Desmond Dekker: 40 Choice Goodies

by May 15, 2024Articles, Report

Desmond Dekker - 40 Choice Goodies

Probably no other Jamaican artist has brought more acclaim to his island home than Desmond Dekker, barring, of course, Bob Marley, but Dekker came first.

Desmond Adolphus Dacres aka Desmond Dekker was born in 1941 in St Andrew Parish, Jamaica, but spent his formative years in Kingston. In 1961, he auditioned for Coxsone Dodd (Studio One) and Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), though neither audition was successful. The unsigned vocalist then auditioned for Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s record label and was awarded his first recording contract in 1962.

Kong chose to record and release Honour Your Mother and Father (written by Dekker and the song that Dekker had sung in his Kong audition two years earlier), which became a Jamaican hit and established Dekker’s musical career. Then Leslie Kong died in 1971, and that was it. Yes, he did some work with Bruce Anthony and Warrick Lynn released on Rhino after 1971 but you could tell the vibes had gone. How could anyone else ever re-create the vibes that brought him so many massive international hits like OO7 (Shanty Town), Israelites, and You Can Get It You Really Want. These tunes brought reggae music to the world. They sold millions and are still selling today.

01 | Honour Your Mother And Father (1962)

Nearly all the early artists were inspired by the Bible. Some were more inspired than others. Desmond’s inspirations came every now and again. This one is very memorable. Even in 1963, all the trademark Desmond Dekker vocal techniques are there. His voice goes up and down – and then bends around certain words. You are compelled to listen to him. Unlike certain tunes which have caused much confusion over the years, to say the least. Every part of the lyrics is clear. When it comes to the rhythm, the bassline is bouncing here. It’s a walking bassline that has decided to run.

02 | Madgie (1962)

Prince Buster’s Madness gets a relick on the Beverley’s label. Although it’s possible that it is the other way around and Prince Buster’s tune is based on Madgie. There is no real way of knowing unless someone in Kingston bought the tunes and wrote down the date of them. Not much chance of that! It could also be that both tunes share a melody from yet another tune which remains unknown. Not many certainties in reggae music, instead uncertainty. If you are looking for hard facts, you are going to be spending a lot of time looking.

03 | Parents (1963)

A very unusual tune, with a response to Desmond’s own Honour Your Mother And Father. It’s all about encouraging parents to be wise in the way they treat their children. Many people have written books on this subject with some taking the position ‘Spare The Rod, and Spoil The Child’. Yet if fear was the answer, why are there so many problems in the world? And most of the people who instil this fear are the real problem. They enjoy inflicting pain, and if it’s not on people, adults, or children, it’s on animals.

04 | Labour For Learning (1963)

Toots loved his Bible, Desmond seemed very big on education. Time and time again, the word ‘Learn’ is employed in his songs. This is the earliest example. “Learning is better than silver or gold.” Although it seems to me learning has now been replaced by endless debate or even worse argument. Fact gets confused with opinion. The producer of this song is a perfect example – Leslie Kong. When it comes to producers no one else even comes close. You might like Coxsone, Duke Reid, Lee Perry, Prince Buster, etc. but Leslie had more international hits and big sellers than any of them. That is a fact.

05 | Jeserine (1964)

‘Call and response’ are at the heart of all Black music. And providing the ‘response’ on Jeserine are probably the Four Aces – or the Aces. Clive Campbell, Barry Howard, Carl Howard, Patrick Howard, Patrick Johnson, and Winston Samuels were all members of the group over the years. Recording for Coxsone, before they joined Beverley’s. Vocal groups in Jamaica are in a total state of flux. Being a member of a group could just mean that a person was in the studio at the time a tune was being made. Also, it must be remembered a lot of tunes got recorded but not released. The group breaks up then reforms with different members and records that tune for another producer who released it. Trying to keep track of all of this is just a headache.

06 | Dracula (1964)

A remarkable tale of Desmond walking the beach late one night, all alone. And then encountering a beautiful girl with a lovely smile who then turns out to be a ‘Dracula’. With all the interest in Vampire films, coming out of Hammer films in the UK at the time, this makes perfect sense. Very little was left uncommented on in Jamaica in those times. Moon shots, world affairs, new products. So, the world of the Supernatural was not going to be ignored.


