Jimmy Cliff’s led The Harder They Come soundtrack has been added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, an achievement for the album as it becomes only the second reggae album to have been recognized by the prestigious organization that recognizes impactful works of art.
In 2007, Burnin, the sixth studio album by the iconic reggae band, The Wailers, was awarded that distinction.
According to the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, the album The Harder They Come, which was also the name of the title song of the movie- has been selected to be a part of 25 recordings that will be preserved for all times in acknowledgment of their cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation’s recorded sound heritage.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said.
“We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture,” Hayden said.
In terms of importance, the Library of Congress is the highest and most prestigious awards like the Billboard and Grammys fall under in terms of artistic recognition.
The Library of Congress also recognized the work of reggae’s living legend Jimmy Cliff. “In the case of reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, who starred in the first Jamaican-produced feature film, The Harder They Come in 1972, the movie soundtrack featuring six songs recorded by Cliff has been credited with taking reggae worldwide while also presenting other reggae stars to a global audience,” a press release from Hayden stated.
A humbled Jimmy Cliff, however, sees the recognition as a win for Jamaica and an inspiration for the music industry to create greater music going forward. “I think that’s a cool honour for the Jamaican music industry and myself, seeing that I have a number of songs on it. It’s encouraging for us artistes, producers and musicians to create even greater music; as for myself, it is my intention to do just that,” he told the Jamaica Gleaner.
The Harder They Come soundtrack
The Harder They Come features soundtracks from Jimmy Cliff who recorded six songs, Grammy winner Toots and the Maytals with two songs- “Pressure Drop” and “Sweet and Dandy”; Desmond Dekker with “Shanty Town,” and The Melodians who recorded “Rivers of Babylon,” The Slickers for “Johnny Too Bad” and Scotty with “Draw Your Brakes.”
The iconic songs dispersed throughout the movie tell the tale of the young Ivan, played by reggae artiste Jimmy Cliff, who was the protagonist as he moves from the countryside to the City in search of his dreams. Being innocent and unexposed, he soon learns how harsh the world can be as he dreams of becoming a singer. In spite of knowing he is talented capable, his abilities are exploited for little money by the half-white producers who are the gatekeepers of the music industry during this era. It was only after he resorted to a life of crime in an effort to figure out who he is- his music hit the airwaves and soon becomes the hottest sound on the airwaves. Being on a high from the attention and success of his music, which sadly only became successful due to his criminal notoriety, Ivan becomes an outlaw- taking on the persona of a cowboy as seen in the popular movies of the time, and before long, he too like the cowboys have a certain outcome as law enforcement close in on him.
The film was directed by Perry Henzell and co-written by Trevor D. Rhone. It is said the story of the film is loosely based on the true story of Rhygin, an outlaw hero who was popular among the poor inner cities in the 1950s. The film, the first of its kind, features all Jamaican voices in the mother tongue of the land- Patios- an authentic representation of Jamaican-ness in films rarely seen nowadays.
Henzell’s daughter, Justine Henzell, who is the owner of Jakes in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, shared the news of the latest achievement of the film, even as her father has passed on. “We are thrilled that ahead of the 50th anniversary of the film, next year, the Library of Congress has honoured the iconic soundtrack that has helped established reggae music even further globally. And to think that this is only the second reggae album inducted after Burnin’ by the Wailers,” she said in a Gleaner interview.
She noted that by preserving the title, the Library of Congress ensures that 100 years from now, the album will be available in whatever format is being used in the future.
The Film The Harder They Come
The film was the first of its kind and became a local sensation on the island due to its natural and authentic portrayal of Jamaicans or rather afro-descended Jamaicans in areas across the island. According to Perry Henzell, at the time of the film’s release- “lack people seeing themselves on the screen for the first time created an unbelievable audience reaction.”
The film was released in February 1973 in New York City by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures to little attention. However, it became more popular when it was played to midnight audiences nationwide the following April. The popularity of the movie was limited outside of Jamaica and the Caribbean because the local Patois spoken by the characters was so thick that it required subtitles, something rather strange since Patois is still regarded as an English Language variant.
The Library of Congress says around the time of the film’s release, the soundtrack made its way to American audiences. Among Cliff’s six songs on the album are the title track and the seminal, Many Rivers to Cross, which has since been covered by myriad artistes, including Cher, John Lennon, UB40, Annie Lennox, and Percy Sledge.
Harden noted that although only the title track was recorded specifically for the movie’s soundtrack, “the album collected numerous reggae stars and presented essential works in the genre to a new global audience. This exemplar of the diverse sounds of reggae in the 1960s and ’70s has enjoyed enormous critical praise and continued popularity in the US. The album has appeared on every version of Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time,” a release added.
The Harder They Come soundtrack was released in 1972 in the United Kingdom on Island Records and issued in February 1973 in North America as Mango Records. It peaked at No. 140 on the Billboard 200. A year after the film was released, it was declared the “Rock Film of the Year” by Rolling Stone in 1973.
The movie was so popular that in 1980, it became a book written by Jamaican-American author Michael Thelwell under the same title. Fifty years later on, the movie and book still form a major part of academic discourses uncovered by the film, such as poverty and crime, race and class relations, and other social sciences topics at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and other academic institutions abroad.
Meanwhile, under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Recording Preservation Board, selects 25 titles each year that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are at least ten years old. Recordings by Janet Jackson, Kool & the Gang, Patti Labelle, Nas, Marlo Thomas, Louis Armstrong, Ira Glass, and Kermit the Frog are among the 25 titles which have been selected.