Back in the early ’60’s jazz was my music of choice and had been for near twenty years but as that decade progressed I found myself ignoring jazz which was becoming stilted and repetitive in favor of the newly emerging ‘pop’. There was so much creativity in so many of the new pop groups that I wound up becoming seriously addicted and spending a lot of time in the various LA clubs that featured all the top groups; it was a brand new music compared to the rock’n roll of the earlier Bill Haley era. That pattern continued ’til the early ’70’s. Throughout that period I was a grad student at the UCLA film school and consequently I was regularly seeing just about every foreign film that was released, French, German, Swedish, Italian, English, Spanish, the lot! Until one day my local Art theater advertised that the following week there’d be a Jamaican film, hell, I didn’t even know that they made films in Jamaica but of course I went to see it.
It was ‘The Harder they Come’, a film by Perry Henzel and featuring Jimmy Cliff; I absolutely loved it, I thought it was the best film in recent history! And on top of all that it had a fabulous musical soundtrack, something new to my ears, Reggae!
I became an instant obsessive, not just of the music but the whole culture. I found LA’s Jamaican community and started buying my records in their shops and eating in their restaurants and I also started visiting Jamaica, in short, I was hooked!
And then six months later the Wailers released their first album, ‘Catch a Fire’, that did it, my days of listening to jazz and pop were basically over, or at least substantially reduced, from here on and for the next twenty odd years my life changed, I became a total obsessive regarding all aspects of Jamaican culture, frequently visiting there, photographing and writing about every aspect of it, the music, the art, the literature, the language, the history, everything! The majority of the creative people that I met were either full on Rasta’s or were very sympathetic, Bob had made Rasta acceptable and apart from the religious component I found myself very much in agreement with their philosophy, several of my Jamaican friends used to call me Tony, [Toe-en-ee] Him a baldhead rasta!
So 1972 was a very dramatic fork in the road for me and this week I have two youtube musical choices, the first is from the film The Harder they Come, it’s ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ by the Melodians and the second is the Wailers, the original Wailers, Bob, Peter, Bunny, the Barrett Bros and Wya, all assembled in the BBC studio to record a clip for ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’, the song is from their then new album Catch a Fire, it’s Concrete Jungle. A classic piece of film, look how young Familyman is, I saw him last year, he looks like me now.
In later years I was to meet and spend time with both Perry Henzel and the Wailers in Kingston, some years ago I wrote a piece here about my relationship with Basil Keane who played the roll of Preacher-man in the film, very interesting times and this music’s bringing it all back home. Such happy and interesting days.
If anyone hasn’t seen the film I noticed that youtube has it, it’s well worth a look and Spotify has both the soundtrack album for ‘The Harder they Come’ plus the Wailer’s album ‘Catch a Fire’, also both worth a listen.

13 thoughts on “1972 – A YEAR OF CHANGE.

  1. The Harder They Come a great film and the soundtrack album is a classic, full of brilliant music.

    I rewmember this Wailers clip from when it was originally shown on the OGWT. I bought the album shortly afterwards. For me, the first three Wailers studio albums for Island, plus the one they recorded at the Lyceum were their best stuff, afterwards they seemed to go too far down the crossover route.

  2. Hadn’t seen that Concrete Jungle clip before so thanks for that. Bob got a bit too stoned to get it right, but the clip really does illustrate a couple of ideas about reggae that get missed: 1) Musically, any Marley and James Brown comparisons are spot on, and 2) When reggae gets popularized on and off, it’s for its beats – or riddims as you kids call them – and style, but reggae music is always first about its [well-intentioned; half-crazed] ideals. There’s an amusing corollary for me here with modern Catholicism; people want life to be a ‘ pick any 3 toppings’ thing, and it doesn’t work that way.

    I did a thing on all this about Tarrus Riley: https://tincanland.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/tarrusrileyja-910-for-so-tunefully-daring-to-ask-you-if-youre-larger-than-life/

  3. I was lucky in that my brother had been a (rubbish) “skinhead” and therefore we had reggae records around from about 1969.
    Later , when I was old enough to start going to gigs on my own, reggae became really important on the punk scene in London.
    I think it’s because it was “rebel” music too and being as there weren’t enough “punk” records to play the DJs ( especially Don Letts) would play reggae while waiting for the bands.

    I seem to recall that Marley wasn’t greatly regarded at the time ( among the punks) being seen as a bit too commercialised.
    It;s great music. I still play my old stuff regularly ( popped Tappa Zukie on only this morning).
    Not keen on the post 80s stuff so much. A sign of old age probably.

    • I still marvel at some of the percussion in Exodus. And the way they worked in the horns and just enough guitar….. yum. To this day, I can’t stay on the lyrics long enough to care what it’s all about beyond maybe it’s some kind of Leon Uris thing.

      As I remember it came in around the time of Santana doing similar things (with better guitar, of course) and that both kind of got absorbed into psychedelia.

  4. I have a similar but much less sexy story than gf.

    I lived for a year and a bit in Kitchener, Ontario [Canada; heathens] in the early 80’s and at the time it was a very white, very conservative city. Settled by German immigrants; name changed from Berlin to Kitchener during the war. As you do. You mend your own sidewalks and you support each other. Also now home to – thanks to nearby Toronto’s real estate prices – several large banking and insurance companies. But incongruously home also to one of the best blues festivals in the world.

    Walking home one day back then from doing nothing in particular I noticed in a little plaza two blocks from my apartment was a “Caribbean Records” shop. A few visits later I spied a few doors down, past the pawn brokers, a real estate office and something else was a Caribbean restaurant.

    I spent a lot of my time in those shops.

    The first time I visited the record store I admitted I knew a bit of Bob Marley and some Peter Tosh and that was it. They sold me a Freddie MacGregor album. Skip forward a few weeks and I was there every week with a tenner in my hands. With that I could buy an album and shuffle down 6 or seven doors for a peanut shake and goat goulash lunch.

    Dunno if that community still exists. There was a Canadian reggae band called Messenjah that were becoming active and eventually were somewhat successful. They moved into the building next to me and I heard it all, but I don’t remember much beyond the noise at unusual times.

    I’ll never forget that spicy goat goulash and cooling peanut shake though.

  5. Great music and thanks for the memories. I saw Jimmy Cliff last year at Leeds, he’s still going strong – older but looking well and athletic, and now, like us, skinhead rather than ‘dreadlock rasta’ !

  6. Tinny: Thanks for the ‘tincanland’ link, really appreciated it plus the further link to jah.com, that’s just about the most rational site I’ve see on the subject of Rasta. And somehow I got sidetracked over to Spotty where I’ve just spent a couple of hours playing Culture and Black Uhuru.

  7. I’m with you GF on THTC – undoubtedly one of the best soundtracks ever & as previously mentioned, arrived late for the Marley appreciation society but am now a firm believer, especially the JA version of ‘Catch A Fire’ – top drawer tunes!

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