That’s right, ladies and gents. We’ve finally made it to the half way point of The People’s Albums. And sure, it’s taken almost two years and many hours of listening to not-that-great albums, but we’ve had some laughs as well as a few Kenny G-induced tears, and I just hope the top 25 will go a little bit faster (though I’m not holding my breath on that one). But for now, let’s praise Jah and take a look at Legend, a.k.a. that one Bob Marley album you’ve probably heard.
Artist: Bob Marley & The Wailers
Release Date: May 8, 1984
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 13.6 million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Weed (Shocking, I Know!)
I’ll just be upfront with this: I pretty much hate reggae. However, this wasn’t something I really became aware of until during the past year or so, when I found myself living in Seattle for an extended period of time, and in turn listening a lot to Seattle’s essential independent radio station, KEXP. Of course the great thing about KEXP is that it’s a non-commercial radio station and therefore its DJs are aloud to play whatever the hell they want. However, this also happens to be what can sometimes be not so great about it. Case in point, the 3-hour long, all-reggae show they play on Saturday mornings (that I avoid like the plague), as well as the random acts of skankin’ that even manage to weasel their way into KEXP’s daytime playlists.
Now it’s probably not a stretch to say that the main reason I can’t stand reggae has something to do with the fact that I am by no means a weed guy. And yes, I know that instantly makes me sound like a total square (which is not inaccurate), but it’s not like I’m against people tokin’ up, since the two main cities I’ve lived in (Seattle and S.F.) are not cities in which it’s hard to go find a random weed haze to go swimmin’ around in. Because if you like smoking weed all the live long day, that’s great, I’m glad you found something that makes you happy in an incredibly unproductive way. But honestly, my own anxiousness is what makes me happy. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that despite my affinity for The Harder They Come Soundtrack (the one reggae album I can stand), this most chill of music genres tends to make me feel quite the opposite — on edge and like I want to break something.
But now let’s talk about the man, the myth, the uh… legend — Mr. Robert Marley. For decades now, Bob Marley has become a mythic symbol of not only reggae, but also the stoner lifestyle and all of its bong-water-soaked principals. However, I don’t think the fact that Bob Marley smoked a lot of weed (he often claimed it was for religious and spiritual purposes) was the only reason you can see the man’s face on countless college campuses, be it in the form of his stretched out mug on some schlubby undergrad’s T-shirt, or some blacklight poster that’s like, fun to look at when you’re high, I guess. No, literally anybody has the capacity to smoke a ton of weed, but to create songs with the kind of childlike simplicity that Marley’s possess, combined with the lethargic rhythms that are inherent in all reggae, is the stuff of (ugh…) legend.
Another reason for Bob Marley’s undying popularity is that when you get down to it, a lot of his most well-known material consists of poppy love songs, while the other side of the Marley spectrum leans towards almost equally catchy political songs. Either way, both these sides of Marley tend to have that broad and dare I say, timeless quality that a lot of iconic artists of Bob Marley’s stature tend to maintain. It’s the reason that even though Marley is an inseparable part of stoner culture, there are still lots of dads out there who haven’t toked up in years who I reckon will whip out a copy of Legend every once in a while just to let the good vibrations wash over them.
Still, if you’ll continue to indulge my whole “Marley as weed savior” thesis, I do think his connection to stoner culture does have something to do with this album’s popularity. Legend, of course, is a greatest hits package that came out three years after Marley’s passing at the age of 36, and thus served as a convenient introduction to a guy that didn’t have a ton of success in America when he was alive. However, I think for most supposed Marley fans, Legend has more or less served as the end-all be-all in Marley’s discography instead of just a gateway sampler. Because, again, and I’m totally stereotyping here, stoners are inherently lazy. And because stoners are lazy, they’re probably not going to go to the trouble of seeking out Bob Marley’s actual albums, even though from what I can tell he has a pretty solid discography, as four of his non-greatest hits albums are featured on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. But since a lot of Marley fans are, I assume, lazy stoners who don’t care about the album cuts or dads that don’t listen to that much music any more, Legend remains the quintessential Bob Marley “album”.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
Even despite my barbs at stoners (I’m just kiddin’ around, you guys are alright), I’ll admit that I have about the same level of Bob Marley expertise as the dads and doobheads of the world, since Legend and all its staples have been my only exposure to the man. I remember this being an album I tried to get into during the year after high school that I was going to community college, which weirdly enough was around the same time I got into the Grateful Dead, while consuming precisely 0 oz. of illegal substances on any given day. I’m not sure if I gave this album a few spins just out of obligation to seek out everything in the top 100 of the aforementioned RS 500 Greatest Albums List (though the inclusion of a greatest hits album like this is highly questionable). Or maybe it was just the fact that I usually feel obligated to try and appreciate any artist as ubiquitous as Bob Marley. Whatever it was, I gave this album just a handful of listens before declaring, “Yeah, this is good, but I hear these songs all the time”, and then felt no need to dig any further into the Marley catalogue.
But as I’ve basically already hinted at, these songs are pretty much bulletproof. Even though I’ve spent a lot of my life ignoring Bob Marley just out of the fact that the kinds of people I identify with him tend to not really be my kind of people, these aren’t bad songs. In fact, it’s kind of staggering that none of them were big pop hits in the U.S. (though Marley had some chart success in the UK), though I’ll probably just chalk that up to the fact that Americans have a hard time embracing non-U.S. born musicians that aren’t white. And it probably took listening to all these songs bunched together like they are on Legend for me to really appreciate them for the first time in a while, since whenever I hear a random Marley song over the course of the day, my ears tend not to pay it much mind. But these are just really good pop songs, and I bet I’d like them even more if they weren’t propelled by the aggravating rhythms of a musical genre I can’t stand.
Would I Pay Money For This?
As much as I’m willing to admit my affinity for a lot of this material, I just can’t imagine needing to own any sort of physical copy of this album. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this one on vinyl in the record store and probably considered buying it for a second, and then thought, “Nah, I’d never listen to it”. Because again, Bob Marley’s songs are not hard to hear at any random store or coffee shop over the course of the day, and perhaps that’s where his music belongs — among the people.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I will be listening to Millennium by the Backstreet Boys, even though I am pretty sure I don’t want it that a-way.