This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number thirty eight in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
The greater majority of the ‘Crate’ reviews have featured artists from the fifties and sixties, from the seventies. For # 38 I am moving for the first time into the 1980’s.
The album is “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” by the Dead Kennedys. This album was released by Alternative Tentacle Records in 1980 (Virus 1). Alternative Tentacles was a small Indie label co-founded by Kennedys singer/writer, Jello Biafra in 1979.
So, who were the Dead Kennedys?
Formed in San Francisco in 1978, the group was put together by “East Bay Ray” (aka Raymond Pepperell).
Having got the taste for the quickly developing punk style of music, he advertised in a local newspaper and found his singer in “Jello Biafra (aka Eric Boucher), with the bass being filled by Klaus Flouride (aka Geoffrey Lyall) and “Ted” (aka Bruce Slesinger) on drums.
East Bay became the groups guitarist.
Noting the sound was not as full as they would have liked, about a month after forming they accepted “6025” (aka Carlos Cadona) as the second guitarist.
The Dead Kennedys played their first show the same month as recruiting “6025”, and gigs and popularity followed very quickly – controversy also followed at what might be considered, as a pace even faster than fame!
It was always going to be that way, apart from the sneers, the accidental and sometimes deliberate ‘misplaying’ of their instruments, their clothes and general ‘fuck you’ attitude, there was THE name!
The fact of the matter was, that most middle class Americans still held the name of the “Kennedys” in the highest esteem, and here comes (what appeared to be) a bunch of foul mouthed, often drunk, misnamed ‘musicians’, with the name “Dead Kennedys”.
It is probably one of the most brilliant names ever taken by a band because as the old adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and did that name generate bad publicity!
So much so, the band would sometimes have to use the name ‘DK’s” to get gigs, and other group pseudonyms used included “The Sharks“, “The Creamsicles” and “The Pink Twinkies“.
The band they never intended to denigrate the name of the Kennedys, in fact according to Biafra the name was appropriate because it was, “to bring attention to the end of the American Dream“
After a very short time 6025 “left” the group – having found their groove, having found their confidence, he simply wasn’t needed!
The Dead Kennedys were among the more quality ‘Punk’ bands and absolutely left their mark for all times.
Certainly on par with the Clash they were only just a touch behind the Sex Pistols.
Among the albums the Dead Kennedys released, this one – Fresh Fruit For Rotting vegetables is totally brilliant!
Left wing anarchism with a strong dash of manic guitar, shaken well with a total lack of respect, in fact, totally replaced with bitingly focused sarcasm and punctured with the voice of Jello Biafra.
This was punk at it’s finest!
A1. Kill the Poor 3:07
A2. Forward to Death 1:23
A3. When Ya Get Drafted 1:23
A4. Lets’ Lynch the Landlord 2:13
A5. Drug Me 1:56
A6. Your Emotions 1:20
A7. Chemical Warfare 2:58
B1. California Uber Alles 3:03
B2. I Kill Children 2:04
B3. Stealing Peoples’ Mail 1:34
B4. Funland at the Beach 1:49
B5. Ill In the Head 2:46
B6. Holiday in Cambodia 4:37
B7. Viva Las Vegas 2:42
There are some utterly fantastic tracks on this album, and among my favorites are “Kill the Poor“, “California Uber Alles” (California Above Everything Else), “Holiday in Cambodia” “Ill In The Head” and “Viva Las Vegas“.
I’m certain that other fans of the DK’s will have their favorites and they may very well be a different selection to what I have chosen.
Energy literally pours from the music of the Dead Kennedys and I love them for that, but, there is also a fantastic element of musicianship despite the fallacy that punk music is without talent!
Their first single release is on this album.
California Uber Alles is a track that Biafra wrote in response to what he saw as the fascist policies of the then Governor of California – Gerry Brown.
A powerful track that races along it is the perfect track for Biafra to show the distain he had for power makers, those who had control and his vitriol is hard to ignore.
It was a favourite track for fans at live shows
Then in an interview a few years later, he admitted in regard to brown, he might have got it wrong when he said – “I realized I was wrong about my conspiracy theory about Jerry Brown. Sure, I’d made it up all by myself and it turned out not to be true.”
