Plenty of 1969’s biggest hits are hard-wired into the cultural hive-mind – whatever in Christ’s name that is, but it sounded good from brain to fingers – and ‘The Israelites’ is there as the first tick for reggae. Not the first reggae record, of course; that would take eons of tedious debate to pinpoint and here we like to fly by the seat of our pants (nappies were jettisoned back in March). So, by popular consensus (mine and Junior’s), we stand in awe at what, in a Top Of The Pops world, might fairly be judged Day One for reggae.
With that settled, we can bask in the record’s sunny misery. Desmond takes us by the hand – through an intro that almost threatens to break down before it begins – then drags us down to a tough old existence, soundtracking it with the most cheery melody this side of bleedin’ B*witched. It’s the neatest trick in the book. Within bars you’re wailing his proud defiance and bewilderment with wretched glee.
To a child, ‘The Israelites’ has the reach of a novelty record. The tune clings like Velcro and the chorus is straight onto the tongue, accurate words or not (yes, thank you, Maxell). Junior hails it an instant classic – signified by hands clapping at an unusually early stage – and flexes her knees to the rhythm in passable imitation of our old favourite, the White Man’s Reggae Dance. She’s perhaps a little too bang on the beat for it to be a genuine WMRD, but it’s nice to see the effort.