I'm very tempted to launch straight into a track by track here, because Bob Marley genuinely needs no introduction. He remains one of the most iconic figures in the history of music, a political icon, Jamaica's most loved son, and reggae's biggest star (by a MASSIVE margin).
Tuff Gong Records.
#46 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time
Legend was issued originally in 1984, 3 years after Marley died from cancer. It quickly became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time, and it remains so to this day. Accordingly, the vast majority of the songs here have passed into the public consciousness so completely that you'll be able to sing the chorus to them despite never having knowingly heard them before.
Is This Love
Originally on Kaya. 5/5
Simple, direct, and sweet, this is one of Marley's best, and most popular, love songs. The lyrics, although primarily about love, also touch upon poverty ('We'll be together/With a roof right over our heads/We'll share the shelter/Of my single bed'), lending the song a wistful, hopeful quality.
No Woman, No Cry (live)
Originally on Live!. 5/5
Although this also appeared on Natty Dread, the live version on Live! is routinely considered as the definitive take, perhaps because of the added element of thousands of people acting as backing vocalists. Over 7 minutes in length, this is possibly Marley's most famous song. It's also his most covered, with notable versions coming from such disparate sources as The Fugees, Boney M, Joan Baez, and Spunge. Just like Is This Love, it touches on poverty, but No Woman No Cry is much more explicit. 'I remember when we used to sit/In a government yard in Trenchtown' etc. By the time Marley is insisting that everything's gonna be alright, it's impossible to feel anything other than relaxed euphoria. Oh, by the way, the guitar solo is excellent.
Could You Be Loved
Originally on Uprising. 4.5/5
Surely the inspiration for a hundred movie themes in the 80s. The bubbly guitar line drives the track throughout, which actually draws attention away from the rest of the band in the verses. Still, the chorus is world-beating, and the bridge, which draws female backing vocalists into the mix, is great.
Three Little Birds
Originally on Exodus. 5/5
'Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing, is gonna be alright....' Yeah, and you thought you didn't know this one. Though the hook obviously repeats No Woman, No Cry, it's not a problem. This is just as joyous, wonderous, and euphoric (I can see myself using that word a lot in this review). At 3 minutes it actually feels a little on the short side, but that doesn't detract from its power.
Originally on Confrontation. 4/5
A slight jazz influence creeping in? Bob never lived to see this one released - Confrontation was a posthumous compilation of finished, unreleased Bob marley material issued by Rita Marley the year before Legend. It's one of Marley's bigger hits because of this, but you'd be pretty off-base to claim this wouldn't have been viewed as vintage Marley if he'd still been alive when it was released.
Get Up, Stand Up
Originally on Burnin'. 5/5
Deep, dirty, and squelchy, this is the first explicitly political song on Legend. Co-written with Wailer Peter Tosh, it's occasionally seen as anti-religious, it actually only attacks hypocrites who hide behind their religion (observe the awesome second verse), and encourages free thinking. An anthem - possibly THE anthem - of Rastafarianism.
Stir It Up
Originally on Catch A Fire. 4/5
The most laid-back track yet, this is the first that sounds much better when under the influence (the others only sound slightly better). There's a slight Sly & The Family Stone vibe to it, and a marked rocksteady feel, and the guitar solo could even have been played by Eddie Hazel.
One Love/People Get Ready
Originally on Exodus. 5/5
This one wasn't actually issued as a single until Legend came out, making it both an epitaph for Marley and one of the songs most people immediately conjure up when they think of him. Which, really, is fitting - it's a succinct summation of Marley's spirituality. The People Get Ready section is apparently a cover of the Curtis Mayfield track of the same name, but I don't hear it here.
I Shot The Sheriff
Originally on Burnin'. 3.5/5
A massive hit for Eric Clapton, though the original version is much better. Even so, this is the lowpoint of the album for me.
Waiting In Vain
Originally on Exodus. 5/5
Absplutely gorgeous. The opening line - 'I don't wanna wait in vain for your love' is heartbreaking, and so is the guitar solo. To say that any song on Legend is underrated is pushing it, but this comes close. For me, this is his best love song.
Originally on Uprising. 5/5
Marley's most non-Marley song - this doesn't even sound like reggae, betraying his otherwise obfuscated debt to Bob Dylan. It's just Marley and his guitar. And, perversley, this may just be Marley's best song. 'Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom? That's all I ever had....redemption songs.' Fittingly, this was the final track on the final album Marley ever lived to finish. Much like Sam Cooke with "A Change Is Gonna Come", he couldn't have written a better send-off.
Satisfy My Soul
Originally on Kaya. 3.5/5
'Kaya' means 'marijuana', you know. In any case, it's hard to come up with anything to say about Satisfy My Soul. While it is good, it suffers from being placed amongst the embarrassment of riches elsewhere here. Shame that the album's two best songs are bookended by the two worst, but there ya go.
Originally on Exodus. 4/5
Movement of jah people, yo. The longest song on the album at 7.35, it was also Marley's first international smash hit (including a Top 20 placing in Britain), and an allegory of the Biblical journey from exile (nice topic for a hit single, no?), ending with the conclusion that all people will be spared from pain for eternity. Good, but not one of the album's best tracks.
Originally on Exodus. 4.5/5
How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts? Anyway....this is one of the most danceable and upbeat songs on Legend. I find it a little strange that this was chosen to end the album rather than Exodus - it's a little irreverant and the message is a weak one next to most of what precedes it on the record. Still, a great song.
Quite simply, Legend defines its genre, and remains the essential way for a newcomer to sample reggae for the first time. There are millions of people who love this, and don't own any other reggae, or care to. Though I certainly wouldn't recommend making this your only Marley album (criminally, no tracks from Natty Dread are included here), it should definitely be your first purchase. For once, the sales figures don't lie. Transcendant, and essential.
Within The Genre - 5/5
Outside The Genre - 5/5
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Natty Dread
Bob Marley - Exodus
Peter Tosh - Legalise It!