Equal Rights was a worthy successor to Peter Tosh’s earlier album Legalise It! Released in April 1977 on the Rolling Stones Records label, two months before Bob Marley’s legendary Exodus hit the turntables and airwaves, Tosh’s songs precisely captured the zeitgeist of that exciting period.
Peter Tosh, along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, was in this remarkable collection able to mash up the prophetic and existentialist elements of Rastafarianism with black consciousness and political activism. It is about creating a new world where solidarity and love were as much drivers of change as despair and anger.
‘Downpressor Man’, the second track on the album, was and still is my favourite. The track itself has an interesting history. Originally a traditional African American spiritual song, ‘Sinner Man’ (as it is otherwise known) was first recorded in 1956 by the Les Baxter Orchestra in 1956. In 1965, Nina Simone recorded a definitive, ten-minute-plus version of the song as ‘Sinnerman’ on her album Pastel Blues.
‘Sinner Man’ was recorded several times by the Wailers in ska and reggae versions. However, Tosh’s 1977 version ‘Downpressor Man’ (recorded at Randy’s Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, and overdubbed elsewhere in that city) takes the song into new territory. In particular, the slow, deliberate, razor-like drum and bass rhythm of ‘Sly and Robbie’ provides Tosh with a superb opportunity to bring out the full contempt, irony and judgment of the lyrics in what has become a reggae classic.
Perhaps this line sums up the experience:
“I wouldn’t like to be a flea under your collar, man...”
Still relevant? Undoubtedly.
[NB The track below is offered in the lossless FLAC format (in this instance in 96/24 HD) which is now supported by most recent browsers and operating systems.]