Desmond Dekker – Dracula

07 | King Of Ska (1964)

A strange tune, not sure if Desmond is claiming he is the ‘King Of Ska’. Aah, Desmond is posing a question, he’s not making any claims. So, at the time, who was making such a claim? Prince Buster, Byron Lee – who knows. There was no King Of Ska. The Skatalites were the collective Kings Of Ska. They didn’t invent it, but they gave it a name and refined it. It was truly a shame that they were not given an opportunity to take it to the world. But many many years later they were. And thankfully they are still going now, although sadly nearly all of the original members are no longer with us.

08 | It Was Only A Dream (1965)

Even though the Doowop style had fallen out of favour in the US, it was still popular in Jamaica. And from time to time, nearly all the popular groups of the time went back to it. In the sixties, you can find Doowop records from the Ethiopians, The Maytals, The Paragons, The Wailers, and many many more. Although Soul had taken over in the US. Trying to recreate that sound in Jamaica with orchestra arrangements was beyond Jamaica. Not so Doowop. Once the vocal group is in place, all you need is a guitar, but a drum and piano make the sound even better. A nice song also helps and ‘Dreaming’ is a very popular subject in Doowop.

09 | Get Up Adina (1965)

Desmond once again turns his attention to educational matters, although this is lacking the compassion heard on Parents. Poor Adina is under threat in this song of being sent back to her mother. The actual rhythm of the song is lively enough – perhaps to encourage the Sleepy Adina. Now if Nora Dean was in the area, she would probably write a response tune to Desmond, all about her good friend Adina, and how you don’t treat her right!

10 | This Woman (1965)

More or less the same kind of tune, it might even be the same woman! Desmond plays around with the words of the song in fine style, rolling a word here and there to great effect. And it’s yet another strong rhythm, with some wild drum on metal rimshots which are always good to hear in Ska. In fact, they sound good to hear in any form of reggae music. Strangely you don’t often hear this style of drumming on Beverley’s productions. But you can hear that bouncing bass which is an ever-present part of Beverley’s productions from Ska to Roots

11 | Mount Zion (1965)

A welcome return to the Bible for this one. And a subject that dominated music in the seventies. ‘Zion’. Well, there weren’t many tunes written about this subject back in the Ska era but this is one of them. And it’s a great one. A strong rhythm with those drum on metal drum licks pushes the rhythm along in fine style. The fervour it creates takes Desmond to new heights. “One of these days, I’m going to hear you say, come home, before it’s too late.” A great work.

12 | It’s A Shame (1965)

The music is slowing down here. This one isn’t really Ska, but it’s not Rock Steady either. It’s like someone cannot make up his mind about which way to go. Listen out for the horns. They are playing the basslines, horn players playing a Rock Steady bassline! The bassline itself is neither Ska or Rock Steady. So, it really comes down to the tempo of the song. For those who like looking around for the origins of music styles, this is a big clue. It is not the tune that links Ska to Rock Steady, but it is very very close.

13 | 007 (Shanty Town) (1966)

You cannot get a bigger tune than this. I think this was the tune I heard on a BBC report back in the sixties. I was ten at the time. And I can say it was life-changing. I had been listening to New Orleans tunes from the fifties. Hearing this, I thought this is like those tunes, only better. It was the tune that made Desmond an international star and turned Leslie Kong into the biggest and best producer of reggae at the time. Pure rocksteady with one of the most memorable guitar licks in any kind of music. And Desmond had not sung a word yet. And then he lets rip “OO7…” The rest of the song is an incredible mix of words that leads into a report on the Rude Boys… Little did Desmond know what effect this song would have on white working-class youth in the UK. They did not have a name then, but they came to be known as Skinheads.

007 (Shanty Town)

Desmond Dekker – 007 (Shanty Town)

14 | Wise Man (1967)

Parables are another popular way of communicating in reggae music. Justin Hinds was the master of the parable. And in more recent times, so is Admiral Tibet. And, of course, Desmond loved his parables. When it comes to ‘Wise Man’ or ‘Wise Men’, reggae artists usually call upon Solomon – the wisest of all Wise Men. The rhythm is pure Rock Steady. It has a great bassline, and Lyn Taitt does his thing on guitar. A great tune.

