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The Harder They Come
Jimmy Cliff

Mango 9202
Released: 1972
Chart Peak: #140
Weeks Charted: 8

Jimmy CliffReggae is one form of Jamaican music that is gaining attention around the pop music world. This soundtrack LP is a good collage of reggae done authentically. The tunes show the smooth flow of the percussion instruments and the excitement inherent in the voices, individually and collectively. Shades of calypso and Belafonte. This is modern Jamaica, and Cliff is assisted by several local groups like the Melodians, Maytals, Slickers and Desmond Dekker himself, the top reggae name. Best cuts: "You Can Get It If You Really Want," "Rivers Of Babylon," "The Harder They Come," "Shanty Town," "Pressure Drop."

- Billboard, 1975.

Bonus Reviews!

The soundtrack to the greatest rock and roll movie this side of The TAMI Show is the greatest rock and roll compilation this side of 18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits. Only its better, because director Perry Henzell had five years of reggae to choose from, with no real label restrictions. Reggae isn't straight rock and roll, of course -- its syncopation was a response to the rock that replaced shuffle r&b on U.S. radio in the early '60s. But the interplay of amped-up bass, heartbeat drums, and scratch guitar is as good a rhythm as anyone else's out right now, and though there are only two million Jamaicans, at least 50,000 of them want to be reggae stars. Among the eight who make it here are movie hero Jimmy Cliff (defiant, plaintive, inspirational) and prime minister of soul Toots Hibbert (exuberant, pressured, amused), but wonderful minor artists like the Slickers (whose "Johnny Too Bad" is a rough draft of the movie) and Scotty (whose song is a chant) are just as representative of this thriving, disorganized scene. Docked a notch for repeating two Cliff songs. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

One of America's introductions to the reggae music of Jamaica was an early seventies cult movie starring Jimmy Cliff, The Harder They Come. This rough film told the rags-to-riches story of a Jamaican youth who finds fame and success through the island's music. This soundtrack recording features the triumphant sounds that rose from that ghetto -- music of joy, despair, hope, and anguish, both heartfelt and mesmerizing. Half the selections have become Cliff's classics: "You Can Get It if You Really Want It," "Many Rivers to Cross," and "Sitting in Limbo." The title track and the remainder by Desmond Dekker and the Maytals, among others, are equal to or better than the well-known Cliff compositions. While the sound is obviously compressed, it is such an improvement over the LP it borders on revelation. This CD delivers classic reggae, both historically and musically, and it sounds substantially better than ever. A+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Jimmy Cliff starred in this gritty film about street life in Kingston, Jamaica. The album is a brilliant compilation of early reggae music, and Cliff's own songs. "You Can Get It If You Really Want It," "Many Rivers to Cross," "The Harder They Come," and "Sitting in Limbo," are among the best of a very good lot. * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Cliff has written many wonderful songs, but the music on the soundtrack to The Harder They Come ripples with the film's urgency. The title cut is a wail of rebellion that speaks for the downtrodden anywhere. But it's in searching ballads such as "Many Rivers To Cross" that fit Cliff's voice and songwriting talents best in years to come. * * * * *

- Lawrence Gabriel, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The Harder They Come was Jamaica's first home produced feature film so it was only natural that singer-songwriter Jimmy Cliff, who had acted a little before, would be its star. Cliff had been the first reggae man with international hits and sought-after songs -- "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" went global, Dylan raved about "Vietnam" and Cat Stevens (and later UB40) recorded successful Cliff covers. Director Henzell's ragga-to-riches tale had Cliff playing a country lad -- a would-be singer -- who gets shot after becoming a Robin Hood rude boy figure. The soundtrack contained artists like Desmond Dekker and Toots Maytals, but it was J.C.'s six self-penned tracks that were the backbone, they also integrated smoothly behind the celluloid action. These numbers are among the very best Cliff, or any other reggae act, has ever recorded. The shook-up theme tune was urgently exuberant; the aspirational "You Can Get It If You Really Want It" was similarly dynamic. In "Many Rivers To Cross," a gospel-style piece, the singer's more poetic side was revealed and the magically spaced-out "Sitting In Limbo." Cliff's character, like several of the album's musicians, soon ended up dead but decades later, both Cliff and The Harder They Come are still sounding good.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

