Friday, August 24, 2007

No. 119: The Harder They Come Original Soundtrack

Band: Various Artists
Album: The Harder They Come Original Soundtrack
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In 1973, Americans hadn't heard of Bob Marley as "Catch A Fire" had yet to catch a fire in the United States. However, Jimmy Cliff's movie, "The Harder They Come," brought reggae into the American audience in a way that nothing had before. Cliff's compilation of reggae stalwarts (The Maytals, himself, Desmond Dekker) and lesser-known acts (Scotty, The Melodians).
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Like jazz, reggae is hard to classify among rock, pop and hip hop. Still, it's fitting to have this on the list and 119 isn't a bad number.
Best song: Cliff's two contributions he title track and "You Can Get It If You Really Want," are both excellent. The whole of the record is pretty excellent, though.
Worst song: "Rivers of Babylon" isn't great, but it's still pretty good.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Like a lot of non-dreadlocked people (white, black, whatever), a little bit of reggae goes a very long way for me. "The Harder They Come" is the perfect record for that sort of thing. It has the more pop-oriented reggae tracks (Cliff's two contributions), the more reggae chant-types ("Scotty") and the classic reggae presentation ("Pressure Drop"). "Johnny Too Bad" is, basically, an outline of the movie's plot and is fantastic.

The movie's not great, but, kudos to Cliff for starring in the film and compiling the soundtrack. It's easily the most influential non-Marley reggae record ever. The Clash, Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Gang War and Rancid have all released cover versions of songs from the record.

(Also, for those who believe Jamaica to be a peaceful, wonderful place because of all the weed they smoke, go and rent "The Harder They Come" the movie. It'll open your eyes. I know it's not a documentary, but it's based on the life of a real Jamaican criminal from the '40s.)

(Also, Desmond Dekker is the man Paul McCartney named his "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" protagonist after. Reggae was popular in England before it was here.)

No comments: