cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
Album Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

"It remains the single greatest reggae mixtape ever made." - (Rolling Stone - #3 in the 25 Greatest Soundtracks Ever) . . . " I just sang along with the band and improvised the lyrics. I didn't have them all together or fixed in my head . . . I wasn't one of those writers who jotted down lines on paper." - (Jimmy Cliff)

This is album retro-review number 107 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

There have been so many wonderful, and some utterly fantastic, reggae albums. However I do not hesitate to say that this album I have pulled from my Crate, utterly deserves to be considered as a Cream of Reggae, possibly one of the best reggae albums ever made, so much so I will comment on both the vinyl and CD versions.

Jimmy Cliff’s album The Harder They Come was released as a gatefold vinyl album in July 1972 on the Island  Mango label – MLPS 9202-A.

 

cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
LP Label

 

I love my vinyl copy but I thought I’d invest in a new copy and discovered that Island records as part of their 50th Anniversary, re-released the original soundtrack on Cd with the original artwork and its code is LC 00407.

cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
CD Label

 

Now the album, although credited to Jimmy Cliff, is in fact a compilation album of 12 tracks and it features Jimmy Cliff and five other artists. Jimmy Cliff features on six of the tracks because he had the starring role in the film by the same name, from which this soundtrack was lifted.

Here is the track listing with the different contributing artists.

Track Listing
1. You Can Get It If You Really Want — Jimmy Cliff
2. Draw Your Breaks — Scotty
3. Rivers of Babylon — The Melodians
4. Many Rivers To Cross — Jimmy Cliff
5. Sweet and Dandy — The Maytals
6. The Harder They Come — Jimmy Cliff
7. Johnny Too Bad — The Slickers
8. 007 (Shanty Town) — Desmond Dekker
9. Pressure Drop — The Maytals
10. Sitting in Limbo — Jimmy Cliff
11. You Can Get It If You Really Want — Jimmy Cliff
12. The Harder They Come — Jimmy Cliff

 

cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
Rear LP Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The original vinyl LP has a very good insert, and that has been faithfully reproduced in the special commemorative Cd.

This means we have a two-edged sword in our hands. We have a faithful reproduction of at original insert and that’s great. However, while back in its day the insert was considered as excellent, in today’s world it could have been improved upon.

It also has a collage plate, and the lyrics to each track, and a decent synopsis of the story of the film, which does provide a good context for the choice of tracks. It also lists all the credits including the song titles, artists and producers.

CD Booklet plate

 

Keeping to my usual scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate it in terms of quality of print at 9/10, for information at 7.5/10. Now as we look retrospectively at some of these artists a better array of pictures and a small bio on each would make it complete.

Staying with the the CD version for another moment, there is a nice touch of the Cd producers putting a colour plate under the clear plastic Cd insert, rather than just the blank white page.

Insert plate

 

Yet it is hard to ho past the gatefold vinyl cover, which is easier to read than the CD booklet, and somehow, is just more satisfying to hold.

cream of the crate: album review #107 – jimmy cliff (and others): the harder they come
The vinyl gatefold – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

I found a very good synopsis of the film on the Fandango web site, so I have reproduced that for you here.

Ivanhoe Martin (Jimmy Cliff) arrives in Kingston, Jamaica, looking for work and, after some initial struggles, lands a recording contract as a reggae singer. He records his first song, “The Harder They Come,” but after a bitter dispute with a manipulative producer named Hilton (Bob Charlton), soon finds himself resorting to petty crime in order to pay the bills. He deals marijuana, kills some abusive cops and earns local folk hero status. 

Reggae star Jimmy Cliff is the principal reason that The Harder They Come was one of the first truly successful films to come out of Jamaica.

The Harder They Come utilizes a take-no-prisoners approach to its material and presents an unadorned view of the seamier side of Jamaica life. The film resulted in an incredible upsurge in the popularity of reggae music in America; among the highlights in its hit-after-hit score are “You Can Really Get It If You Want,” “Sitting in Limbo,” “Johnny Too Bad,” and the title song.”

