Bedtime for Democracy, released in 1986, was the Dead Kennedys’ final studio album and my introduction to the band. The album opens with a manically blistering cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It,” perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the record. The album’s lyrics are typical Dead Kennedys’ fare, attacks on the government, war, conformity, commercialism, the music industry, and the punk scene. The music is generally hyper-fast but has its “slower” moments (though nothing on the record is really slow) and typical mid-‘80s hardcore punk rock. Bedtime...’s best moments are the brilliant criticism of scene conformity “Chickenshit Conformist” and the thoughtful “Where Do Ya Draw the Line” (the later having some of the best lyrics in an ‘80s punk song; it is also my favorite DK song). Some of the songs on the album are less than stellar and overall this is not the band’s best work but it is a blazing way to go out, that’s for sure.
I first got Bedtime for Democracy when I was a freshman in college. My girlfriend and I went to Camelot Music and picked up this cassette and The Circle Jerks’ Group Sex. At first Bedtime… was for her and Group Sex was for me. We got into the car and immediately listened to our new purchases. It didn’t take long for her to decide that she didn’t like Jello Biafra’s voice (that opinion has since changed by the way, but I’ll admit that he can be an acquired taste). Eventually we picked up copies of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, In God We Trust, Inc., Frankenchrist, and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (and have since sold them).
Honestly the Dead Kennedys’ weren’t the greatest band in the world. They did what they did well, don’t get me wrong, but much of their music is extremely dated and there were other bands at that time doing this same thing better. What has always made DK unique though was Jello Biafra, his voice and his lyrics. Whether you agree with him or not, the man always gives you something to ponder.