The tune ‘The Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker was all pervading in 1969. You just couldn’t escape it, even if you wanted to. Be it your on your radio or TV, sang on the factory floor or in the school playground, or whistled on street markets or sitting on a bus, the melody could be heard all over. It was one of those tunes. It just seemed to have a life of its own.
Timeshift forward half a century and the song is still a fresh as paint every time you hear it. It is just infectious! It only has to start and I find my head nodding and I’m off with it all over again.
The man who sang and co-wrote it, Desmond Adolphus Dacres, was born in 1941 in the parish of St Andrew in Jamaica and raised as an orphan growing up in its capital Kingston. The church was important to the young Desmond and his faith would remain a constant in his life. Early day-to-day work for him consisted of learning the tailoring trade, before moving onto becoming a welder. Always singing at work, he was persuaded by his colleagues to look to music as his future. He unsuccessfully auditioned for well-known producers Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, before Chinese Jamaican Leslie Kong took a punt on him, awarding him a recording deal in 1961, though it would be 1963 before his first record was released.
Whilst he waited for his big break, he introduced a fellow welder to Mr Kong, and before long, that fellow, one Robert, later Bob, Nesta Marley was also on his way to later global stardom.
Dekker then scored his first local hit with his song ‘Honour your Mother and Father’ along with subsequent hits, ensured Desmond Dekker as he was now known, was known as among the brightest stars on the island.
He and his backing group, The Aces, became a favourite among the Rude Boy culture with their1967 song ‘007’ (Shanty Town) when it was first released on the Doctor Bird label and then Pyramid.
This then, in turn, became a big tune in the UK and would ensure Dekker of a healthy following when he appeared live over here.
Then came ‘Israelites.’ It first hit in 1968, going to subsequently top the UK charts in the April of 1969 as well as going over big in the US, making Dekker the first Jamaican act to have a number one in the States. 1969 also saw the release of ‘It Mek’ (a personal favourite of your correspondent.)
Due to his popularity in the UK, Desmond settled here in the same year, eventually becoming a resident of Thornton Heath.
1970, saw him at number two in the charts with the Jimmy Cliff song ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ which then joined ‘007’ on the soundtrack for the film ‘The Harder They Come.’
Dekker’s last UK top twenty single success came in 1975 with ‘Sing A Little Song’ though he remained a very popular live act for many years to come until his death from a heart attack aged 64 in 2006.
All together now…
‘Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir….’
The Mumper of SE5