Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elvis Covers Part I: Viva Las Vegas

Dead Kennedys: Viva Las Vegas

In 1980, I was a college student and disc jockey at WPRB. Punk and new wave music were still pretty new, and we got an album called Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, by a band called Dead Kennedys. Even a liberal Democrat like me found that amusing—a band willing to make fun of sainted American politicians. As a college student, what is more attractive than a band willing to thumb its nose at convention and say fuck you to the establishment? It was almost embarrassing to mention the name on the air, but in some ways it was liberating.

I loved the Dead Kennedys first because of their name. But there was much more to enjoy. The music was fast, loud and intense, but still melodic and even catchy. The vocalist had a crazy voice and called himself “Jello Biafra,” again making light of a sacred cow, the horrific famine that ravaged Biafra during its failed attempt to secede from Nigeria. Then there were the songs—“Holiday in Cambodia”. “Kill the Poor”. “Let’s Lynch the Landlord”. “Chemical Warfare”. “California Über Alles”. Clearly a band that was willing to be controversial but with their tongue firmly in their cheeks.

And as if to prove that they weren’t taking themselves all that seriously, a cover of “Viva Las Vegas”. The Grascals’ version of this song posted by Joe Ross magnifies the country aspects of the Elvis version. The DK’s version enhances and glorifies the rockabilly and rock and roll aspects of the original, but which, as Allmusic notes, was probably designed to be “ironic and campy”.

This version is not the studio version, but a great live version that I first heard on a compilation I received as part of my subscription to Mojo Magazine, but is originally from a live album called Live at the Deaf Club, recorded in 1979, but not officially released until 2004.

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