The artists performing for the film, and thus providing the tracks for this Cd, are probably, with the exception of Bob Marley, among the best and most well known of the reggae artists of the time, with Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and the Maytals certainly becoming big stars in the reggae music world.

Choosing four tracks to feature provides the usual almost impossible task of choosing, because in all honesty, while there are certain tracks which really stand out, there are no dud tracks on this album!

In fact even choosing what tracks top feature by Jimmy Cliff is difficult because the four he presents to us are utter rippers.

Incidentally, there are two versions of You Can Get It If You Really Want, and, The Harder They Come on the Cd.

The second version of You Can Get It has some vocals but is basically an instrumental, it actually makes for a great karaoke track. The two versions of The Harder They Come, are just that, two different versions and both are very strong!

Track number 1 is You Can Get It If You Really Want, featuring the star of the film, Jimmy Cliff. Also produced by Cliff it is a memorable track for both the catchy lyrics and great reggae beat.

As a composition it is very inspirational, that no matter what forces are aligned against you, if you have a dream, if you have a goal and you are prepared to stand up and keep working toward that dream or goal – you will indeed succeed.

The track was actually first recorded by Desmond Dekker two years earlier in 1970, and that version is very good and actually reached number 2 in the UK charts.

Jimmy Cliff

 

Jimmy Cliff, born James Chambers on April 1, 1948, in St. James, Jamaica and began making music as a kid. In his adolescent years he began releasing singles and finding fame in Jamaica.

In what might be considered as art imitating life, he was a natural choice to fill the role of a troubled musician in the film, The Harder They Come.

As a result of the films success, he burst onto the international music scene, where he remained for years to follow. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2010.

You Can Get It If You Really Want

 

Onto track number three by The Melodians.

The title is Rivers of Babylon and it should come as no surprise that the lyrics and premise come directly from the Bible, specifically the Old Testament book of Psalms, both Psalm 19 and 137.

Psalm 19 gives the line “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Now to explain some of the action. The Babylonians come and invade and conquer, carrying away Israelite’s in captivity. Apparently the captors mocked the captives, jeering at them to sing one of their songs.

Perhaps they were daring them to pray to the Hebrew God? Perhaps testing this deity to see if He was all that high and mighty or were they just using the prisoners for some cheap entertainment?

The motives of many bit players of scripture are cloaked in such mystery.

One thing is for dead certain, it’s an excellent reggae track and sure comes with some powerful messages.

The Melodians

 

The Melodians were formed in 1963 in Jamaica, and played an early form of reggae called rocksteady.

Rivers of Babylon was their biggest hit and became an anthem for the Rastafarian movement.

Rivers of Babylon

 

Track number seven is Johnny Too Bad by The Slickers.

Now The Slickers were a Jamaican group formed by Derrick Crooks, a one-time member of The Pioneers. Although well known for the song Johnny Too Bad the history of The Slickers is somewhat obscure.

The first release credited to The Slickers, Nana, may not even be the same Slickers, but rather the Pioneers recording as Johnny Melody & The Slickers.

Even the writers and performers on Johnny Too Bad aren’t entirely known, with some sources crediting Delroy Wilson and others crediting his brother Trevor, and some sources crediting Roy rather than Hylton Beckford.

The Slickers

 

Wikipedia avoids any mention of the composers!

The group, according to the liner notes, consisted of Trevor Wilson, Winston Bailey, Hylton Beckford and Derrick Crooks. Although originally formed with Derrick’s brother Sydney in the mid 1960’s, the lineup had several changes with only Derrick as the constant member.

Whatever, it is a really well produced track, and why not with reggae legend Byron Lee producing, it was bound to be a classy recording.

The track tells the story of life on the streets of the shanty towns, and it IS a warning!

