Soundtrack for the ages

40 Years of Harder They Come

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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This month marks 40 years since the release of Perry Henzell's sensational movie The Harder They Come which helped introduce Jamaican pop culture to the world. This week, the Jamaica Observer presents a series of stories on the film's impact and persons who were involved with it.

LONG before Hollywood decided that blockbuster films should be complemented by soundtracks, The Harder They Come showed music's importance in promoting a movie.

Its soundtrack was released in 1972, the year director/writer Perry Henzell's groundbreaking movie was released in Jamaica. Like the film, the 12-track soundtrack was a revelation and helped introduce reggae to an international audience.

Released by Island Records in Britain in February ,1972, The Harder They Come soundtrack contained songs that were released before the movie. These included Many Rivers to Cross, Wonderful World, Beautiful People and You Can Get it if You Really Want by Jimmy Cliff, the film's star; (007) Shantytown by Desmond Dekker, The Melodians' By The Rivers of Babylon, Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy (Toots and The Maytals) and Johnny Too Bad by The Slickers.

Some of the artistes and musicians, including Toots and The Maytals, appear in the film which was partly based around Cliff's character, Ivan, trying to break into Jamaica's corrupt music business.

For many foreigners, the soundtrack was their first taste of real reggae. Many had heard soul-flavoured novelties like Guava Jelly by American singer Johnny Nash, but there was no comparison to the edginess of Pressure Drop or spirituality of By The Rivers of Babylon.

In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, American journalist Stephen Davis remembers seeing the movie for the first time in Cambridge, Massachusetts in early 1973.

"I had been prepped on the movie's importance a month earlier in London when BBC presenter Charlie Gillette gave me the soundtrack LP with the advice that the music and culture represented by The Harder They Come was about to take over the world," Davis recalled.

"I went to an afternoon screening (at the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge) and, astounded by the lurid storyline and brilliant reggae, ended up sitting through three more showings until the theatre closed at midnight," he added. "I remember thinking, 'This is the music and energy I want to be around every day for the rest of my life'."

Born in 1948, Cliff was a star before The Harder They Come, having had solid hits as a teenaged ska artiste. In the late 1960s, he scored with Wonderful World, Beautiful People and You Can Get it if You Really Want which were hits in Britain.

The Harder They Come and the somber Many Rivers to Cross, also from the soundtrack, made him a superstar.

In 2003, The Harder They Come soundtrack was named at number 119 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums. That year, the Universal Music Group re-issued the album with five bonus tracks.

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