Israelites (song)

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Single by Desmond Dekker & The Aces
B-side "My Precious World (The Man)" by Beverley's All Stars
Released October 1968 (1968-10)
Recorded 1968
Genre Reggae
Length 2:35
Label Pyramid 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""
"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 9th).[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]

Cover versions[edit]

An early cover of the song, a rockabilly version by the "Travelin Troubadours",[11] on the Roto label.[12] was released on the album "Mondo Frat Dance A Go-Go" by Arf Arf Records.

The song has been covered by the Swedish punk rock band, Millencolin. It was also covered by Madness for their cover album The Dangermen Sessions Vol. 1 (2005) and by Apache Indian for his single "The Israelites" (2005).

In 1987 the Spanish ska band Skatalà recorded a cover version with changed lyrics named embolingats (meaning "drunk" in the Catalan language).

In 2000 Oysterhead covered the song during their first live performance at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

In 2008 the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra covered the song, both in live concerts,[13] and on their EP, A Little Bit Wonderful.[14] This version was used in a television advertisement for Whitcoulls booksellers in New Zealand.[15][16]

Canada's Reid Jamieson covered the song on his 'Songs of 69' collection.

In 2010 Israeli garage band Electra recorded a cover version as a B-side for their debut single, "Coming to Get You!"

Contemporary usage[edit]

"Israelites" was used in a 1990 television advertisement for Maxell audio cassettes, and was parodied in the British TV advert for Vitalite from 1987 to 1995.[17] The song is infrequently used in the UK soap opera EastEnders mainly played by shopkeeper Patrick Trueman who has been shown to favour the song.[citation needed]

Xaphoon Jones of the hip-hop group Chiddy Bang used a sample of "Israelites" for the song "Get Up In The Morning," which would become the first track on their mixtape The Swelly Express. Maxi Priest and UB40 mimicked the song's melody and chord progression in their 2008 collaboration, "Dance Until the Morning Light",[citation needed] from the UB40 album TwentyFourSeven.

"Israelites" was featured on the soundtracks of the Gus Van Sant 1989 film "Drugstore Cowboy" and the Bart Freundlich 2009 film "the Rebound", and it is the opening song on the soundtrack to Nigel Cole's 2010 film "Made in Dagenham". It also appears in the 1990 film "Miami Blues".

The Vampire Weekend track "Ya Hey" mentions this song in a poetic interlude.

The song is heard playing on a radio near the end of the motion picture A Walk On The Moon (1999), but does not appear on the soundtrack for the film.

The Flash TV series used it to open season 2, episode 19, "Back to Normal" (2016).


Chart (1969) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[18] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[19] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[20] 8
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[22] 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[23] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[24] 6
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[25] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 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. ^ "Travelin' Troubadors - The Israelites". YouTube. 2014-03-01. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  12. ^ "Travelin Troubadors - The Israelites / Never Ending Song Of Love - Roto - USA - R-1202". Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  13. ^ "WIUO - The Orchestra". Archived from the original on 2016-01-08. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  14. ^ "A Little Bit Wonderful - EP | Amplifier NZ Music". Archived from the original on 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-16. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  16. ^ Whitcoulls & Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (2008). Baby Names (Video). New Zealand: Whitcoulls. 
  17. ^ "Vitalite advert 1994 - singing sunflowers and sun". YouTube. 2009-07-04. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  18. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  19. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  20. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  21. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites". GfK Entertainment Charts.
  22. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Israelites". Irish Singles Chart.
  23. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  24. ^ " – Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Israelites". Swiss Singles Chart.
  25. ^ "Desmond Dekker and the Aces: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  26. ^ "Desmond Dekker The Aces Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.


External links[edit]

Preceded by
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
UK number one single
April 16, 1969
Succeeded by
"Get Back" by The Beatles