Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jimmy Cliff et al

  • The Harder They Come [Mango, 1973] A

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The Harder They Come [Mango, 1973]
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 it's better, because directory 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