in both San Francisco and the Northeast where reggae cults began to bloom. This breakthrough release not only popularized the genre in the US but also the world beyond. The Harder They Come (Soundtrack)/Is. 9202 by various artists simply “a must”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.