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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A truly excellent soundtrack

If you only buy one early 70's Jamaican film soundtrack this year, make sure it's The Harder They Come.

The actual song The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff is one of those tracks that I've been aware of for a long time, without ever focussing on, and so the film and its soundtrack have been, until now, strangers to me.

Actually the film still is unknown to me, but I do intend to fix that at some point. But as ever on Cover My Tracks, it's the music that's of interest.

I was listening to Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour the other day, and the theme was Trains. It was a particularly great Theme Time, apparently proving that music and trains have had a long and glorious relationship and one of the tracks Bob played was Draw Your Breaks by Scotty, and was taken from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. One quick visit to Amazon and it was winging its way to me because not only was it a great track that I felt compelled to own, it was also instantly recognisable to me as one of many, many tracks sampled on the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique.

Over the years I've made a little game out of finding the originals that the B-Boys used on that seminal work of sampling, and I've always liked to do it in an organic way, rather than just look up a list of samples online. Being a rock kid, a lot of the funk, soul and reggae samples were completely unknown to me but as the years have wound on and I've got to know those genres more and more, new recognisable samples keep coming up.

Back to The Harder They Come. I've had a few days to digest it and it truly is a brilliant album. It feels almost glib to talk about its sunny inflections, uplifting rhythms and general ability to make you feel that little bit better, but in a way those things are all true, though I think that's more my general ignorance of reggae that makes me feel that way because afterall this is a movie about a Jamaican crime lord. Incidentally, Jimmy Cliff, the performer of the title track and also You Can Get It If You Really Want, starred in the movie as criminal Rhyging.

Turns out that the album is seen as a breakthrough for reggae in the US, and with such now-classics as Toots & The Maytals' Pressure Drop and The Melodians' Rivers of Babylon adding to the Jimmy Cliff numbers, it's really no wonder that it opened a lot of people's eyes to what Jamaicans and many others had been enjoying for a long time.

So if you want to let a little sunshine into your drab winter days, I'd definitely recommend checking out the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. You can get it (if you really want it) on CD here, just like I did, but if you want it on vinyl (which I also did) you may have to pay £25 to get it from Brisbane, Australia, like I did.

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