"Destructive, you're too wild!" - Dead Kennedys, Pt. 1
There have been artists I've been reluctant to blog about because their numerous albums have meant so much to me throughout my life that I was afraid I couldn't truly do them justice with a few songs and a couple hundred words. So I decided that from time to time I would do a multi-part series on certain artists that I adore, approaching things from an album-by-album breakdown. First up? Dead Kennedys, the band that got me through high school.
Dead Kennedys are a band that are never given enough credit and given the shortest of shrifts in the history books (barring anything written by Steven Blush). Even my beloved Lester Bangs gave them a drubbing. I would argue that they were the best of the second-wave punk bands, mixing rockabilly, surf, Ennio Morricone, and noise rock into a scene while thrashing and spitting venom from the mouth of someone who could actually sing...*cough* Darby Crash *cough*.
Started in 1978 after Ray Peppernell (aka East Bay Ray) posted an ad after having given up on his rockabilly band Cruisin', the band first consisted of Ray, stellar bassist Klaus Fluoride, mysterious drummer 6025 (later replaced by "Ted"), and hellcat singer Jello Biafra. Their first performances (starting in July of '78) and recordings are primitive blasts of buzzsaw punk, heavily influenced by the Ramones, but there was something different about them. They came from a dark place that wasn't goth, and the humor was of the cynical and malevolent stripe (see "Chemical Warfare," where Biafra fantasizes about spraying mustard gas in a country club, especially the waltzy, mocking bridge).
Almost a year after their first show, they put out their first release, the single "California Uber Alles." Mocking then-governor Jerry Brown, it was an instant classic, ignoring standard structure of punk songs of the time, featuring a push-and-pull time scheme and more tension than a Cassavetes film. It did relatively well in their hometown of San Francisco, and they were thus invited to play the Bay Area Music Awards, which existed basically as an excuse to give a free meal to the members of the Grateful Dead once a year. It was this that the band used as a platform for what might be the greatest musical prank ever pulled.
The band was scheduled to perform "California Uber Alles" in front of a crowd packed with Fleetwood Mac-types, coked-out hot tub types with gold chains and long hair. They came onstage wearing shirts with a spray-painted "S" on the front. About 15 seconds into the song, Biafra stopped the band and said "we've got to prove we're adults now. We're not a punk rock band, we're a new wave band." They they turned around the neckties they'd been hiding behind their backs, forming dollar signs. They then burst into "Pull My Strings," a riotous send up of the music industry that parodied the Knack and featured lines like "I''ll make my music boring/I'll play my music slow/I ain't no artist; I'm a businessman/No ideas of my own!" They weren't invited back in subsequent years, but it was totally worth it.
That spring, they released the single "Holiday in Cambodia" (backed by the wickedly good "Police Truck" and my favorite song in high school) and the album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. It was a slab of everything the band was at the time - blitzkrieg guitar, cardboard drums, Biafra's sneering delivery of lyrics that trust no one with any kind of power and authority, and Ray's creepy, Echoplex-laden leads. Highlights include the nihilistic "Forward to Death," the anthemic "Let's Lynch the Landlord," the fuck-off "Your Emotions," the hilarious "Stealing Peoples' Mail," and a cheap-speed take on the Elvis Presley standard "Viva Las Vegas."
Early in '81, Ted left the band. His replacement? The peerless DH Peligro, a dreadlocked mountain of a man who lived up to his surname. Additionally, having a black man in a hardcore punk band at a time when it was seemingly a white boys' club was pretty healthy, too. It was this line-up that recorded the In God We Trust, Inc. EP, a tossed-of short collection of songs that aligned them with the then-burgeoning hardcore scene. It was also allegedly a response to Ray's insistence that they sign to a major label - Polydor, namely. Polydor backed out, however, when they found out the next single was going to be "Too Drunk to Fuck."
Alright, I think this is long enough as it is. Part two follows tomorrow.
Holiday in Cambodia: http://www.mediafire.com/?80mjzjqyjhq
Police Truck: http://www.mediafire.com/?2dwnmvdu5e1
Pull My Strings: http://www.mediafire.com/?dbyzjwnmumr
Let's Lynch the Landlord: http://www.mediafire.com/?70zimwnloon
Your Emotions: http://www.mediafire.com/?1oo1wdhxy1j
Stealing Peoples' Mail: http://www.mediafire.com/?foyilygm0yi
Moral Majority: http://www.mediafire.com/?41ygz3iz2mz
Hyperactive Child: http://www.mediafire.com/?2ykmzwjznzq