Top 10 Dead Kennedys Songs

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Dead Kennedys are an American punk rock band formed in San Francisco in 1978. They were one of the first American hardcore bands to have success in the United Kingdom. They are one of the most staunchly political groups in the history of punk and rock music in general, making much use of satire to attack both conservative and liberal politicians whilst also taking shots at mainstream popular culture and even certain aspects of the punk scene. During their original time together as a band which lasted until 1986, their lyrics and artwork caused much controversy. As a result of this vocalist Jello Biafra became an anti-censorship activist, having several notable television talk show debates with Tipper Gore who was the founder of the Parents Music Resource Centre. The release of their third album, 1985’s Frankenchrist led to an obscenity trial due to it’s inclusion of artist H.R Geiger’s Penis Landscape drawing which ended on a hung jury in 1986.

They released four studio albums and one EP during their initial run. After they split, Biafra went on to be involved with other bands such as Lard and also became an acclaimed spoken word artist.In 2000, he became involved in a lawsuit with the rest of the band over song writing credits and royalties. A year later, they reformed without him and have had several other vocalists ever since.

10. Pull My Strings

Dead Kennedy’s popularity in the UK led to some moderate commercial success, to the point where major label Polydor offered them a deal in 1981, however Biafra was not interested and even threatened to leave the band if the other members agreed to sign the contract. It’s a wonder how this offering even came about in the first place, as the band had already made their feelings towards the music industry evidently clear when they were invited to play at the San Francisco music awards in 1980.

It would seem that the event’s organisers were unaware of what they really stood for when they booked them to provide some “new wave credibility.” Once the band took to the stage, after playing the first 15 minutes of “California Uber Alles” they abruptly stopped and then Biafra proceeded to announce “We’ve gotta prove that we’re adults now. We’re not a punk rock band, we’re a new wave band.” They then played this song which was written specially for this performance (no studio recording exists). Featuring a memorable chorus with unprintable lyrics, it ends with by parodying The Knack’s “My Sharona.” They never performed it live ever again, and the sole live recording of it ended up on 1987’s Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death compilation album.

9. MTV Get Off The Air

Another song that lambasts the music industry with use of humour, from Frankenchrist. It has a lot of different things going on but successfully manages to hold it all together as one song, including a guitar part influenced by Spaghetti Western soundtracks, which was a prevalent influence on the album.

8. Let’s Lynch The Landlord

From their 1980 debut Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, lyrically it is inspired by a real life landlord from one of apartments that the band used to live in. It is somewhat reminiscent of 60’s garage music and guitarist East Bay Ray’s surf-influenced style is very evident here.

7. Bleed For Me

From 1982’s Plastic Surgery Disaster’s, this song is about going to war for oil, so is still very relevant now. A very dark and rather sinister sounding song, the atmosphere fits the subject matter and shows the similarity the band had at times with goth groups such as Bauhaus.

6. Police Truck

Another cut from Fresh Fruit, the 60’s surf influence on the band is very evident here. Lyrically the title speaks for itself, being a shout out to “the police” and the band’s not very positive experiences with them.


5. We Got A Bigger Problem Now

Continuing with our top 10 Dead Kennedys list we turn to the the great track We Got A Bigger Problem Now. The song was released on the In God We Trust, Inc. ep. The record was released in 1981.


4. Kill the Poor

Another song from Fresh Fruit that has an ironically offensive title, the song itself also has a poppy sound to it that is given a delightfully demented twist. Sarcastically attacking the policies of president Ronald Reagan known as “Reagonomics” with talk of the neutron bomb and exposing the militaries real reasons for building it, which was to attack poor countries for profit.


3. Take This Job and Shove It

Although actually a cover of country artist Johnny Paycheck, this anti-work anthem from 1986’s Bedtime for Democracy very much suits DK’s outlook on corporate and conformist America. It is a song that anyone who has worked in a job they hate can relate to, and it is about a man who has done it for so long and with so little reward that one day he finally says what he wants to say to his boss and quits.

2. California Uber Alles

Their debut single which was re-recorded to be included on Fresh Fruit, it’s lyrics are a scathing attack on then- Governor of California Jerry Brown (who actually became governor again many years later in 2011 after Arnold Schwarzenegger) with the title being an illusion to the first stanza of the anthem of Germany with “Uber Alles” meaning “over everything” which was removed from the anthem after the fall of the Third Reich in 1945 due to being closely associated with Nazi Germany. Musically the song is a classic example of the band’s style of surf rock-influence and militaristic themes. It starts with a drum intro that sounds like a military drum, followed by a down tuned bass riff before Biafra comes in with a low vocal style before bursting into a high pitched style once the first chorus begins.

1. Holiday in Cambodia

At number one is the band’s most famous song from Fresh Fruit. The song is a masterpiece in terms of atmosphere, with it’s distorted 20 second bass intro and classic riff. Lyrically it is an attack on college students who have a misplaced feeling of intellectual superiority with the opening line “So you’ve been to school for a year or two and you know you’ve seen it all” and how their privileged lives contrast with that of those living in Cambodia under the communist dictatorship of Pol Pot which led to the genocide of an estimated two million people.

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