Record Review: Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

…And now for something completely different.

If you’ve been reading for the last two or so weeks, you may be aware that I’ve been listening to non-stop Duran Duran for about a month. Since I usually write these posts during my lunch hours, the foot of snow that we received during the last week meant that I was not at work, and that accounts for the long breaks in publishing during the six part series. There’s no more snow expected until the weekend, so I should be keeping up well enough this week. Anyway, all of that high calorie, low fiber Duran Duran music has left me needing a musical enema. What better band to provide it this morning than Dead Kennedys?

Alternative Tentacles | US | CD | 1993 | VIRUS1CD

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables US CD

  1. Kill The Poor
  2. Forward To Death
  3. When Ya Get Drafted
  4. Let’s Lynch The Landlord
  5. Drug Me
  6. Your EMotions
  7. Chemical Warfare
  8. California Über Alles
  9. I Kill Children
  10. Stealing People’s Mail
  11. Funland At The Beach
  12. Ill In The Head
  13. Holiday In Cambodia
  14. Viva Las Vegas

I first heard this album when my cohort Charles picked up the 1st IRS Records pressing of this title, with the found photo on the back cover [as shown below] that caused the band no end of trouble.

The actual band depicted on the back cover were not amused at their appearance on a hardcore punk album and took steps to insure that this tomfoolery came to an abrupt end.

By 1981, when this record was released, the West Coast hardcore punk movement was well under way. I vividly remember being at Record City at Fern Park, Florida around Christmas that year [picking up inexpensive cutouts as gifts for my friends] when the Black Flag 45 of “Six Pack” was played non-stop during my entire time there. That’s a lot of spins. I was never certain about where Black Flag were coming from; was it irony or not. It was musically not worth the bother in any case. WPRK-FM at Rollins College were also heavily into West Coast hardcore by the end of the year, the trend having followed the Ze Records/UK funk movement on hipsters’ cultural radar. I liked punk rock well enough but had some problems with hardcore. It was a little thin on the musical front and the anti-intellectual slant of it rubbed me the wrong way.

When I heard this record it stands alone in my collection as an example of West Coast hardcore that I can actually listen to and enjoy, with a few caveats. First of all, singer Jello Biafra was actually my sort of wiseguy smart-ass. His use of pitch black humor and irony made tracks like “Kill The Poor” relevant then as they are now. The band’s ability to speak the unspoken truth of the matter was appreciated, but their disinterest in rigorously adhering to the protocols of hardcore resulted in a wider musical palette that offered me enough to care.

That’s not to say the entire program is a winner. “Forward To Death” is the worst sort of middle-class, West Coast nihilism that gives hardcore a bad reputation among those over the age of 21. “Drug Me” hews closely to hardcore orthodoxy and is all the more tedious for it. ” “I Kill Children” and “Funland At The Beach” traffic in cheap, easy shock value with little point that I can see. Fortunately, the rest of the album is much better, and since those songs are all under two minutes, they pass quickly from the program.

Better to my ears are tracks like the surf-punk of “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” and the breakneck “destroy all golfers” scenario of “Chemical Warfare.” Biafra is spot on at recognizing that golfers, not lawyers, are the ones who should be up against the wall first [sorry, Mojo]! Listening now, it’s kind of quaint that the infamous song “California Über Alles” gets all worked into a lather over Jerry Brown, for crying out loud! This at a time when a far more catastrophic California governor was entering the White House! Of course, the best track by far is the threatening “Holiday In Cambodia” which sports wicked spy-surf riffs courtesy of East Bay Ray. The album wraps up with a hilarious take of the Pomus/Shuman classic “Viva Las Vegas” with some lyric changes that must have made them see red when it came out.

I recently bought this 1993 CD copy and noticed that it lacked one track, “Police Truck” that was on the original album back in 1981. Does anyone know why this happened? I have to admit that I never heard any subsequent DK albums, but as I mentioned earlier, this album stands alone in my collection as the one hardcore album that I enjoy listening to. It’s not my favorite genre, but the DKs bring enough musical interest to the program to give me something less reductive to work with.

– 30 –

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6 Responses to Record Review: Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

  1. chas_m says:

    Excellent review. I personally do also enjoy Bad Religion very much, though I think that’s more or less it for West Coast punk I like enough to spend money on. Of course there were many memorable moments of West Coast punk from New Wave Theatre, but that’s a whole ‘nother level of anarchy …

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  2. ronkanefiles says:

    I was a resident of the west coast during the era of this album. Because of where I was, i was much more interested in the amusing L.A. punk bands, such as Black Randy & The Elite Metro Squad (“Pass The Dust, I Think I’m Bowie” LP), The Deadbeats (“Brainless” 45), The Screamers etc. I am not a fan of Jello’s spoken word albums, however ( big mouth + irresponsibility = irritating whining ).

    I remember the laugh that went around the office when this album got it’s first CD issue in ’86/’87 – at full price!

    @Chas: New Wave Theatre? Pass the Bromo Seltzer!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      @ronkanefiles – We lived for New Wave Theatre each week on Night Flight!!!!! It was always best when it was shot with a consumer grade camera. I couldn’t relate to the multi-camera shows much. It’s getting on towards the 30th anniversary of the murder of Peter Ivers. Where’s Robert Stack when you need him?! I would have never heard The Mentors without this fine program! Their appearance there is still their finest hour. Unfortunately, based on this hilarity, our friend Tom actually bought a Mentors album when he chanced upon it and was dismayed by the brain-wilting content within. I vividly remember him summing the album up in this way, “if you could get a disease from a record, this would be the one!”

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  3. ronkanefiles says:

    Ah, The Mentors! I saw them live and met them a few times, even El Duce. “Rape Rock” was how they billed themselves. They have 3 or 4 albums worth of material, none of it terribly varied. The debut 12″ EP on Mystic Records is the way to go, for maximum laffs without too much grossness. Rockin’ at ya with a hood!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      @ronkanefiles – While in high school [’80] my friend and I created a fake [cartoon, actually] obnoxious heavy metal band called “Fungus” that looked exactly like The Mentors. They had albums like “Amungus” and “Punque Chic.” They were nowhere as vile, though!

      “I wanna see New Wavers suffer and cry!!!”

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  4. Pingback: “Beastie Boys Book” Was An Indelible Portrait Of A NYC Era [part 2] | Post-Punk Monk

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