California Uber Alles
Now to Holiday In Cambodia
What a great track that showed that behind the punk ethos of the band, there was a social conscience.
In this track there is some simply superb guitar work, very tight bass and drum backing and, vocals that may not exactly be the domain of Nat King Cole, but are spat out with passion and (here’s that word again!) ENERGY!
Holiday in Cambodia has all these elements and more.
Holiday in Cambodia
So you been to school for a year or two
And you know you’ve seen it all
In daddy’s car thinkin’ you’ll go far
Back east your type don’t crawl
Play ethnicky jazz to parade your snazz
On your five grand stereo
Braggin that you know how the niggers feel cold
And the slums got so much soul
It’s time to taste what you most fear
Right Guard will not help you here
Brace yourself, my dear
It’s a holiday in Cambodia
It’s tough kid, but it’s life
It’s a holiday in Cambodia
Don’t forget to pack a wife
Your a star-belly sneech you suck like a leech
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch so you can get rich
But your boss gets richer on you
Well you’ll work harder with a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers til you starve
Then your head skewered on a stake
Now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll kiss ass or crack
Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot [etc.]
There is a lot to like about the artwork associated with the album. I particularly enjoyed perusing the large fold-out that comes with it, far to big to reproduce clearly, but you get the idea.
Consisting of a collage newspaper clips, photo’s and bits of quotes for the DK’s, almost 40 years years later it’s no longer just a great piece of artwork, it is a historical snapshot of the elements of society that gave birth to the whole punk movement.
The DK’s were not, and still will not, be to everyone’s taste and I guess that would probably please the band.
For me it is the energy, the utter disregard for the ‘propriety’ of the white middle class, the cleverness of the lyrics and the mastery of their instruments – you wanna here ‘surf music as interpreted in the 1980’s – listen to Pepperell’s guitar work!
The final track I chose to play you is “Ill in the Head”.
In my mind it stands out from the rest, not that it is the ‘best’, but it actually represents a more abstract and personal song from Dead Kennedys.
Usually distancing himself from his material with humor, Biafra breaks convention and writes confessionally – “I want my own home/ I want my own girl/ Help me hate the world/ Own and love my life,”
This to me is hinting at a sadness and longing behind the wit and vitriol. It is the most revealing track on Fresh Fruit, and possibly the most honest.
Certainly the unusual guitar rift that is played, almost de-tuned, gives the whole track a ‘psychotic’ feel.
Ill in the Head
Despite the band’s moderate success, large following, and the release of three more studio albums and one EP (that’s an extended play vinyl record for anyone born after 1990), the band decided to call it quits in 1986.
2001 saw the band reunite with Ray, Peligro, Flouride, and Brandon Cruz replacing Biafra on vocals.
The band embarked on a tour across the states, Europe, Asia, South America, and Russia. Cruz left the band in May 2003 and was replaced by Jeff Penalty.
The new incarnation of the Dead Kennedys released two live albums on Manifesto Records: “Mutiny on the Bay” and “Live at the Deaf Club,” which was both moderately successful.
By 2008 the band decided to take a break from touring and played selective shows and festivals.
2010 saw the band hit the road again for a tour of the east coast with performances in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Maine and Hawaii.
During one of these shows the band debuted a new song, “You’re Such a Fake,” which the fans embraced.
Currently the band are working on solo projects and writing new material.
Somehow though, the idea of a Punk band simply playing the old material and manufacturing ‘ punk’ almost 33 years after its formation, is kinda defeating the whole ethos of the punk movement and the reason it was so exciting in the first place.
A dose of ‘Corporate Punk” anyone?
The vinyl album is available for between $75.00 and $35.00 (depending upon quality) and a more recent CD version can be obtained for around $20.00.
Get the vinyl, the cover and insert alone make the extra dollars worthwhile, and besides, I still believe vinyl sounds best!
I have included two videos, one is the track “Kill the Poor” and the other is “California Uber Alles”.
Kill The Poor
California Uber Alles
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
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