#111 – Holiday In Cambodia


Artist – Dead Kennedys
Album – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Year – 1980
Genre – Punk

I was in work today and a woman came up to me in a Rancid T-shirt and thus a conversation was started about punk music and how its evolved over the last 35 or so years. With that in mind, I came home with this song in mind for my next review. The Dead Kennedys were at the forefront of the early hardcore punk movement, so you know this is the real deal. Although “Holiday In Cambodia” is their most popular and arguably “poppy” song, there’s still a huge amount of cynicism and spit-in-your-eye punk in this song. It just happens to be wrapped up in a friendlier, more accessible package than a great many of their other songs.

The opening bass rumblings and the subsequent fast paced buildup of guitar and drums sucks you and gets you ready to rage. The song’s famous riff then begins, and it’s nothing if not iconic and would inspire legions of skater kids for years to come. It also introduces the “surfer guitar” tone that I adore so much. You know the one, the tone that was used on “Wipeout” and whenever someone surfs? It’s that tone. But it works so well for this song! The riff is sinister and dark, and all the while the drums are just blazing like no one’s business. As the song transitions into the verse, the descending notes of bass and guitar form a great chugging backdrop for frontman Jello Biafra’s vocals.

Speaking of Jello, his voice is certainly a unique one in the music world. It’s strange and he seems to jump all over the place as he sings. Despite this, there is a large degree of melody in his voice that keeps him firmly anchored and keeps the attention of the audience. It’s all the “I don’t give a shit” attitude of punk mixed with the hooks of pop melodies.

The coolest parts of the song are the prechoruses for sure. Biafra is in full on sarcasm mode, and the guitar arpeggios with that sweet tone just will stick in your ears for years! The chorus itself is pretty simple, with a hard riff on all fronts and a melody that’ll make you think to yourself, “This is punk? I like this!”

There’s some great quick fretwork that’s shown off in the chorus, as well as some even more furious drumming. The repetition of the prechorus melody is another highlight which sounds great. After one more verse, the song ends quickly and abruptly…which is so punk, dude! It is actually quite fitting however, and I can’t picture a song of this magnitude ending any other way.

The lyrics are worth a whole review on their own, but by contrasting the horrors and atrocities of the Cambodian massacre and crimes against humanity with the laid back, carefree attitude of “first world problems,” Biafra has actually created an incredibly potent and volatile mixture of a song for today’s generation. It’s truly iconic because of its staying power both as a piece of music and as a denunciation of American greed and culture when compared to the sufferings of others around the world.

This is why a song like this is important. It’s a great song, yes, but a punk song like this uses anger, cynicism and sarcasm to show us our own faults and tells us to wake up and take a look at how the rest of the world is faring. For that reason alone, this song demands to be heard by every generation.

Thanks for reading everyone! It would be so punk of you to leave a like or a comment, or even more punk of you to follow me or share this post or blog! Totally rad!

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