|Single by Desmond Dekker & The Aces|
|B-side||"My Precious World (The Man)" by Beverley's All Stars|
|Label||Pyramid Records - PYR 6058 (UK)
UNI Records 55129 (USA)
|Writer(s)||Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong|
|Desmond Dekker & The Aces singles chronology|
"Israelites" is a song written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong that became a hit for Dekker's group, Desmond Dekker & The Aces. Although few could understand all the lyrics, the single was the first UK reggae number one and the first to crack the United States Top Ten. Lyrically paralleling ancient travails with the overwhelming toil of modern-day poverty, Dekker composed a "timeless masterpiece that knew no boundaries".
It was one of the first ska songs to become an international hit, despite Dekker's strong Jamaican accent which made his lyrics difficult to understand for audiences outside Jamaica. In 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, Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Canada, Sweden and West Germany. The song came almost two years after Dekker first made his mark with the rude boy song, "007 (Shanty Town)".
"Israelites" brought a Jamaican beat to the British pop fans for the first time since Millie's number two hit "My Boy Lollipop". Subsequently, ska had its breakthrough in the United Kingdom. The Beatles soon recorded their own ska-influenced song, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (in its lyrics, "Desmond" refers to Dekker), which the pop group Marmalade subsequently took to number one. The disc was released in the UK in March 1969 and was number one for one week, selling over 250,000 copies. A global million sales was reported in June 1969.
Years later Dekker explained how "Israelites" was written. "It all happened so quickly. I didn't write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song - 'You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread.' By the time I got home it was complete."
Dekker recorded on the Pyramid record label, and when its catalogue was acquired by Cactus Records in 1975, "Israelites" was re-issued. The song again reached a Top Ten position in the United Kingdom a little over six years after the original release. Dekker re-recorded the song later in the decade, and almost accomplished the same feat in Belgium, where it just missed the Top Ten.
"Get up in the morning / Slaving for bread sir / So that every mouth can be fed / Oh, oh, the Israelites". So begins one of the most seminal songs ever released by a Jamaican artist. It was the first of the island's releases in history to achieve an international breakthrough, the first to ever top the British chart, and the first to break into the U.S. market, where it reached the Top Ten.
The song has been covered by the Swedish punk band, Millencolin. It is featured on their single "Lozin' Must" (1997) and album The Melancholy Collection (1999). 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 2008 the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra covered the song, both in their live shows, and on their EP, A Little Bit Wonderful. This version was used in a television advertisement for Whitcoulls booksellers in New Zealand.
The song (and a corresponding mondegreen) was used in a 1990 television advertisement for Maxell audio cassettes, and was parodied in the British TV advert for Vitalite in the early 1990s. It was also featured on the soundtrack of the Gus Van Sant film, Drugstore Cowboy.
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.
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
|UK number one single
April 16, 1969
"Get Back" by The Beatles