The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: Song #451…The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #451: The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff.

Music genres are nebulous things. They don’t not exist one day and then, because of one song or singer, suddenly a brand new movement with global reach exists the next day. That’s not how it works. Music genres tend to grow over time; starting as a fabric of a nation, a region or a Peoples and then, over time, when enough contribute toward it, it becomes engrained as a cultural tapestry. Such is the case of this post, Mr. Jimmy Cliff and the song, “The Harder They Come”.

Reggae existed in a myriad of forms on the island of Jamaica for many years. It was local, in style and function. Ska, Rock-steady, Dancehall are all just a few of the many variations of Reggae that were enjoyed over the years before Jamaica exported its’ musical heritage to the rest of the world. By the time Bob Marley and the Wailers gained fame on the world stage, it was not because they burst through the door unannounced. They entered the world stage via the door that was open previously by the man who came first…..Mr. Jimmy Cliff. This is his story.

While Jimmy Cliff had been a well-known as a singer on his home island of Jamaica since he was a teenager, it was a movie that brought him and Reggae music international recognition. While in his twenties, Cliff was approached to star in a semi-autobiographical movie about a singer from a small village who comes to the big city to make a name for himself in the music business, only to be confronted with shady characters and criminal enterprises. While filming one particular scene (where his character shoots one of the bad guys) Cliff uttered the line, “The harder they come, the harder they fall“. Once the line was spoken aloud for the first time, Cliff and the producer both thought it would make an excellent title for the movie. With that decision made, Cliff was asked to write a song, with the movie title in it, for the movie’s soundtrack. That soundtrack, for the movie The Harder They Come is generally acknowledged as being the vehicle by which Reggae music was introduced to the world.

Jimmy Cliff is the only living musician in Jamaica to have been awarded the Order of Merit (which is Jamaica’s highest civilian Arts honour. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were the others). Jimmy Cliff still performs today. His last hit song is one that many of you will know and that might surprise you at the same time….”Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King! That was Jimmy Cliff! He is a titan of Jamaican culture and proof of the old saw that says if you love something enough to put your whole heart and soul into it, then, good things will come of it.

The video that you are about to see is an interesting story, too. Once Cliff had written “The Harder They Come” for the movie soundtrack, the director asked him to sing the song in a scene which would become part of the film. Cliff agreed. The video to come is the scene that ended up in the movie. Apparently, Cliff assembled a group of his favourite session players together one evening. They hadn’t played together for awhile and were eager to renew acquaintances. The performance you will see was shot, all in one take. They played for twenty minutes and then, handed it off to the director who edited down to a more manageable level and incorporated in other segments of the film thus making one of the first music videos ever made anywhere in the world. For me, this video is a peek into another culture. The band is tight and the song is smokin’. All in all, a wonderful and important cultural performance is captured, packaged and, subsequently, presented as a gift to the world. Enjoy! This is “The Harder They Come” by Mr. Jimmy Cliff.

The link for the music video for “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link for “Hakuna Matata” also by Jimmy Cliff can be found here.

There is a website for Jimmy Cliff that can be reached by clicking here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting music that has a global reach. There truly is good music everywhere. one just has to take the time to look. A link to their great website can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2021

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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