Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 18, 2010

The Harder They Come

This has been an entire week of “earnest” posts. I’ve been serious for five straight days, including today. I promise that we’ll have more whimsy next week. Steve, Ward and Ozzie are out there, and I’m getting a sense that Brumfield is about to surface. I thought that the subject of traffic signs, maps and navigation would take only a single entry, but it took up most of the week.  Although it consumed three days, I’m not nearly finished with the subject. However, we’ll take a break and pick it up at another time. Meanwhile, the 2010 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced this week, and one honoree merits our attention.

In 1974 I heard a new kind of music. A film that was making the midnight movie circuit, “The Harder They Come,” hit me — hard. I had never heard music like that. The music was called “reggae,” and a Jamaican singer named Jimmy Cliff was both the star of the film and the singer/songwriter of most of the music. This week, Cliff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I welcome this acknowledgment of a remarkable shift in our musical landscape that still reverberates today. Although I’ll never abandon my devotion to the steady four-beat pulse of rock & roll, Jimmy Cliff and his reggae music introduced an alternative beat, a third-world vibe that not only recognized the worldwide resonance of rock, but also introduced other approaches to how the rhythms of Africa have informed rock, blues and jazz. Those reverberations are even louder today with the emergence of “world music,” and Cliff deserves some of the credit for making it happen.

Rock & Roll built its rep on being the sound of the dispossessed and the rebels, but reggae represented the music from a culture of the chronically outcast from all the world’s succor who, despite their oppression, still could express the joy of existence. It was a transcendent moment in the history of popular music that resonates with us still, more than 35 years later.

The screenplay of “The Harder They Come” was written by Trevor Rhone, who died last September. His obituary is HERE. It’s disappointing that he could not be here to enjoy his role in bringing reggae and African rhythm to the attention of the world at an important point of departure for the popular culture. Let us salute him, along with Jimmy Cliff.

HERE is access to a cut of “The Harder They Come” on iTunes. I just listened to it. It is difficult to convey to an audience that is now familiar with hearing music from Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa and, well, everywhere else in the “non-Western” world how radical this off-beat, lilting shuffle-step music sounded in 1974. It was NEW. Utterly NEW! And yet, it was old. What we in the United States did not know until that moment was that tens of millions of sons and daughters of the African diaspora had been dancing to music like this for generations across the Caribbean, Latin America and South America, as well as throughout Africa, while we were listening to The Hollies (who were inducted into the Hall this year with Cliff).

HERE is the biography of Jimmy Cliff (who is still with us, by the way) from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame site.

Although most of the press for this year’s inductees is going to The Hollies and Abba (here I refrain from editorial comment), I encourage all of us to celebrate the moment at which a bold new strain of music entered our culture. Thanks, Jimmy.

Before Bob Marley, before anyone else introduced the World Music vibe to us, you were there. Let us sing:

“But as sure as the sun will shine,

I’m going to get my share now, what’s mine.

And then the Harder They Come,

The harder they fall, one and all!”

As sure as the sun will shine, indeed!

© 2012 Brad Nixon



  1. It occurs to me that you might want to contact Cliff , get an interview, and write it up for publication (in your spare time . . .). My husband has done this with various old actors, composers, and musicians. It’s nice that some of them are willing, even anxious, to be interviewed.


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