15 | Rudy Got Soul (1967)

A single and also the title track of an excellent Desmond Dekker compilation set from Trojan Records. What it is, is a Rock Steady track with some excellent congo and bongo playing. And it really does give the tune a nice soul feel – over a well-built Rock Steady rhythm. Desmond sings well, even though the actual lyrics are not saying much. Thankfully no one ever tried to take Desmond down the road of trying to appeal to a wider audience. That voice was made for reggae music and reggae music alone.

16 | You’ve Got Your Troubles (1967)

A massive Rock Steady bassline on this. Surprisingly, this tune has not been licked over many many times. But that’s how it goes with rhythms. Nothing ever happens before it’s time as Desmond would probably sing. One day this will turn into a big rhythm, no doubt about it. Meanwhile, you can enjoy the first cut from Desmond. More or less a life song. Not a love song from the man. Yes, it’s about a relationship between a man and a woman. But it’s also a lot more. Not a typical song from the man, but still a great one.

17 | Keep A Cool Head (1967)

An amazing song. Keeping cool and playing it cool was another popular topic in Jamaica in the sixties. Desmond only covered the subject once by name but I’m sure his songs are full of lyrics about ‘Cool’. What is also of note is the number of chord changes in the tune. You don’t often hear a lot of chord changes in reggae tunes and when you do they don’t usually add anything to the tune but on this tune. Desmond really goes for it – “For in the dark, where your conscious hides, there is no place you can hide.”

18 | Personal Possession (1967)

Another one of Desmond’s life songs. With all the best will in the world, you can’t call it a love song. “Don’t do the things you are doing to me pretty baby, no more.” It’s all sung over another great Rock Steady rhythm. Then comes Roland Alphonso with his little solo, the cherry on the cake of this tune. When reggae music gave up on the solos, it lost a lot. It changed people’s interest in certain instruments. And the result was that the instrumental, a natural extension of the solo, all but disappeared.

19 | Unity (1967)

A massive tune for Desmond in Jamaica, I think it actually won the Jamaican Song Festival. The lyrics are all about unity with Desmond spelling out the word letter by letter. “We must live as one because two wrongs never make a right.” He does love a parable! The song also features a Rock Steady rhythm that is picking up-tempo. It’s not at ‘Reggae’ speed yet, but it’s moving in that direction. When the rhythm guitar starts playing two strokes instead of one, then you know it’s reggae – plus the organ shuffle.

20 | Pretty Africa (1967)

With Jamaica only four years into its independence, the calls for repatriation never ceased. As someone was to sing years later (I think it was Black Uhuru): “Who would give up a continent for a small island in the Caribbean?” Desmond’s statement is not along the lines of Junior Byles, Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, and so many more, but the statement has been made. Independence was just the first step. Who Jamaica wanted to link up with next was up to them. Although Africa was ravaged by war and poverty, and today it’s even worse, there was not much of a choice.

Pretty Africa

Desmond Dekker – Pretty Africa

21 | Mother Long Tongue (1967)

Another popular tune from the man. Giving a certain character a name is also very popular in Jamaican music. The Maytals had Peeping Tom and Monkey Man. You just know what type of person this is without even hearing it. Mother Long Tongue is, of course, a gossip. Trying to think of others, and, of course, recalling them is difficult. Joe Grind comes to mind but the less said about him the better! With Mother Long Tongue Desmond states she is “See and Blind, and Hear And Deaf – What is wrong with you.”

22 | Sabotage (1967)

With Derrick Harriot’s Solomon doing well, it looks like Desmond thought it would be a good idea to add some different lyrics to the riddim. Perhaps it was the other way around. Just because Solomon is the more well-known cut, it does not make it first. Look at the madness around the 54-46 rhythm from The Maytals. Without a doubt, that was the first cut – and it was a hit, and yet some persist on calling it Feel Like Jumping, the Studio One cut from Marcia Griffiths which was not a hit. A very good tune, but not a hit. You can call a rhythm whatever you like, but don’t do it just to create confusion.

23 | It Pays (1967)

Back into the parables for this one. “It pays to do good” is the simple message of the tune. The Rude Boys were probably still troubling Desmond’s thinking. But it had not given up on them, it was just finding a way to get through to them. The Rude Boys must have been around before Independence, but the movement (if you can call it a movement) certainly grew after Independence. That is why there are so many songs on the topic. Desmond, like so many other people, was trying his best to understand what was going on.

