Dead Kennedys formed in San Francisco in 1978 and were a driving force in the US punk scene.
The quartet’s sound took influences from instrumental surf rock, rockabilly and garage rock and wrapped it up in super-charged punk. With tongue firmly in cheek, Jello Biafra’s politically-charged lyrics provided a scathing commentary on the social issues of the day.
During that time, the band – including guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer DH Peligro – released four studio albums before parting ways in late 1986.
They reunited in 2001 – sans Biafra – and are currently fronted by Wynona Ryders’ Ron ‘Skip’ Greer.
We challenged East Bay Ray to pick the 10 definitive tracks from the band’s back catalogue…
HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA (1980 single, on Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, 1987) To me, this is one of our best songs, it’s got so much going for it. It may not sound that complicated on the surface but it actually has a lot more sections than most other songs. And a secret, unexpected ingredient with the drum beat. I never get tired of playing it.
CALIFORNIA ÜBER ALLES (1979 single, on Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, 1987) Our Wagnerian piece with a bolero rhythm. This was our very first recording. I remember planning the session out and getting the band into the inexpensive basement studio. This was also where I learned to mix, we spent eight hours recording and 30 hours mixing! I kept going back and doing it over and over again until we all liked it on all our different home players. And in the car, don’t forget.
POLICE TRUCK (1980 single, on Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, 1987) A great kicking song. We tried to mix this single, along with Holiday In Cambodia as a band, but there were too many cooks in the kitchen. I went off and did a mix on my own, which the band could choose or not, and I was gratified when they all decide that my mix was the one that was to be released as the single. But that led to problems further down the road, a certain lead singer had to see to it that I didn’t mix the band ever again.
TOO DRUNK TO FUCK (1981 single, on Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, 1987) A true to life story that a lot of people can relate to. Musically, it’s kind of inspired by surf instrumentals.
MOON OVER MARIN (Plastic Surgery Disasters, 1982) Most of the band and our record label at the time wanted to release this as a single, it would have made a great one. But Biafra was concerned about having a song that I wrote be bigger than something he was more involved in – so he didn’t let that happen.
MTV GET OFF THE AIR (Frankenchrist, 1984) I like MTV Get Off The Air because it’s got so many different feels but still hangs together as one song. I even got to work in a spaghetti western part.
NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF (In God We Trust, Inc. 1981) At a certain point, the punk scene started spawning these violent jar head types. They didn’t think much and felt they were supposed to be violent, like soccer hooligans. They were dragging the scene down from its diversity and creativity, and this was our response.
BLEED FOR ME (Plastic Surgery Disasters, 1982) A song about going to war for oil. It’s disappointing and sad that this song is still so relevant today. One part that is stands out to me is how the dark and evil music of the pre-chorus really fits the subject.
LET’S LYNCH THE LANDLORD (Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980) This song was inspired by a real landlord of one of the apartments we lived in at the time. It has a bit of a ‘60s garage band vibe to it, which is one of Biafra and mine’s favourite styles.
RIOT (Plastic Surgery Disasters, 1982) During the intro, there’s a scratch sound I make on my guitar, which I just kind of did. One time we we’re playing it playing live, I’ll always remember this, and the audience cheered right at that part. It really let me know how much the band and our music is loved.
Dead Kennedys with guitarist East Bay Ray (right)
The band are on tour this month, including dates at Hellfest and six UK dates. For ticket details, click here.