Smash Your Head On the Punk Rock: The Dead Kennedys - California Uber Alles

The San Francisco punks rail against hippies.

Ever feel lile the whole world is in reruns? This isn't going to help: this 1979 song from The Dead Kennedys is about then-California Governor Jerry Brown. Today it's 2013 and Jerry Brown is governer again. Jesus fucking Christ.

This is a pretty amazing track from a pretty amazing band. It's raging against conformity of left wingers, which is pretty great coming from a very left wing, very political band. They formed in San Francisco in 1978, soon enough after the deaths of Jack and Robert Kennedy that their name drew plenty of ire (they played a show on the fifteenth anniversary of JFK's assassination that had a local paper moaning the 'tastelessness' of their name. 

Frontman Jello Biafra has one of the most identifiable voices in music, and his radical politics led the way in the lyrics. He was backed up by the buzzsaw guitar of East Bay Ray, the bass of Klaus Flouride and the manic drumming of Ted; the earliest DK songs personified the louder/faster element of hardcore punk, and their seminal album In God We Trust, Inc features songs that are mostly under a minute and a half in length.

The band ended up on the wrong side of the Parents Music Resource Council and being brought up on obscenity charges with the release of Frankenchrist, which included a poster of HR Giger's Work 219: Landscape XX, aka Penis Landscape. Biafra wanted it as the cover of the album (by this point the band was releasing on their own label, the amazing Alternative Tentacle, and probably could have actually pulled that off), but the rest of the band voted him down. Giger gave the band the right to reproduce the work for just $600, well under his usual fee.

As the Dead Kennedys matured musically and lyrically, the band began to fall apart. They finally split and the acrimony was intense; Biafra, who loved to talk (he released a bunch of albums of spoken word performances) took every chance he could to shit on the rest of the band, including claiming they wanted to license the song Holiday in Cambodia to Levis. Recently the band reformed without Biafra, who called them 'the greediest karaoke band in history.' 

When California Uber Alles was written it was a swipe at the left wing, organic politics all-too familiar to San Fran punks, embodied in the state's crunchy governor. The song has a wonderful vision of how leftists can be just as fascist as right wingers, but the song was soon outdated. The spectre of hippies fell away in the 80s as Ronald Reagan's Morning in America reminded everybody what real, dangerous right wing politics looked like, and in 1981 they recorded a new version of the song - with a jazzy opening and new lyrics - as We've Got A Bigger Problem Now.

Choosing the best Dead Kennedys song is hard, but California Uber Alles is a great starting place. The song's lyrics are witty and snide, and the music is classic hardcore with an air of true menace - the bass riff especially offers a sound of fascist doom, helped by the martial sounds of the drums. 

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