Every punker worth his or her liberty spikes knows the Dead Kennedys songs "California Uber Alles," "Chemical Warfare," "Too Drunk to Fuck," and "Holiday in Cambodia." However, unlike many other '80s American hardcore groups, the San Francisco-based quartet also has a slew of material that is just as interesting (both musically and lyrically) as the so-called "hits."
But for some reason, these songs don't make it to t-shirts or on the backs of leather jackets. Thanks to this list, which details the five best Dead Kennedys non-hits, perhaps they will. Or, more likely, perhaps the group (guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, drummer D.H. Peligro and singer Skip Greer) will play some of these Friday when they come to the Observatory.
5. "Kill the Poor"
Singer Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray, Flouride and original drummer Ted transform an otherwise standard pop song into a demented romp through psychedelic hardcore. Don't believe me? Fast forward to the 1:48 mark and listen to that instrumental break that precedes a guitar solo that sounds like Chuck Berry dropped acid and convinced the Jefferson Airplane to play like the Ramones.
4. "Well Paid Scientist"
From a strictly musical standpoint, Dead Kennedys never sounded more pissed than they do on "Well Paid Scientist." The bass intro is fucking massive and when Peligro and East Bay Ray come in for the second bar you think you're listening to the apocalypse soundtrack. The back-and-forth exchange of F# to G in the verses would sound totally cliche if any other band wrote this song, but using the A as a small hiccup gives this riff a groove that is quintessential Dead Kennedys. Then there's the breakdown, when Biafra sings "When will you crack" twice before asking "When will you open your eyes, open your eyes, open your eyes?" If ever a how-to manual was created for how to write an American hardcore song, "Well Paid Scientist" would be the intro chapter.
3. "Let's Lynch the Landlord"
Whereas their peers often relied too heavily on the guitar-will-follow-the-bass song structure, Flouride and East Bay Ray understand how to play off of one another. Perhaps no Dead Kennedys song maximizes this strength more than "Let's Lynch the Landlord" as Flourdie's understated, bouncy bassline allows East Bay Ray to blow ears (and minds) with a sound that deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Duane Eddy, Dick Dale and Link Wray.
2. "At My Job"
Dead Kennedys go DEVO? Yes!
1. "Moon Over Marin"
The best Dead Kennedys song, hit or not, is "Moon Over Marin." Don't ask me why there's always a moon over Marin or where exactly Marin is (near San Francisco, yes?) because neither of those matters. What matters is this is a phenomenal pop song that isn't pretending to be anything other than a phenomenal pop song. Add a catchy (yet still very psychedelic) lead, a trippy breakdown, another awesome East Bay Ray solo and Biafra singing "There will always be a moon over Marin" and you've got yourself one of the best pop songs ever written by a non-pop group.
Dead Kennedys perform on Friday at The Observatory with JFA, GFP – Featuring skateboard legend Tony Alva and Greg Hetson from Bad Religion, Tartar Control, & HTTH. $25, all ages. For more info, click here.