26 May 2006
Slaving for bread, sir
There are those who believed that Desmond Dekker's out-of-left-field hit "Israelites" was some sort of anti-Semitic screed. I don't know if these were the same people who believed that the Kingsmen were saying something filthy with "Louie, Louie," but Dekker's Jamaican patter rivaled Jack Ely's mumble for lack of intelligibility, until you'd heard it seven or eight thousand times and it finally started to sink in.
And anyway, Dekker was singing about himself; it is a principle of Rastafarianism that black folks were scattered for their sins exactly in the manner of the Jews in the Old Testament, so Dekker's assumption of the term "Israelite" makes a certain amount of sense.
"Israelites," recorded in Jamaica and licensed to MCA/Universal's Uni label (!) in the States, made #9 in Billboard, something ska records simply did not do in 1969. The follow-up, "It Mek," did not chart; a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want," did, barely. Dekker moved to England, where the rude boys idolized him; he continued to perform, with a European tour due this summer.
From the anonymous liner notes on Dekker's US LP (Uni 73059):
Although the majority of his recordings have been in the "SKA" or "Rock Steady" bag, his live performances show that this twenty-seven year old, shy, slightly built boy can handle any song with confidence and get tremendous response from all types of audiences.
To underscore this notion, the ten tracks include Stevie Wonder's poppy "For Once in My Life" and Bill Anderson's "Tip of My Fingers," clearly demonstrating some sort of fearlessness.
"I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde," sang Dekker in "Israelites," and while he didn't face a hail of bullets or anything like that, he's now joined them on the far side of eternity. He was sixty-four years old.Posted at 5:24 PM to Tongue and Groove