Israelites (song)

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Single by Desmond Dekker & The Aces
B-side"My Precious World (The Man)" by Beverley's All Stars
ReleasedOctober 1968 (1968-10)
LabelPyramid Records - PYR 6058 (UK)
Uni Records 55129 (USA)
Songwriter(s)Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong
Producer(s)Leslie Kong
Desmond Dekker & The Aces singles chronology
""007 (Shanty Town)""
""It Miek""

"Israelites" is a song written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong that became a hit for Dekker's group, Desmond Dekker & The Aces,[1] peaking in 1969. Although few could understand all the lyrics, the single was the first UK reggae number one and among the first to reach the US top ten (peaking at number 9).[2] It combined the Rastafarian religion with rude boy concerns,[3] to make what has been described as a "timeless masterpiece that knew no boundaries".[4]


The best known Jamaican reggae hit to reach the Hot 100's top 10,[3] it was written almost two years after Dekker first made his mark with the rude boy song, "007 (Shanty Town)".[1] Dekker composed the song after overhearing an argument: "I was walking in the park, eating corn [popcorn]. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needs money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I related to those things and began to sing a little song: 'You get up in the morning and you're slaving for bread.' By the time I got home, it was complete."[5] The title has been the source of speculation,[6] but most settle on the Rastafarian Movement's association with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. In the 1960s, Jamaican Rastafarians were largely marginalized as "cultish" and ostracized from the larger society, including by the more conservative Christian church in Kingston. Destitute ("slaving for bread") and unkempt ("Shirt them a-tear up, trousers is gone"), some Rastafarians were tempted to a life of crime ("I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde"). The song is a lament of this condition.

The vocal melody is syncopated and is centred on the tone of B flat. The chords of the guitar accompaniment are played on the offbeat and move through the tonic chord [B flat], the subdominant [E flat], the dominant [F], and the occasional [D flat],[3] viz, [B flat] - [E flat] - [F] - [B flat] - [D flat]. It was one of the first reggae songs to become an international hit, despite Dekker's strong Jamaican accent which made his lyrics difficult to understand for audiences outside.[7]

Despite "Israelites" being recorded and released in 1968, the Uni 45 discography shows its cataloguing in 1969.[8] In June 1969 it reached the Top Ten in the United States, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. It hit number one in the United Kingdom,[9] Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Canada, Sweden and West Germany.

"Israelites" brought a Jamaican beat to the British top 40 for the first time since Dekker's number 14 hit "007 (Shanty Town)" in 1967.[1]

The disc was released in the UK in March 1969 and was number one for one week, selling over 250,000 copies.[10] A global million sales was reported in June 1969.[10]

Dekker had two more UK Top Ten hits over the next year, "It Mek" and his cover of Jimmy Cliff's song, "You Can Get It If You Really Want".[1][9]

Dekker recorded on the Pyramid record label, and when its catalogue was acquired by Cactus Records in 1975, "Israelites" was re-issued in a first-time stereo mix.[1] Just over six years after the original release, the song again reached a Top Ten position in the United Kingdom.[1]


Chart (1969) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[11] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[12] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[13] 8
Germany (Official German Charts)[14] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[15] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[16] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[17] 6
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[18] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[19] 9

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 126. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2001). British Hit Singles (14th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 40. ISBN 0-85156-156-X.
  3. ^ a b c Mark Phillips, GCSE Music,, retrieved 2014-03-27
  4. ^ "Biography by Jo-Anne Green". Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  5. ^ "Desmond Dekker". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  6. ^ "Song Meanings".
  7. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 359. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  8. ^ "45 Discography for UNI Records". Retrieved 2014-05-05.
  9. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 149. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 258. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  11. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  12. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  13. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  14. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites". GfK Entertainment Charts.
  15. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Israelites". Irish Singles Chart.
  16. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  17. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites". Swiss Singles Chart.
  18. ^ "Desmond Dekker and the Aces: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "Desmond Dekker The Aces Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.


External links[edit]