Review: Charlie Gillett, Let It Rock Oct 1972
How to get into reggae in two easy stages. First you go to see the film The Harder They Come, which will engross you with its story, delight you with its comedy scenes, and confuse you with sketches of incomprehensible dialogue; at various times you will be aware of songs going on in the background, some of which will be familiar because they were hits on British radio — You Can Get It If You Really Want It and Shanty Town. Second, you get this soundtrack LP and take it home.
The first surprise is that You Can Get It…, which was a hit for Desmond Dekker, is done here by Jimmy Cliff, who wrote it. The second is that two songs, which come into the film twice, also come on the record twice, so what looked like a 12-track LP is really only a 10-song Lp. Ask for a refund of 35 pence and then sit back and enjoy the record.
Jimmy Cliff has four songs (not counting repetitions), and they are all outstanding: two catchy uptempo songs (You Can Get It and the films title song) and two ballads, Many Rivers To Cross and Sitting in Limbo, which have both been on previous Jimmy Cliff LPs. Rivers is a beautiful mood piece which sounds as if it was made in Muscle Shoals. Limbo is similar, and actually was recorded in Muscle Shoals; it sounds even better after youve seen Jimmy sitting on an island, waiting to be rescued (or killed), with the song on the soundtrack.
In contrast to Jimmys songs, which have clear lyrics and light rhythms, most of the other tracks are more typical of the reggae that narrow-minded rock fans close their ears to. But theyve been carefully selected to fit the narrative of the film, so Johnny Too Bad by the Slickers and Shanty Town (007) by Desmond Dekker describe the characters who menace Godfearin folk with their lootin and shootin; and the pushing rhythm is just right for the message in the words. Earlier, Draw Your Brakes by Scotty and Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians have a less direct reference to the films action: Scotty sings in a peculiar off-hand, half-talking voice, over a steady dance rhythm, establishing the characteristic Jamaican cool. The Melodians tell some kind of religious fable, whose meaning escapes me; but the tunes lovely.
And thats it, except for two songs by the Maytals. They are Number One vocal group for discerning reggae fans, but it has taken uncountable plays of this LP for them to get across to me. Still, it has worked, and now I do like their casual delivery and repetitive finishes, especially Sweet and Dandy. The other song, Pressure Drop, makes most sense in a discotheque, although it sets a perfect situation for the next track on the LP, Sitting in Limbo.
If the cultivated reggae of Johnny Nash has whetted your appetite for some of the real thing, heres a very good place to start.