Table of Contents
Desmond Dekker is a Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae singer-songwriter, who is widely considered as one of the pioneers of Jamaican music. He rose to international prominence in the 1960s, with his signature hits like “Israelites,” “007 (Shanty Town),” and “The Israelites,” which topped the UK charts and introduced ska music to a wider audience. Throughout his career, Dekker recorded many iconic songs that helped to shape the sound of Jamaican music and inspire generations of artists. From his early recordings with the Aces to his solo work, Dekker’s catalog is full of timeless classics. Some of his best songs capture the spirit of Jamaica and the struggles of everyday life in the country, while others are upbeat and fun-loving. This list of the 10 Best Desmond Dekker Songs of All Time includes some of his most influential and enduring recordings, from his early ska and rocksteady hits to his later reggae tracks. Each of these songs showcases his unique vocal style, catchy melodies, and infectious rhythms, and they continue to be celebrated and loved by fans around the world.
1. 007 (Shanty Town)
“007 (Shanty Town)” is a classic reggae song by Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker. The song was released in 1967 and became a hit in both Jamaica and the UK, where it reached number 14 on the charts. The song is known for its catchy melody, upbeat rhythm, and Dekker’s distinctive vocal style. The lyrics of “007 (Shanty Town)” tell the story of a man who lives in a shanty town and works as a security guard. He is nicknamed “007” because he is always alert and watching out for trouble. Despite his difficult living conditions, the man remains positive and hopeful, dreaming of a better life in the future. The song’s success helped to popularize reggae music in the UK and around the world. It has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including The Specials and The Skatalites.
“Israelites” is a song by Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker, released in 1968. It became a hit in both the UK and the US, reaching the top ten on both countries’ charts. The song is regarded as one of the first reggae hits to achieve widespread international success. The song’s lyrics are about the struggles of the working class in Jamaica, specifically those who work on banana plantations. The narrator describes the difficult conditions they face, including poverty and discrimination. Despite these hardships, the narrator remains proud of his heritage and culture, proclaiming, “My wife and my kids, they pack up and leave me, darlin’. Because somehow they just don’t believe me. And I’m left alone like a bird on a shelf. Tell me, isn’t life for Israelite?”
3. Ah It Mek
“Ah It Mek” is a classic reggae tune by Jamaican singer Desmond Dekker, released in 1968. The song was written by Dekker himself and produced by Leslie Kong. It features a catchy rhythm guitar riff and infectious sing-along chorus that captures the upbeat spirit of the era. The lyrics of “Ah It Mek” tell the story of a man who is down on his luck but finds solace in music and dance. He sings, “Every night when I go home, I thank the Lord I’m not alone, my heart starts feelin’ glad, I feel so good I wanna get mad, ah, it mek, it mek me feel so fine, it mek me feel on top of the world.” The song became a hit in the UK, reaching number 9 on the singles chart, and helped to popularize ska and reggae music outside of Jamaica. It also helped to establish Desmond Dekker as one of the leading figures in the genre.
4. Fu Manchu
“Fu Manchu” is another popular song by Desmond Dekker, released in 1968. The song features a driving beat and Dekker’s soulful vocals, which are accompanied by a horn section that gives the tune a brassy, upbeat feel. The lyrics of “Fu Manchu” tell the story of a man who is falsely accused of a crime and forced to flee from the authorities. He sings, “I’m on the run, I’m on the run, got to find me a place to hide, they say I shot a man down, but I didn’t even draw my knife.” The song is notable for its use of the character Fu Manchu, who was a popular fictional villain at the time. The character, who was created by British author Sax Rohmer, was often portrayed as a sinister Asian mastermind who was bent on world domination.
5. You Can Get It If You Really Want
“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff and “Rude Boy Train” by Desmond Dekker are both classic ska songs from the 1960s, representing the Jamaican music genre that blended elements of jazz, R&B, and Caribbean rhythms. You Can Get It If You Really Want” was written by Jimmy Cliff and released in 1970. It features a catchy melody and inspiring lyrics that encourage listeners to pursue their dreams and never give up. The song became a hit in the UK and the US and was later featured in the soundtrack of the movie “The Harder They Come,” which helped popularize Jamaican music internationally.
6. Rude Boy Train
“Rude Boy Train” was recorded by Desmond Dekker and his backing group The Aces in 1967. The song’s upbeat tempo and driving horn section create a sense of energy and urgency that are characteristic of ska music. The lyrics tell the story of a rude boy who rides the train into town to cause trouble and “mash up” the dance. The song became a hit in the UK and helped establish Desmond Dekker as one of the most important ska artists of the era, these songs showcase the upbeat and danceable nature of ska music, as well as its ability to tell stories and inspire listeners. They are beloved classics of the genre and continue to be enjoyed by fans of Jamaican music around the world.
7. Baby Come Back
“Baby Come Back” is a song by the English reggae and pop band, The Equals. It was released in 1968 and became one of the band’s biggest hits, reaching number one in the UK charts and number 32 in the US charts. The song is a classic example of the band’s upbeat, feel-good sound, blending elements of rock, pop, and reggae. The track’s catchy guitar riff and upbeat tempo immediately grab the listener’s attention, while the lyrics tell the story of a man pleading with his former lover to come back to him.
Eddie Grant, the band’s lead vocalist, wrote the song and delivers an energetic and passionate performance, backed by the band’s tight musicianship and vocal harmonies. The song’s production is crisp and clean, with a driving rhythm section and a bright, sunny sound that perfectly captures the carefree spirit of the 1960s.
“Sabotage” is a song by the American hip-hop group, Beastie Boys. It was released in 1994 as the first single from their fourth studio album, “Ill Communication.” The song is notable for its heavy guitar riff, pounding drums, and aggressive, shouted vocals, which combine to create an intense, hard-hitting sound that perfectly captures the band’s punk-rock roots. The song’s music video, directed by Spike Jonze, is a parody of 1970s cop shows and features the band members dressed in cheesy police uniforms, chasing each other through the streets in a series of car chases and shootouts. The video has become one of the most iconic music videos of all time and is often cited as one of the best examples of the Beastie Boys’ irreverent, offbeat sense of humor.
9. Pickney Gal
“Pickney Gal” is a classic Jamaican folk song that tells the story of a young girl who is constantly being scolded and ridiculed by her elders. Despite their criticism, the girl remains resilient and determined to prove her worth. The song highlights the cultural divide between generations and the struggle for younger generations to be heard and respected. “Pickney Gal” has been covered by various artists and has become a staple in Jamaican music. Its catchy melody and uplifting message have made it a beloved song not only in Jamaica but also around the world.
10. King of Ska
“King of Ska” is a tribute song to the late Jamaican musician and singer, Prince Buster, who was a pioneer of ska music in the 1960s. The song was written and performed by Toots Hibbert, another legendary Jamaican musician who was also a pioneer of ska, rocksteady, and reggae music. “King of Ska” is a lively and upbeat tribute that celebrates Prince Buster’s contribution to the Jamaican music scene and his influence on subsequent generations of musicians. The song features a catchy horn section and Toots Hibbert’s signature soulful vocals, making it a must-listen for anyone interested in the history of Jamaican music.