24 | Young Generation (1967)

Yet another tune that tries to make sense of what is happening in Jamaica. “What is going to happen to the young generation, what is going to happen to the youth of today.” All of this is set to the melody of Always Together, originally by Bob & Marcia which wasn’t released by Coxsone until 1969. Once again, it was Coxsone playing this tune on his sound in 1967. Or was it the tune from Bob & Marcia, built on the melody of this tune? Someone knows the answer, but not me.

25 | Bongo Gal (1967)

Another dance tune from Desmond. On this occasion, it is all about the dance moves of a certain gal. “I love the way, you jump and shake your leg, that’s unbelievable” It doesn’t sound like a lot but Desmond’s voice is able to express so much. Proving once again, “It’s not what you say but it’s how you say it.” It also has a great Rock Steady rhythm but one that features no Bongos or Congas at all, which, considering the title, is very strange.

26 | Beautiful & Dangerous (1968)

A very nice bouncing bass is well upfront on this tune and the tempo is just moving up. It’s not reggae yet, but you can hear it’s coming. What really brought reggae forward was the organ shuffle. As soon as you hear that, you know it’s Reggae, You can’t really do an organ shuffle in Rock Steady. Although knowing Jamaica, they probably tried. And when it comes to the Beverley’s sound what is also missing is that slowed down Mento guitar.

27 | It Mek (1968)

Another massive hit from Desmond. This one has got a lot of fantastic harmonies, a magnificent rhythm, and a set of lyrics that defy the most noted translators. “You think I never see you when you jump over the wall, you think I never see you when you accidentally fall” No problem with that, it’s what comes after that is still baffling. It matters not though, you know that Desmond is singing the song from the heart. It means something to him, and I’m sure it will mean something to you once you have heard it.

It Mek

Desmond Dekker – It Mek

28 | Hey Grandma (1968)

A much-loved tune from Desmond, not one of his massive hits but one that explains and retells the story of so many youths in Jamaica. More often than not the day-to-day parenting of children gets left to grandparents. It starts at an early age and goes well into the teenage years. Children, being children, are less likely to argue with a grandparent. Grandparents tend to respond differently to their grandchildren than their children. And this is what this tune is all about. “Hey grandma, I didn’t mean to stay out late. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just singing a song.”

29 | Writing On The Wall (1968)

Another popular theme in Reggae – the same idea was used by the Viceroys much later. This one seems to be drawn from the Bible. “Who saw the writing on the wall,” sings Desmond, back comes a response from the Aces. “John saw the writing on the wall.” It’s another 1968 release, and still no sign of a reggae rhythm. We know they were releasing ‘Reggae’ tunes in 1968 on Beverley’s – but they were not releasing them from Desmond Dekker. If an artist is doing well with a sound, why change it?

30 | Intensified (aka Music Like Dirt) (1968)

More proof of that came with this release. Although the tempo is up on this, it’s still not Reggae. Of real interest is the way Desmond rolls words. There are no mystery lyrics on this, it’s just a great dance tune “We are having a party, I hope you are hearty – Rum baba baba boy…” It’s a lyrical hook that he uses time and time again to great effect. Jamaica loves little catchphrases ‘Intensified’ is one ‘Copestic’ is another one. Some of them just say within Reggae music, but others like ‘Mash Up’ have gone international, with newsreaders and weather people using it.

31 | Israelites (1968)

What an amazing tune this is. It still sounds fresh after all these years. A massive, massive hit. Not on the pop charts but all over the world. And it’s a pure roots tune – no comprises at all. And if you like lyrical mash-ups this is the ultimate. More so because of its popularity. Despite it being 1968, the rhythm is really still more Rock Steady than Reggae. It shows you the power of this tune. It defies everything. An out-of-time classic, meaning it’s a Rock Steady tune in the Reggae era. Reggae music at its best – even if it’s not really reggae.

32 | Pickney Gal (1969)

At last a Reggae tune from Desmond. This was a man in no hurry to join the Reggae revolution. The drums are the first clue. It has those crashing drums much loved in that era. No double strokes on the rhythm, but a bassline that is Reggae. What it got though is Beverley’s secret weapon. A bouncing bassline and a mento rhythm guitar. When Desmond steps up to the microphone stand, he tells a story of his savings being put in a condensed milk can, only to go missing. The song contains the immortal “How could you say, you are telling the truth, come here girl, pickney just come here, where you think you running to?”