This vital compilation introduced most Americans to reggae music, and for that alone it deserves our lofty ranking of the '70s' fourth greatest soundtrack. But Harder's relevance isn't merely historical. Nearly 30 years after its release, the soundtrack remains one of the few non-Bob Marley albums to make it into the collections of casual reggae fans. And it's no mystery why: these 12 tracks -- featuring Jimmy Cliff's spiritual and sweet "Many Rivers to Cross," the rude-boy menace of his title track, and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" -- are as heartfelt and urgent (in their own gentle, loping way) as anything coming out of the States at the time.

-Entertainment Weekly, 2001.

It's hard to imagine a finer multi-artist reggae collection than this deep soundtrack to the outstanding movie starring Cliff and featuring his music, including the pure bliss of the title track. The album tells the great story of Jamaican rude boy culture and the struggle to escape from poverty with an uplifting spirit that's soulful and real. Still fresh after thirty years despite its primitive production, it hooked the mainstream on the genre. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

The movie was a spicy Jamaican stew of Robin Hood, High Sierra and Easy Rider -- reggae singer turns outlaw hero, goes on the run with guns blazing -- with patois dialogue so thick that U.S. audiences needed subtitles. But the magic in the soundtrack needed no translation.

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The four tracks by the film's star, Jimmy Cliff, are paragons of Jamaican sunshine soul -- his spiritual ballad "Many Rivers to Cross" is one of the finest songs to come from the island -- while the rest of the LP introduced Babylon to the deep roots and mighty voices of the Melodians, the Slickers and the unstoppable Toots and the Maytals.

The Harder They Come was chosen as the 119th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Jimmy Cliff was already established as a singer and songwriter in Jamaica when filmmaker Perry Henzell heard his 1969 hymn to perseverance, "Many Rivers to Cross." Sensing that Cliff's song was the perfect anthem for his tale about the class and socioeconomic struggles of a rural roustabout in the city of Kingston, Henzell invited him to contribute other songs that advanced the narrative, and soon after cast Cliff as the film's leading man. The movie and its stirring soundtrack gave much of the world its first taste of reggae music, and it made Cliff an international star and the first reggae crossover artist.

Cliff's songs prove ideal for export: They're built on the effortless push-pull of reggae rhythm, while embracing the upbeat exuberance of American soul music (especially "You Can Get It if You Really Want It," which echoes the vocal intensity of early Stax-Volt). Other compositions hint at Southern gospel: "Many Rivers" and "Sitting in Limbo" are solemn, hymnlike expressions of faith. And though the lyrics are simple, they are powerfully inspirational. Several of the songs have culture-specific meanings: Though "Many Rivers" sounds like a plainspoken sermon of persistence, it was heard in Jamaica as a rallying cry of rude-boy culture, a bold street kid talking openly about grabbing what he could.

The soundtrack includes other shining early-reggae moments: The frenetic "Pressure Drop," which was the first Toots and the Maytals hit; the Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon"; the Desmond Dekker hit "007 (Shanty Town)." Disc 2 of the 2003 Deluxe Edition collects other notable reggae crossover attempts from the fertile moment, roughly from 1968-1972, before Bob Marley exploded on the scene. Among these are Cliff's disillusioned war cry "Viet Nam," the Johnny Nash classic "I Can See Clearly Now," and the Maytals' "54-46 (That's My Number)."

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

The ultimate early-reggae primer, and a near-perfect sonic postcard from 1970s Jamaica.

The Harder They Come was chosen as the 73rd greatest album of all time by the editors of Entertainment Weekly in July 2013.

- Entertainment Weekly, 7/5/13.

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