The Israelites

Album: The Best Of Desmond Dekker (1969)
Charted: 1 9

Songfacts®:

  • Decker (from The Metro newspaper, April 18, 2005): "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. And it was so funny, that song never got out of my mind. It stayed fresh in my head. The following day I got my little tape and I just sang that song and that's how it all started."
  • Dekker (born Desmond Dacres) was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and trained as a welder before singing. He formed the Aces and teamed up with hit producer Leslie Kong in 1966 (with whom he worked until Kong's death in 1971). He has over 20 Jamaican #1 hits and 2 other UK Top 10 hits: "It Mek" and "You Can Get It If You Really Want." He enjoyed a revival in the UK in the early 1980s thanks to the two-tone movement. Dekker died of a heart attack in 2006 at age 64.

Comments: 26

  • Bob Sorrentino from Denver, Co, United StatesHave heard over the years that the reference to "Israelites" is a direct one to searching for bread(manna) in the desert after Moses left Egypt. "Slaving for bread sir" and just getting by. One of the lines is "After a storm, there must be a calming". Various versions of the lyrics on line including lyrics.com.
  • Monksoup from Madison, Wi.Finally...... Always loved the song, couldn't figure out what the hell was being said but now I do...... and it's all making some sense now.
  • Rich B from FloridaI was 13 at the time, I loved the song, don't know why, I could not understand it, but loved it. Till this day I cannot understand why the Israelites are in this, but it still sounds as good as I first heard it!
  • Randy from Houghton Lake, MiWhen this song came out I was about 13. We couldn't understand any of the lyrics except for Poor me, the Israelite but we loved it.
  • Dez from Gary, InCalled the company that owns the publishing rights to The Isrealites a number of years ago and they were kind enough to send me a copy of the music with lyrics. After listening to the song for 40+ years the mystery was finally solved!
  • Bubblesk from Memphis, TnI recently heard this song on an Oldies station & it brought back memories of when I first heard it in 1969 on Top 40 radio. When it was just new, I'd run to the radio whenever it was playing just to listen to see if I could ever understand those lyrics. I think I was 15 at the time. And one of my older brothers noticed I was trying to decipher the lyrics & he told me the singer was talking about a lesbian girl & her lover. Well, I fell for it! I hardly understood what a lesbian was back then, but I believed my brother. What a fool I was! I kept trying to listen to the words to find out what the lesbian was doing. Then after the song got into the Top Ten and was really popular, my other brother told me he ran onto the lyrics in the old "Song Hits" magazine and showed me it wasn't about the lesbian love affair after all. I was so embarrassed and mad at my older brother! I love this song to this day, but don't hear it so much. I haven't told many people about being fooled about this song's lyrics. Can you imagine a kid believing it was all about a lesbian love affair??? I feel like such a fool. But hey, back then WHO could understand those lyrics???
  • James from American Samoa, HiYou really can hear the lyrics a lot of different ways. I was fully convinced the first line of the 3rd verse was, "After a storm, the mouse see a comet."
  • John from Hazlet, NjReading Elmers comment. I was listening to A.M. radio in 1969 and the song The Israelites was playing when I opened my draft notice from good ole Uncle Sam. Every time I hear it the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I get the chills. That being said, I love the song.
  • Elmer from Westville, OkI first heard "The Israelites" on AFVN radio when I was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam (BienHoa) in 1969. I still love it. Back then, the lyrics were a near-mystery for most listeners. When I went on R&R in "Nam to Singapore, I bought a song magazine at the airport store that showed the lyrics to "The Israelites" and was surprised. The magazine featured Desmond Dekker & The Aces biographies. I do know they were from Jamaica & were not musical newcomers. I don't recall them having another release in the U.S. When I got out of Vietnam & came home to the States, I recall seeing an LP by the group, featuring this hit. But I didn't know the hit's lyrics until I checked on lyric sites on the Internet. It's still a good song & worth a listen to those who haven't heard it yet. And that reggae beat really gets to ya!!! 12-25-12.
  • A from Oshkosh, KsLooking on several different sites and YouTube I see that nobody really knows what the lyrics are! Here's an example of how the same line is interpreted in different places:
    "Shocked then I tear up chose as I go I don't want to end up like Bonny and Clyde" or "Shirt them a-tear up, trousers are gone." or "Shirt them a-tear up, trousers a go ."
    It makes me wonder whether anyone ever wrote down the real ones. And why "Poor me. The Israelites?" Are they feeling sorry for themselves? But nitpicking on words aside, it's a great song that says so much about the Rasta life and beliefs without preaching. It's all in the feeling. And Bill and Flo hit the nail on the head. Thanks for a great song, Desmond! It lives on and on and on...
  • Carol from Edmonton, AbOne more thing.... I don't see any dates on the posts here. I'm kind of baffled, but is it my computer? Or some strategy by the site hosts?

