I first saw Perry Henzell’s film “The Harder They Come” in a rammed Birmingham cinema. It was loud, proud, colourful, smoky and so was the movie. Any technical flaws in this low budget film are more than off-set by the energy and imagination shown in telling the story of Ivan (Jimmy Cliff), a Trenchtown rude boy who sees his only options for escape to be music or crime. Jamaican and Caribbean culture was making its contribution to British cities in the 1970s but West Indians were almost invisible in the mass media. This vibrant, compelling film put Jamaica on the big screen and got it right first time. It also had one of the great soundtrack albums. There was a lot of good music from Jamaica and they picked some good ones.
“Sweet and Dandy” by the Maytals was the winner of the 1969 Jamaican popular song festival. Through the 60s they were one of the vocal groups who transposed the gospel-soul of the Impressions into gospel-ska. They were bang on the progression to reggae and were the biggest group in Jamaica. This song is so upfull, dance along, sing along, just feel it. I love it.
The Maytals became Toots and the Maytals. Toots Hibbert is a natural showman and a deal with a major label meant plans for him to be the next reggae superstar after Bob Marley. “54-46 That’s My Number” was written about some time he served in prison and has been a highlight of his live shows for just ever. Here, on a 1975 USA tour, the band funk around while Toots is a ball of energy and power. Toots never sold shed-loads of records. The music seemed to be made for an international market when cutting edge reggae made in Jamaica was the way to go. No matter, “Funky Kingston” and “Reggae Got Soul” are still pretty good records. Toots had enough good songs in his back catalogue to ensure a great show.
From that run of 60s tunes I have chosen the sincere, soulful ska of “True Love” because, now that I am old, I find this straightforward tune to be so affecting and effective. When I worked on the construction sites Toots and the Maytals’ “Greatest Hits” was a surefire winner with everybody, every time. “Pressure Drop”, “Monkey Man”, even the John Denver cover “Country Roads” all sung with that warm,raspy, passionate vocal lift a person’s spirit in a life-affirming way…that’s a good thing, yeah ?