Bands You Should Know: Dead Kennedys

Articles | Aug 25th, 2008

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Many of our readers claim to be into punk, but how many of you know who the Dead Kennedys are? I know you’re scratching your head, but listen up because this is a band you should know about. So put down that Against Me CD, noob. School’s in session.

The Dead Kennedys began in the late 70s in San Francisco, a rare, angry right-wing band in a sea of complacent hippies. Combining raw punk, strange vocals, and a circus-like feel, they created a very different punk sound while embodying a more conservative side of the genre. Albums like “In God We Trust” and “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” reflect their pro-religion, pro-capitalist stance, while “Bedtime for Democracy” and “Viva Las Vegas” serve as a blueprint for America-first punk music to come.

Although most punk fans lean to the left socially and politically, the Dead Kennedys’ output should not be overlooked. The lyrics may be distasteful, but the songs themselves are too catchy to be ignored. Hits like “California Uber Alice,” “Kill the Poor,” and “Holidays in Cambodia” are great examples – they are uncomfortably right-wing and yet rank as two of best punk tunes from the 70s.


In the 1990s, lead singer Jello Biafra became embroiled in a series of legal entanglements with Jello (the company) and the rest of his band over money and endorsements. Since then, “Jelly” Biafra has reunited with the group and they continue to tour as “DK”. Jelly also performs spoken word at poetry slams.

Interesting Facts

– The Dead Kennedys were not the first band to use fascist imagery in their music. The Ramones also sang about being “Nazi storm troopers” and how the “KKK took a baby away.” Some argue that both bands were just being cartoony and point to Joey and Jelly’s Jewishness.

– Guitarist East Side Ray was actually from the West Side of San Francisco!

– Many bands have since covered “Viva Las Vegas.”