The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

Viva Las Vegas is one of the standout tracks from The Dead Kennedys’ 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Given that the other standouts on this political, hardcore punk classic include Kill the Poor, California Uber Alles and Holiday in Cambodia, it’s slightly surprising to find an Elvis cover in there too. But they up the tempo – and the sarcasm – and deliver one of the great punk cover versions.

Elvis’s original, and the film of the same name, present a sanitised vision of Vegas, in which any chancer can rock up and roll their way to a life-changing fortune. In the film Elvis plays Lucky Jackson, a penniless racing driver who wins a fortune, loses it and pesters Ann-Margret for the unlikeliest date ever – featuring helicoptering, water-skiing, motorcycling and wild west gun slinging. He then – undeservedly – beats her in a talent contest to restore his fortune, wins the Grand Prix against his rival in racing and love, who is nearly killed in the process, then marries Ann-Margret, while staying on friendly terms with everyone and maintaining an extraordinary hairstyle. It’s the American Dream in movie form.

The Dead Kennedys were never big believers in the American Dream. According to Jello Biafra their infamous name was supposed to draw attention to its end. So their satirical cover of Viva Las Vegas could’ve been really scathing.

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In reality it’s pretty faithful, with Biafra’s campy vocals even taking on a slight Presley twang. The biggest difference is the subtle amendments to some of the lyrics so:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
’cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

becomes:

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
Even if I ran out of speed
Boy, I wouldn’t sleep a minute away

and:

I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady luck please let the dice stay hot
Let me shout a seven with every shot

becomes:

Ooh, I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got
Lady Luck’s with me, the dice stay hot
Got coke up my nose to dry away the snot

Of course, messing with Elvis’s legacy is bound to attract criticism, no matter how subtle the barbs are. And in 1980, when this was released, just three years after the death of The King, it was even more provocative. But then, you don’t name a band The Dead Kennedys if you’re worried about a bit of anger from conservative commentators.

 

Jello Biafra is still active today, pointing out hypocrisy and injustice and rubbing people up the wrong way. Of course hypocrisy and injustice are really easy to find these days and a lot of people are pointing them out, but Jello does is really well. His anti-Trump rants on YouTube are awesomely entertaining. The best of these is the surreal one in which he shows off the pro-Trump colouring book he picked up from San Francisco airport, with each page depicting Donald in a different heroic scenario for your children to crayon – Superman Trump, Mount Rushmore Trump, Enola Gay Trump, etc.

Who said the America Dream was dead?

 

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Magnificent Cover Version No.6 – (I’m Not Your) ‘Steppin’ Stone’ by The Monkees, covered by Minor Threat

Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan – Magnificent Cover Version No. 8

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