Walking down the road
With an old blade in your hand,
Johnny too bad, that’s what they say

Walking down the road
With a blade in your waist,
Johnny too bad, Johnny too bad

Don’t you play come faking,
You’re looking and mistaking,
Too bad

You’re hurrying and you’re shooting,
You’re losing, told you,
You’re too bad

As the liner notes point out, The Slickers should know, “When the lawyer was getting copyright clearance on that tune, one of the writers was underground (presumably hiding for his life). The other was in death row.”

I love the description used in those same liner notes, “Crime runs through the life of shanty towns like the incessant rhythm of the sound systems feeding on the ganja herbs that flourish on the banks of Babylon.”

Johnny Too Bad

 

So now I’m faced with the choice of Desmond Dekker singing 007 (Shanty Town), Pressure Drop with The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff with the utterly beautiful Sitting in Limbo, or Jimmy again, with The Harder They Come?

The Harder They Come is, in my opinion, the premier track in the film and thus the album.

So I should spend some time with it and share the track with anyone not initiated into this very fine piece of reggae.

In later years Jimmy spoke of the writing of this hit track, in an interview conducted for the Wall Street Journal in 2013, he said,” The lyrics came from my past. I grew up in the church and had always questioned what they were telling me. Like the promise of a pie in the sky when you die.

The second verse about oppressors trying to keep me down kind of reflected my own life—coming out of the ghetto in Jamaica and fighting the system. I wanted the song to have a church feel and to reflect the environment I grew up in—the underdog fighting all kinds of trickery.

Cliff posing for the film



He also went onto say, “The song for me was about social and artistic change. When I lived in the U.K., I recorded a lot of ska and rock-steady styles of Jamaican music. But people there weren’t accepting it.

So I began using a faster reggae beat. On the record, the song ends with those odd organ chords. That was Winston. He was a brilliant keyboard player. It was his decision to do that. He was good at adding those strange things you weren’t expecting.

When we finished, we all said, “Brilliant, wow, great!” What you see on my face in the movie was genuine. I felt good. We all felt good. We knew the song was Special.” [Wall Street Journal]

The track is a cry to stay alive in fantasyland, and although everybody wants it, maybe nobody wants it so badly as a Jamaican, and surely nobody expresses the need better in any other song.

And it is special! It is in my mind probably one of the top ten all time reggae tracks of all time.

The lyrics are powerful, the delivery is superb and the music just flows like mercury. This is a top track!

Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you’re born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now, what’s mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they fall, one and all
Ooh, the harder they come
The harder they fall, one and all

Well, the oppressors are trying to keep me down
Trying to drive me underground
And they think that they have got the battle won
I say forgive them Lord, they know not what they’ve done

‘Cause, as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now, what’s mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they fall, one and all
Ooh, the harder they come
Harder they fall, one and all

And I keep on fighting for the things I want
Though I know that when you’re dead you can’t
But I’d rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave

So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now, what’s mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they fall, one and all
Ooh, the harder they come
Harder they fall, one and all
Hey, the harder they come
Harder they fall, one and all
What I say now
What I Say now

What I say now
What I say, one time
The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all
The harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all

The Harder They Come

 

So that brings me to a conclusion.

Do I recommend the purchase of this album? “Oh yes”, is the answer, and, if you search around a little you can even find a DVD of the film, and that is worth watching.

The album isn’t just an album of reggae, with its roots in rocksteady and ska, the tracks ooze the roots of reggae and so provide us with a wide pallet of style within this one genre.

Yes it heavily, and appropriately, features Jimmy Cliff but the artists that support him on this album are indeed there, not because they are support acts but because they are quality reggae artists in their own right.

This Cd should be on your shelf, or, the LP in your crate!


VIDEOS:

Much to my surprise there wasn’t very much in the way of live performances by these artists of the tracks from the album. Even more amazing, there were very few clips from the film featuring the tracks!

 

Toots and the Maytals: Pressure Drop 

 

Desmond Dekker – Shanty Town

 

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [From the film]

 


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All