Desmond Dekker & the Aces

Song Review by Jo-Ann Greene

"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. The impact of "The Israelites" can never be overstated. 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 soared into the Top Ten. Of course, other Caribbean artists had found fame abroad, but Desmond Dekker was the first to do so with a totally undiluted Jamaican sound. It was one of the singer's first co-productions, alongside his longtime producer Leslie Kong, and the song carries an almost stately quality new to the artist. Bristling with energy, "The Israelites" is set to an insistent, percolating beat, fleshed out by a throbbing bass line and a jittery percussion. The organ and guitar combine for the opening chords and casually carry the melody together throughout the piece. But they are merely a backdrop for the vocals, and here Dekker and his Aces give a tour de force performance. Dekker had written a sufferer's classic, and he and his dueting backing baritone pack the song with pungent emotion. Lyrically paralleling ancient travails with the overwhelming toil of modern-day poverty, Dekker composed a timeless masterpiece that knew no boundaries. In 1975, the single was reissued and once again stormed the U.K. chart, this time landing just inside the Top Ten. Dekker re-recorded the song later in the decade, and almost accomplished the same feat in Belgium, where it just missed the Top Ten. Needless to say, "The Israelites" is one of the singer's most beloved songs.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Celebration: 25 Years of Trojan Records 1992
Various Artists
Trojan 2:35
Rockin' Steady: The Best of Desmond Dekker 1992 Rhino 2:39
The Reggae Box 2001
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:35
Jon Savage's 1968: The Year the World Burned 2018
Various Artists
Ace 2:34