Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Certain Songs #1549: Peter Tosh – “Equal Rights” | Medialoper

Album: Equal Rights
Year: 1977

. . .

They never covered anything from it, but given that it came out in the same year as their debut, and given their penchant for reggae and politics, I can’t imagine that The Clash didn’t on Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights album, especially the stellar title track, one of the most uncompromising songs Tosh ever wrote.

After all, the affinity between punk and reggae in the U.K. was so strong in 1977 that Bob Marley put out a single celebrating it, the utopian “Punky Reggae Party,” but compared to the powerhouse “Equal Rights,” or Culture’s “Calling Rasta For I” — which also featured Sly and Robbie — Marley’s effort felt a bit slight.

Which, to be fair, isn’t all that fair, especially compared to the slow burn of “Equal Rights,” which — unlike the punk songs it shared politics with — took its fucking time, because Tosh was in it for the long haul.

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice

As per usual, if you ignored the words, there was a shitload of stuff going on in “Equal Rights,” percussion and keyboards darting in and out of the mix every which way, rewarding you with new details each and every time you listened. Or, you could just sing along with the chorus.

I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
Got to get it
Equal rights and justice

With Bunny Livingstone pitching in on the vocals, every single time they sing “equal rights and justice” it can send cold shivers down your back, especially when followed by “Everybody wants to go to heaven / But nobody wants to die,” delivered with an almost contemptuous sneer: equal rights and justice are worth possibly dying is the message here.

At the fade, he starts listing the places where they also want equal rights and justice: Palistine, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Rhodesia, Jamaica. I only mention this because he pronounces “Palestine” as “Polly-steen,” which I’ve always heard as “poly-steel,” and I always wondered about.

And while he flirted with popularity — covering the Temptations with Mick Jagger on SNL in the late 1970s will definitely raise your profile, as will doing a rastafied “Johnny B. Goode” — Peter Tosh never again made an album this great.

“Equal Rights”

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