Like many people who went to college in Boston during the 1970s, I visited the Orson Welles in Cambridge one midnight to see “The Harder They Come,” the Jimmy Cliff movie that introduced us all to reggae. Oh, sure, Eric Clapton had had a huge hit with “I Shot the Sheriff” and Johnny Nash with “I Can See Clearly Now.” But this was the real thing.
The movie, released in 1972, stars Jimmy Cliff as an outlaw who tries to elude the police while a record that he made on a whim moves up the charts. Cliff is the focus of the soundtrack album as well as the movie, singing the title track and classics like “Many Rivers to Cross” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” But my favorite tracks are by Toots and the Maytals, who burn it up with “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop.” Another favorite: “Johnny Too Bad,” by the Slickers.
Among other things, “The Harder They Come” is one of the greatest summer albums ever, along with Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” and the Beach Boys’ “Endless Summer.” What’s odd, in retrospect, is that there’s nothing here by the Wailers, even though Bob Marley, one of the Wailers’ three front men, would soon emerge as reggae’s biggest star.
Unfortunately, I don’t think you can see “The Harder They Come” these days — but you can listen to it. Perfect for a socially distanced backyard summer cookout. And check out that album cover!