[Today: Reggae’s essential primer…]
“Every day hundreds of kids flock into the slums of Kingston from the hillsides of Jamaica – drawn by the promise of the transistor – sure that they can get it if they really want.” As the liner notes for the soundtrack to the movie The Harder They Come made abundantly clear, the character of Ivan Martin was a nearly non-fictional portrait of a young man looking for his break in the music business – his only chance at redemption and escape from the ghettos and shanty towns that are so vividly depticted in the film.
Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan in the film, and gets top billing on the soundtrack, but it’s an ensemble effort that features many talented performers, including The Melodians, Toots & The Maytals, and Desmond Dekker. Cliff’s three songs are spiritual in nature, and cast his efforts towards musical stardom as something of a holy quest. But the most important tracks on the album are The Slickers’ ‘Johnny Too Bad’ and Scotty’s ‘Draw Your Brakes’, which take on the twin cultures of violence and grief that are at the heart of the Jamaican ghetto, and the center of the movie.
Released in 1972, The Harder They Come was the first introduction to reggae music for many people outside the island of Jamaica. The soundtrack gathers legendary performances that not only enhance the action of the film, but on their own play out as one of the great reggae albums of all-time. Whether or not you’re familiar with the movie, this is an impeccable collection that remains the best possible introduction to the genre.
Listen: The Harder They Come