Columbia / Legacy Records, 1976
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/1999
When Peter Tosh was murdered in 1987, one of the biggest names in reggae music was forever silenced. But despite making a name for himself with such albums as Legalize It and Equal Rights, Tosh never achieved the same level of success that his former bandmates, Bob Marley and the Wailers, did. It wasn't for lack of talent; Tosh obviously had that. It might have been his outspoken political nature that held him back from the rungs of superstardom; Tosh was nearly killed several times after beatings from the police.
Whatever the reason that Tosh never grabbed a bigger portion of the spotlight will be left for us to debate until the end of time. Until that comes, we can enjoy the recently remastered versions of his first two solo albums. Legalize It, released in 1976, is a solid effort filled with some great reggae - but sometimes it feels like Tosh is missing the creative spark he shared with the rest of the Wailers.
And it's not like he was lacking a decent backing band - who just happened to be the Wailers (minus one Robert Nesta Marley). Having his old band behind him helps Tosh out a lot; it almost makes the transition from his days with the Wailers to his solo career a little easier to take.
The title track is one of the anthems of the pro-marajuana movement ("Legalize it and I will advertise it," Tosh sings). Even someone like myself, who is staunchly anti-drug, can appreciate the song on its own merits. (One has to keep in mind that in the Rastafarian religion, which both Tosh and Marley practiced, "ganja" was seen as a sacrament.) The groove that Tosh and crew lay down is incredible, and starts the album off on the right foot.
Tosh's strong political views come through on the track "Burial," which decries the way some dishonest people sought to profit from the dead by taking their valuables. The opening strains of the death march put to a reggae beat seems to hammer the point home the hardest, while Tosh makes a strong case against the vultures.
Where Legaliaze It begins to lose a little focus is when Tosh begins moving away from solid subject matters and into more trippy-happy reggae, as on "Ketchy Shuby". (The bonus track - an instrumental version of the song, is really for the diehard fans only.) After you've heard the emotional punch of tracks like "Why Must I Cry" and "No Sympathy", this particular track seems to do nothing but confuse the listener.
Tosh regains a little power in the tracks "Till Your Well Runs Dry" and "Brand New Second Hand," though I thought the former track ran a little long in getting its point across. Tosh was obviously not writing with hit singles in mind - possibly the thing that drove him from the Wailers.
Legalize It is still very much worth checking out - even with the bonus track, it clocks in at just over 41 minutes - and is a great starting place for one to discover Tosh's solo career.