Desmond Dekker ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ Expanded CD (Doctor Bird) 4/5

As indicated in the authoritative inner sleeve notes, singer Desmond Dekker auditioned at Beverly’s in Jamaica while both Jimmy Cliff and Derek Morgan were in the studios. So impressed was Morgan by Dekker’s compositional talents and vocal delivery that the young vocalist was invited back, proving to be the beginning of a highly successful career. While this writer is especially fond of the early work (and watch out in these columns for a forthcoming anthology of that work), this present re-issues focuses attention on his singles between 1970 and 1975, when Dekker was gaining much wider attention beyond the shores of Jamaica and started making series inroads into the UK pop market. The title track became a massive pop hit, going all the way to the number two spot in the charts, and is characteristic of a period at the beginning of the 1970s when reggae seemingly ruled supreme, with a new generation of youth turned on to this intoxicating young sound.

Desmond Dekker was born in Kingston in 1941, but subsequently moved to the Parish of Seaford, St. Thomas. His early musical influences were those of American soul and jazz singers, most notably Nat ‘King’ Cole, Brook Benton, but also Jackie Wilson and The Platters. The fact of the matter is that in the newly independent Jamaica, barely five years old, young Jamaicans were tuning into American radio stations, being inspired by those sounds, but in the process, beginning to create a musical voice that was uniquely Jamaican. While nothing quite matched up to the title track of the album, and it is a de facto anthem for Dekker and early reggae music in general, the singer enjoyed further success with the excellent ‘Pickney Gal’, which also came out as a 45. Where this selection is particularly useful is with the bonus 45s that provide a wider overview of Dekker’s career as he became a household name in the UK charts. Among these additional singles, pride of place must go to ‘Beware’, which remains a firm favourite and was another, albeit lesser, chart success. Sadly, just as Desmond Dekker hit big in the UK, studio producer Leslie Kong suffered a fatal heart attack aged just thirty-seven in 1971. Not necessarily definitive Dekker, and with a greater emphasis on the crossover side to his career, but incredibly catchy music all the same. Informative sleeve notes are supplied by reggae historian Noel Hawke and with the usual attention to detail that has become a hallmark of these exemplary reggae re-issues, beautifully illustrated graphical illustrations that include a plethora of original 45 labels, concert flyers from the era and photos.

In 2017, Real Gone Music reissued the album on vinyl for the first time since its original release, featuring 12 tracks. This expanded CD from Doctor Bird take matters further in 2018 with a total of 23 songs, and for the very first time on CD.

Tim Stenhouse