Saturday, July 7, 2012

40 Year Itch : Johnny You're Too Bad.

The Harder They Come, both the low budget film and the hit filled soundtrack, brought reggae to the world. Both featured Jimmy Cliff, a songwriter whose performance in the 1969 song "Many Rivers To Cross" inspired director Perry Henzell to cast him as Ivan, a country boy turned Kingston criminal. (Since then "Many Rivers To Cross" has been covered by artists as diverse as Harry Nilsson, UB40 and even Cher whose version crept into the UK Top 40 in 1993). The movie was a hit and Jimmy Cliff  became a worldwide star.

Check out the record next to Jack's turntable

 "It changed my life dramatically. Because I'm the kind of person who likes to hang out and observe what's going on in the streets, or in certain places. I used to do that a lot. But having to become an international superstar, I can't do that comfortably! But it's all positive, you know."

 The soundtrack, released in the UK on July 7, 1972,  featured Cliff but its producers went back several years to fill it with some of the best reggae, ska and rock steady music. For myself and a lot of people, The Harder They Come and a Bob Marley and the Wailers album ( for me it was a found cassette of Rastaman Vibration) were all the introduction we needed to fall in love with reggae music.

 There are two selections from (Toots and) The Maytals circa 1969: "Pressure Drop", listed as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine and "Sweet And Dandy".


 Desmond Dekker's "007 ( Shanty Town)" was a Top 15 hit in the UK in 1967 and a rude boy anthem.
DJ Scotty rapping over Keith and Tex's "Stop That Train" is another memorable song. The Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad" is essentially the plot of the movie wrapped up in a three minute song. Until NWA came along it might have been the baddest gansta song around.

This album provided me with some much needed tropical heat on some very cold winter days when I felt lost in Reno Nevada after high school. The song "You Can Get It If You Really Want" had a message I really needed to hear. I studied at the University of Nevada, got back on track and accepted by Tulane. I play this one for the kids in the car, hoping its optimistic message sinks in with them.


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