“Give Me Convenience or Give me Death” by Dead Kennedys (No. 69)

Album coverThe juxtaposition of yesterday’s album with today’s probably says something deeply disturbing about my psyche. Today we’re going to go directly from cello concertos to The Dead Kennedys and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.

Give Me Convenience is a 1987 compilation release that included alternate takes, live performances, and a choice bit of concert banter while East Bay Ray replaced a guitar string or fixed some other problem with his guitar. This might not be the first choice for purists, but it was my introduction to the Dead Kennedys and still looms large in my playlist.

It’s extremely surprising to me that “Police Truck,” the Dead Kennedys take on late 70s/early 80s abusive police behavior, hasn’t seen a comeback or cover in the past few years. The first song on the album, it’s a bit past the two minute mark, and and I still remember the guitar intro as mind-blowing. Today, it might be quaint compared to (say) Ministry or later bands, but it was apocalyptic the first time I heard it. But, you know, in a good way.

“Too Drunk to Fuck” is a slam at young punks binge drinking. Like most DK songs, it’s played at breakneck speed, and features some truly raunchy lyrics for the time. (As the title should indicate.)

California Über Alles

Insert from Dead Kennedy's "Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death"
Insert from Dead Kennedy’s “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”

It’s hard to imagine now, but the music for “California Über Alles” was pretty damn hard for 1978. Even in the 80s when I first discovered the Kennedys, its in-your-face full volume, full-speed, all-out attack on the instruments was revolutionary.

Yet, unlike a lot of punk I encountered later, the Dead Kennedys didn’t lack for musical acumen. It’s abrasive as hell, even today, but it’s still catchy. Being a punk band didn’t mean “we can’t play,” or “we can’t write good songs,” it just meant being completely aggressive.

It’s not just fast, catchy, and aggressive, though. “California Über Alles” was pretty pointed political commentary, if somewhat over the top. At the time, Jello Biafra and the rest of the band were taking aim at California governor Jerry Brown.

Over the years, the song has been re-recorded with updated lyrics by the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra playing with other bands, and completely overhauled by bands like The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

Everything’s a target

Alternative Tentacles logo
Alternative Tentacles logo

The Kennedys also turned a jaundiced eye towards more mundane, everyday annoyances like “The Man with the Dogs” about a creepy guy walking his dogs.

And, for anybody who still remembers the infamous “Twinkie defense” you have the classic “I Fought the Law” turned on its head with the refrain “I fought the law and I won.”

“Short Songs” is, well, pretty much what you’d expect. At just under 30 seconds, it’s a perfect palate cleanser. “Pull My Strings” was a once-only live recording where the Kennedys sneered at new wave and mocked the record industry.

The aforementioned concert banter is the track “Night of the Living Rednecks,” wherein Biafra tells a story about being hassled while walking around Portland, Oregon while the band (minus Ray) riffs in the background.

Punk is political

“Holiday in Cambodia” skewers rich kids and highlights the evil of the Khmer Rouge in one fell swoop. I’m not sure any other guitarist has quite captured the menacing but compelling style of East Bay Ray, and the opening bass positively echoes with doom. The solo on “Cambodia” is short but fantastic, and the drumming is surprisingly intricate.

This one is a little dated, but it’s an essential snapshot of early punk. Strongly recommend it for folks who might enjoy what the Kennedys have to offer. (Note that this is the original incarnation, not reconstituted variants of the Dead Kennedys without Biafra.)

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