    Hi, site hosts!!! o
  • Carol from Edmonton, AbI'm new here. First post. I found this place via Desmond Decker/Israelites research. I have to say, I love all of you to death for expressing your individualism in your variety of opinions. Long story, but I'm just saying, I appreciate you.
  • Kirsten from New York, NySeems like there's a tradition of Rastafarians (or is it just Reggae musicians?) comparing their plight to that of the Jews of the Bible. Reminds me of Rivers of Babylon.
  • Ch from Portland, Orjonhnny nash was from texas. dekker was the first jamaican artist to chart in the top 10 in the u.s.
  • Bill from Farnborough, United KingdomGuys, guys - are you all missing some big points! Israelites does have biblical overtones, but it has much more meaning, means he's a rasta...Zion=Africa, anti-"Babylon" etc. I don't want to end up like bonnie and clyde - literally, not metaphorically shot full of holes! So he's tempted to turn to crime, but he's not going to. Catch me in the farm you'll sound your alarm - he's thinking about stealing some eggs, he's that hungry...
  • Tim from Baltimore, MdTo "end up like Bonnie and Clyde" is to have a lot of holes, i.e., to have worn and threadbare clothes; to be poor.
  • The Last Dj from Hell.a., CaI don't know if I'd call "the King of Ska" a "one hit wonder," that's insulting as well as naive. I was a bit upset when I heard that this great musician died last year and he did not receive his proper tribute. He influenced artists such as The Beatles & Rancid. "Everywhere I go, there is always trouble & misery." - Desmond Dekker
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumThank you, Flo from Toulouse, the next time I hear this song I'll listen to it in a different way. I thought it was about people living in Israel, I suppose it's because of my limited knowledge of the English language. I still like this song very much.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was one of the top one hit wonders of the late 60s and one of the first reggae songs since Johnny Nash made the Top 40 in 1968 with Hold Me Tight. Even memorable is the line "I don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde."
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnFlo in Toulouse--I think you've changed my thinking. I went back and re-listened and thought about what you said. I see what you mean about it. All these years I've been missing it. Thanks for the note. You've opened my eyes to what was already one of my favorite songs.
  • Don from Newmarket, CanadaFeatured in the Jimmy Cliff film 'The Harder They Come'. Great soundtrack - buy it if you like reggae.
  • Grace from Fairfax Station, VaThis is probably the only reggae song I'll ever like. I think this song is about a guy who's worked hard for nothing and doesn't want to crash in a heap because of his distress.
  • Tom from Durham, NcI kept hearing "abhore, abhore, the Israelites," and figured it was a rant on Jewish money lenders and pawn shop owners who kept the protagonist poor, in debt, and unable to get ahead.
  • Vic from Wheeling, IlThis song was used in the Matt Dillion movie "Drugstore Cowboy".
  • Flo from Toulouse, FranceHey dirk, i'm sorry but you're wrong. This song has a full meaning, it's about people who does not earn nuff money, which creates quarrels. "i don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde": still they keep honest.
    "Israelites" refers to the bible, the poor Israelites who are chased from their land and bcame slaves.
    If you don't understand, it does not mean that the song has no sense...
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnI've loved this song since it appeared in 1970, or whenever it was. It's one of those great sounding songs where the vocal makes no sense. It's just like one of the instruments. You can't quite make sense of the words. Why are they "Israelites"? Does he mean Israelis, like from Tel Aviv? And what is he saying about Bonnie and Clyde? Then one day you find a copy of the lyrics and you think, "Oh THAT'S what he's singing?" And it sort of destroys the effect of the song. It's best not to know what the lyrics really are. Kind of like Louie, Louie... Once you read the lyrics to Louie, Louie you think, "How boring!" Better to just groove along in the dark.
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