"California Über Alles" was the first single by Dead Kennedys. The record was released in June 1979 on Optional Music with "The Man with the Dogs" as the b-side. The title track was re-recorded for the band's first album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980), and the latest version that appeared on this single, as well as the single's b-side, and the video games: Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and the Rock Band series are available on the compilation album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death(1987).
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The title is an allusion to the first (and no longer sung) stanza of the national anthem of Germany, which begins with the words "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" ("Germany, Germany above all").
The song focuses on Jerry Brown, the Governor of California from 1975-1983 (and later 2011–present), and is sung from his perspective, as an imaginary version of Brown outlines a hippie-fascist vision for America. Lines such as "Serpent's egg already hatched", a reference to a line from William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, comment on the corrosive nature of power, while the lines "Big Bro on white horse is near" and "now it is 1984" refer to the totalitarian regime of George Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four to describe a future (from 1979) where Jerry Brown has become President, and his "suede denim secret police" kill "uncool" people with "organic poison gas" chambers.
The song is also an early example of Dead Kennedys' trademark use of menace and musical tension. It fades in with sinister military-styled drums, joined by an ominous bass riff. Biafra paints the scene in low, sneering tones before bursting in manic chanting chorus: "California Über Alles [x2], Über Alles, California [x2]"; after two verses and choruses, the song shifts into a slower middle eight section set to a martial drum beat over which Jello Biafra imagines the nightmarish actions of Brown's SS-styled secret police ("Come quietly to the camp; you'd look nice as a drawstring lamp," a reference to the claim that lampshades were sometimes made from human skin during the Holocaust). The pace speeds up as it approaches the last iteration of the chorus, closing with a repeated chord sequence accompanied by a final burst of explosive drums.
German-American author Gero Hoschek was inspired by the song to title a 1988 magazine piece about the "Golden State" in the prestigious German Zeit Magazin weekly titled "Kalifornia Über Alles!" as well as a never produced screenplay. Biafra complained, got and liked a copy of the movie script, understood that there was no copyright violation, and used the same spelling for the song's 2004 remake with Melvins, "Kalifornia Über Alles, 21st Century".
The original, improvised version (containing familiar lyrics but different music performed by the Dancing Assholes and Biafra's first band, The Healers) is included as the final track on the vinyl version of the "Rocky Mountain Low" compilation.
There is a faster version of "California Über Alles" on Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, with more strident Biafra vocals and a more garage-like mix.
On their EP In God We Trust, Inc., they recorded an updated version of the song, titled "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now," about then-President Ronald Reagan, including a lounge-jazz introduction, different lyrics, and several verses set at a much slower pace. A live version of the song was recorded with the instrumentals of the original version of the song.
Jello Biafra has made satirical references to the song in his political advocacy. A speech of his appears on the spoken word album Mob Action Against the State that is entitled "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now: War, Terrorism & Beyond." After the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California, Biafra commented, "California Über Alles indeed."
Another updated version of this song about Governor Schwarzenegger, called "Kali-Fornia Über Alles 21st Century", was performed live (among a few other Dead Kennedys classics) when Biafra toured with the bandMelvins to support their collaboration album in 2004. A live recording of this new version appears on their second collaborative effort, Sieg Howdy!.
- Hardcore Punk band Fast Point from Grimsby covered the song, it appeared as a hidden track on the last track ('If Pessimism Wins') at the end of their album 'Good Evil'.
- Blue Ribbon Glee Club, a large a cappella group from Chicago, regularly perform their version of the song. They have also released a video of a live show of Dead Kennedys' in which they have replaced the audio track with a recording of their cover.
- In Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) in 1991 the cover version of this song appeared on the album "Alkac je nejvetsi kocour aneb nekolik pisni o lasce" of popular Czech band "Tri Sestry" as "Na kovarne to je narez".
- The song was updated by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy when they released a cover version in 1992 on the album Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury. They replaced references to Jerry Brown with references to Pete Wilson.
- The song was also widely known in Poland (as "Kalifornia Ponad Wszystko") thanks to the cover by Polish rocker Kazik Staszewski with his band Kazik Na Żywo ("Na Żywo Ale W Studio" album, 1994).
- The band Hasidic New Wave perform a remake of the song on their 1999 album, Kabalogy. In their version, titled "Giuliani Über Alles", Jerry Brown is replaced by former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani.
- British anarcho-pop group Chumbawamba covered the song in their 1988 album A Night of Punk Nostalgia.
- The Delgados cover the song in their Peel Sessions CD set.
- Six Feet Under do a cover the song on their Graveyard Classics album.
- Deceased covered the song on their punk covers album Rotten to the Core.
- Hardcore punk band Ceremony has covered the song.
- The Who Boys have done a mashup of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott-Heron called "Revolution Über Alles".
- John Linnell and his band The Statesmen covered it live at least once during his "State Songs" tour, choosing to perform it because it mentioned the state of California.
- Dramarama has recorded a version, updated in 2003 about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger... "You will lift weights in school".
- A 1986 live recording focused on Ronald Reagan on the album Mutiny On The Bay with live recordings from 1982 and 1986.
- Jayne County covered the song with She Wolves about California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The green vinyl single was released under artist name Jayne County Meets The She Wolves by the German label Trash 2001.
- Mexican-American death metal band Brujeria covers Dead Kennedys with the song "California Uber Aztlan" in 2010.
- Greek punk band Panx Romana perform a remake of the song named "Πάρτυ κωφαλάλων" (Party for deaf-mutes) in their 1996 album "Διαγωγή Κοσμία".
- Andrew Jackson Jihad's song "Joe Arpaio is a Punk" shares the same opening and closes with a "Arizona Über Alles" chorus.
- Spanish Madrid-based punk band Larsen recorded a cover called "El Remedio fue Peor" around 1981. Lyrics were translated and adapted to the Spanish political situation of the moment. The recording was released in their 1990 compilation "Larsen" (Potencial Hardcore, 1990). Seville-based Sex Führers routinely cover this version in their live shows.