#45, "Israelites," Desmond Dekker (1968)

I took yesterday off because I didn’t have my thoughts 100% together and just needed a break. What is there to say about “Israelites?” It’s a perfect song. It swings, it’s performed with intensity and conviction, it’s the exact right length. I have nothing of substance to add, so my focus here is just going to be on my personal relationship with it. 


I learned of “Israelites” in the late 90s because of the TV ads for the Pure Reggae compilation. I don’t mind admitting this because it’s hilarious. Pure Reggae was one of the very last iconic compilations with a strong television marketing campaign behind it. It frightens me to think about how some on my friends list are too young to remember when this was a Thing but in its day, televised ads for these kinds of compilations were so repetitive that out of nowhere you could have a handful of lines from Tears for Fears’ “Shout” in your head before you’d get mental whiplash and it would switch to “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins just because of these commercials. The compilations were often time- and/or theme-specific. I think there were a variety of publishing houses that would put these out, but the best-known was Time-Life. Sometimes they’d just be a standard-length album and other times they’d include like 10 LPs or 8 cassettes (your choice). If you’re interested the Time-Life website still has these sets and they’re absurdly expensive.


The ubiquity of the TV ads was pre-internet, of course. Spotify has thousands of playlists with similar time and genre parameters that you can listen to any time, for free. One weird footnote of this historical-cultural curiosity is the mind-boggling success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series. I was shocked to learn that Volume 1 was released in 1983 (???!!!!), but I associate them with the fall of civilization, c. late-90s, early-2000s, CE. Of the official volumes, the most recent is #106, which was released last month. These are compilations that had a strong TV-advertising presence but were also found in stores. The degree to which these compilations have been certified platinum multiple times is STAGGERING and a little sickening and has continued while most of the rest of the tangible-media music market flounders. Look at the Wikipedia page; it’s crazy.


I digress. The TV ads for Pure Reggae coincided with my TV-watching peak, during college, when Pete and I had a lot of time, cable TV, and very little money. As such our Pure Reggae consciousness saturation was 100%. We shared our interest in the compilation with my mom, who also watched a lot of cable TV (in her case it was watching the Food Network or ironically watching Fox News as opposed to MTV2 and Golden Girls on Lifetime in our case). We each got a copy. I believe my mom ordered it from TV and I *think* I bought Pete a copy on Amazon, back when Jeff Bezos was but a multi-millionaire. I used my very first credit card, a student Capital One card that had a $200 limit, which was still enough to ruin my life for a little while. 


I regret to inform you that Pure Reggae Volume 1 is NOT available on Spotify. There’s some imposter, which includes “Israelites,” is not the correct compilation and is fortunately/unfortunately far more high-brow than the old favorite edition. For reference, here is the tracklisting:


1 Bob Marley & The Wailers - Stir it Up

2 Aswad - Don't Turn Around

3 Arrow - Hot Hot Hot

4 Third World - Now That We Found Love

5 Inner Circle - Bad Boys

6 Eric Clapton - I Shot the Sheriff

7 Desmond Dekker - Israelites

8 The Melodians - Rivers of Babylon

9 Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers to Cross

10 Chaka Demus & Pliers - Tease Me

11 Freddie Notes & The Rudies - Montego Bay

12 Lord Creator - Kingston Town

13 Millie Small - My Boy Lollipop

14 Apache Indian - Boom Shakalak

15 Eddy Grant - Electric Avenue

16 Big Mountain - Baby, I Love Your Way

17 Dawn Penn - You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)

18 Bob Marley & The Wailers - Exodus 


Part of the miracle of this compilation is that there’s a lot of fun trash on it, but there’s a lot of really, REALLY great stuff here, too. I wouldn’t think it was medically possible, but I love hearing “Bad Boys” in non-COPS contexts (which is now the only way to hear it; RIP COPS). Can anyone listen to “Tease Me” without doing the “meow” in the chorus? “Baby I Love Your Way,” which is Frampton trash to begin with, was given the reggae treatment by an otherwise excellent artist and then was drilled into the ground by the Reality Bites soundtrack and received an exhausting amount of play on alternative radio in the mid-90s. I legitimately hate it. However, hearing this compilation was also my introduction to the original version of “Rivers of Babylon” and easily my second favorite on the collection, “Montego Bay,” which I can’t wait to hear again when I dig out our CD after I’m done writing this up. THIS IS A GREAT COLLECTION. 


ANYway, as mentioned, Pete and I loved “Israelites” best and picked up a number of Desmond Dekker’s collections and his entire repertoire is fucking solid. “007 (Shanty Town)” is another stone-cold classic and appears on the soundtrack album to The Harder They Come, which is Pete’s current favorite morning listen. We watched the film for the first time recently and it wasn’t High Cinema, but both fun and bad-ass. I hope this isn’t too white-girl of me, but Jimmy Cliff was a hottie back in the day, too. “Honour Your Mother and Father” also slaps, despite the wholly unappealing title and “It Mek” is groovy as hell. He’s just the best. DEFINITELY check out the unofficial video I’ve linked here. He was a killer performer. 


Another quick note about “Israelites.” For some reason Pete and I decided that it was our first cat’s favorite song. He was named Milo after Milo Aukerman of the Descendents. Milo would sing it, we decided, and would change the lyrics to the “Miloites.” We also decided that he loved breakfast best, out of all meals. 


So there you have it. DJ on Pure Reggae and “Israelites.”