"Israelites" is a song written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong that became a hit for Dekker's group, Desmond Dekker & The Aces.[1] Although few could understand all the lyrics, the single was the first UK reggae number one and the second to reach the US top ten.[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".

Song[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir,

So that every mouth can be fed. Poor mi Israelites

So begins the best known Jamaican reggae hit to reach the Hot 100's top 10.[3]

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 ska songs to become an international hit, despite Dekker's strong Jamaican accent which made his lyrics difficult to understand for audiences outside Jamaica. The opening line, "Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir" was often misheard, one example being "Wake up in the morning, baked beans for breakfast".[5] 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 onein the United Kingdom,[6] Netherlands, Jamaica, South AfricaCanadaSweden and West Germany. The song came almost two years after Dekker first made his mark with the rude boy song, "007 (Shanty Town)".[1]

"Israelites" brought a Jamaican beat to the British top 40 for the first time since Millie's number two hit "My Boy Lollipop".[1]

The disc was released in the UK in March 1969 and was number one for one week, selling over 250,000 copies.[7] A global million sales was reported in June 1969.[7]

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][6]

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

Cover versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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 1978 the song was recorded in Finnish by Reijo Karvonen & Ikaros with the name "Mistä sais" ("Where to Get It"), lyrics by Anssi Tikanmäki.

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

In 2008 the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra covered the song, both in live concerts,[8] and on their EPA Little Bit Wonderful.[9] This version was used in a television advertisement for Whitcoulls booksellers in New Zealand.[10][11]

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

Contemporary usageEdit

"Israelites" (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 from 1987 to 1995.[12] The song is infrequently used in the UKsoap 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 ExpressMaxi 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 soundtrack of the Gus Van Sant film, Drugstore Cowboy and is the opening song on the soundtrack to Nigel Cole's 2010 film, Made in Dagenham.

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

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