Although the album was released on September 2, 1980, in June 1979 they had already released the first single, California Über Alles, on Optional Music, which had the track The Man with the Dogs as the B-side.
California Über Alles was recorded again (faster) for the album, released by the London label Cherry Red Records, an independent label formed in the British capital in 1978. Iain McNay, one of the founders of the label, and who still serves as the company chairman, invested $ 10,000 in the recording of the album, which along with its corresponding singles, were sold great, and therefore provided good profits that would allow the label to expand and move on, quite an investment. The album was certified gold (more than 100,000 copies distributed) by the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry).
Later the album would be released in the U.S. under the Jello Biafra own label, Alternative Tentacles.
As mentioned, the first single before the album’s release was California Über Alles, music composed by Jello Biafra and his bass, and lyrics by Biafra and John Greenway, written it for their band The Healers. The song, whose title is taken from the first stanza, which is no longer used, of the German national anthem, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany above all”), talks about an imaginary vision of the California governor during those years, and who returned to the position in 2011, Jerry Brown, a “hippie-fascist” vision for America. Phrases like “Now it’s 1984” refer to the totalitarian regime of George Orwell novel 1984, imagining a future with Jerry Brown as president, where his secret police (“suede denim secret police”) kill “uncool” people with organic poison gas chambers. All of this accompanied by a military drum rhythm and dark riffs of guitar and bass. There is no better presentation, a song that would mark the line of the band. Biafra would issue a new version on live with The Melvins, Kali-fornia Über Alles 21st Century, referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger after he was elected as the California governor.
The second single, Holiday in Cambodia, was released as the first one before the album’s release in May 1980, and would also be re-recorded for the album with a longer introduction and solo. The B-side was Police Truck, song that later would be included in one of the album reissues. Holiday in Cambodia speaks ironically about a young American sanctimonious that after leaving school and believing to know everything, is sent to Cambodia, where it was established the dictatorship of Pol Pot… And what things are, Jello Biafra was sued by former members of the band, when he refused to sell the rights of the song for a Levi’s Dockers‘s ad. Biafra alleged the unfair business practices and labor exploitation by the company.
The third single (October 1980), which was also re-recorded although no big difference for the album, was Kill the Poor, with In-sight as B-side. Again, another sarcastic lyrics about a neutron bomb that kills people but leaves their belongings intact.
And the fourth and final single was the song Too Drunk to Fuck, published in May 1981, but only included at the end of side A of some vinyl released by Cherry Red. As B-side was used the track The Prey. It was the first song that included in its title the word “fuck” in reaching the Top 40 in the UK (number 36), but it was mentioned as Too Drunk To. However, the single was not distributed in some stores because of the provocative title. The problem comes when the single reached this position in the Charts, since all the songs that reached the Top 40 should appear on music chart TV programme Top of the Pops, something that never happened, besides being also banned by Radio 1 airplay. In this case, lyrics talks about what its title indicated.
As a special mention, the last album song is a fast and funny version of the classic Viva Las Vegas.
The cover photo, the police car on fire, was taken by Judith Calson during the violent riots that took place the night of May 21, 1979 in San Francisco known as “White Night Riots“. For the rear cover they used a photograph of an old band that Jello Biafra found by chance. Although they did not know who they were, as the picture had not name, they found it very funny and decided to use it by adding the logo DK to the bass drum and skulls to instruments and drums. So right, it was a band called The Sounds of Sunshine, and one of its former members, Warner Wilder, did not hesitate to sue the group once he learned it. So the picture was modified by cutting the heads of the members of the orchestra, something that he did not like either, so finally it was replaced by another photograph that appeared four old women sitting in a room in which you can see a painting with the Alternative Tentacles logo, the bat.
Punk, hardcore, surf, pop, speed, melody, chaos (controlled), technique, freshness, highly political and sarcastic lyrics… this is one of the higher quality recordings of its genre, a perfect album that surprised a generation, and yet it still does with those who discover it. A “smart” album that can be heard from beginning to end again and again. An essential album that went down in modern music history.
Recorded at Mobius Music, San Francisco, LA. May-June 1980. Produced by Norm and East Bay Ray.
Jello Biafra – Lead Vocals
East Bay Ray – Lead Guitar
Klaus Flouride – Bass, Backing Vocals
6025 (Carlos Cadona) – Rhythm Guitar on “Ill in the Head”
- “Kill the Poor” 2:25
- “Forward to Death” 1:23
- “When Ya Get Drafted” 1:23
- “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” 2:13
- “Drug Me” 1:56
- “Your Emotions” 1:20
- “Chemical Warfare” 2:55
- “California Über Alles” 3:03
- “I Kill Children” 2:04
- “Stealing People’s Mail” 1:34
- “Funland at the Beach” 1:49
- “Ill in the Head” 2:46
- “Holiday in Cambodia” 4:37
- “Viva Las Vegas” 2:42