33 | You Can Get It If Really Want (1970)

By now Desmond really was Reggae’s first international superstar. And if there were any doubts this tune confirmed it. Written for him by Jimmy Cliff, it took Desmond back into the charts again. And deservedly so. From the opening trumpet to the rhythm of the song itself, it has everything. And if you were wondering, yes it is a real Reggae tune with its bouncing basslines and mento rhythm guitar plus some great picking guitar from Hux Brown. The song was so good, he was singing for so many on it. “Rome was not built in a day, opposition will come your way…”

34 | Song We Used To Sing (1970)

By now, the process of adding strings to everything to do with Reggae music had started. There was no way Desmond could avoid getting mixed up in it. Having said this, the string arrangement on this tune is acceptable. Not sure about the harmonies though. But once you get past these problems, you will find a great rhythm and a great song. By now, people were looking back to past times with great affection. “How bodies ache, our fingers shake, how well is a break, nothing to ease the pain.” A song about old age, which fifty years later is still the truth.

35 | Licking Stick (1970)

After a detour into the mad world of so-called commercial Reggae, we are back into the Roots with this truly great tune. The rhythm was evolving again, it was slowing down but not going back to Rock Steady. This tune had all the aspects of a Roots rhythm. The rhythm guitar is almost playing a scrubbing rhythm, the mento guitar is also present, giving the tune some incredible tension. Little flashes of piano increase that feeling. The song is about domestic violence, another social problem that has gotten worse over the years.

Licking Stick

Desmond Dekker – Licking Stick

36 | Live & Learn (1971)

One of the biggest crazes (for want of a better word) in reggae music in the early seventies was the medleys. Every artist and producer big and small released at least one medley. This one from Desmond was the most popular. It ended up on the Club Reggae 3 album from Trojan and only the biggest tunes of the time were put on those albums. Desmond mixes three songs Live & Learn, Sabotage, and a song from Nat King Cole, which I think is called Goodnight My Love. And it really works. The rhythm is magnificent and Desmond sounds in great form.

37 | First Time For A Long Time (1973)

Released two years after the passing of Leslie Kong, you can tell this session comes from about 1970. Without a doubt, it’s a Leslie Kong production or at least a Beverley’s. No one else on the planet could build a rhythm like that. Desmond sings about how he feels. “It’s the first time, for a long time that I feel miserable all over.” Like Jimmy Cliff, you can only imagine how he felt about the world then. Reggae music was taking a hammering in the music press and with Desmond and Jimmy being so high profile they felt it more than most.

38 | Sing A Little Song (1974)

Rhino Records in the UK was originally EMI’s reggae label. Around this time, 1974, it became more active. Trojan Records had begun to struggle and there were loads of small independent labels coming up. Count Shelly, DIP, Jama, Magnet. One of them was Cactus a label run by the ‘Two Bruces’ one of them was Bruce Anthony. And it is he, who produced this tune from Desmond. And for me, he did a good job, It captured what Desmond was all about and brought him up to date musically with a good rhythm.

39 | Busted Lad (1974)

Warrick Lynn is at the controls for this one. Warrick was more or less the producer for so many sessions for Beverley’s. After Leslie Kong died he went on to work with Dynamics. It was a natural place for Desmond to go. Toots was there with Warrick. Like Toots, Desmond had massive hits but what was needed now was a new sound. And you can hear that it was the Now Generation sound that had the most appeal. It’s even possible that Now Generation is playing on this. The song itself is a version of Israelites with new lyrics and it’s well sung by Desmond.

40 | Travel On (1974)

Incredible, this is another cut of Sing A Little Song. It’s the same rhythm but with different lyrics. Once again, produced by Warrick Lyn. And also released on Rhino a good year after the Bruce Anthony production came out. There must be some kind of story to this tune, but the most important thing is that it’s another great song from Desmond. It would have been great if Desmond had stuck with Warrick Lynn. Reggae music was changing fast though. Desmond had made some incredible contributions to the popularity of music in harsh times. Those times weren’t going to get any better.


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