The Harder They Come: A Jamaican Snapshot

Jimmy Cliff and Various Artists

The soundtrack album to the now iconic Jamaican crime film of the same name has become something of a gateway record to those wanting to explore reggae music. Most consider it to be the album that brought reggae music to the world, though I think a more accurate statement would be that it brought reggae music to the world that had already heard Bob Marley but wanted to dig deeper. The Wailers’ Catch a Fire (from the same year) is equally as important in the general popularization of the genre, but The Harder They Come manages to capture some of the less popular artists of the genre and serves as a nice, if incomplete overview of that wild, live, disorganized music scene from as early as 1967 all the way to ’73.

Reggae has one of the most universal and infectious rhythms in the world. It’s also almost entirely signature to its home country, just as the raucous beats of early Rock and Roll are signature to America in the 50s. This record stands as a timeless testament to a time and a place above all else, like ‘The Indestructable Beat of Soweto’, ‘Nuggets’, and the ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’. If you were transported to Kingston circa. 1971, you might just hear every single one of these songs diegetically: the fuzzed out ‘Pressure Drop’ blasting out of a car stereo, ‘Draw Your Brakes’ on the street corner. Catch me, bruddah?

9 Rivers to Cross out of 10 (1 point deducted for repeating two Cliff tracks at the end. Well, it is a soundtrack, isn’t it.)   (-_-)

Choice Cut: Many Rivers to Cross

Goof: One critic said of reggae: ”its syncopation was a response to the rock that replaced shuffle r&b on U.S. radio in the early ’60s”. True, but (call me a cynic), would it be accurate to say that it’s signature rhythm was also a reaction to the sweet leaf?

Here is ”You Can Get it if You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff, performed by Desmond Dekker. Trojan Records mistitled it as Dekker’s 007.

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2 thoughts on “The Harder They Come: A Jamaican Snapshot

  1. It’s funny but when I first heard reggae I wasn’t knocked out. It took me a while to get into, shall we say, the groove. I think that this album (and Clapton covering ‘I Shot the Sheriff'( really popularized it for the world. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to this album all the way through. Is ‘Pressure Drop’ on this? Such a great song. I’ve done a reggae post and have a Marley one scheduled down the road one fine day. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll spin this one soon. I’d do it now but my pesky job keeps getting in the way. 😀

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  2. Yep, for me it was only the 2nd or 3rd listen to this album that really hooked me. Reggae, to me, seems simple but the more you listen to it, the more ‘micro-grooves’ appear. Pressure Drop is on this, and so is ‘Sitting in Limbo’, which Jimmy Cliff recorded with the Muscle Shoals guys, funnily enough. Speaking of Island Records, I’ve been listening to Traffic’s first album recently, and surprised by how good it is. BTW, enjoying those Allmans posts.

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