I Fought the Law and I Won

The Dead Kennedys cover stood the test of time

Chris Ryder, Staff Writer

When you hear the lyrics “The law don’t mean shit if you’ve got the right friends,” it probably evokes some strong emotions. In-your-face activism and political commentary are what the Dead Kennedys are known for. And it’s perfectly evident in their well aged cover of I Fought the Law from their 1987 album, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.” Starting off with a heavy drum and guitar instrumental you can immediately feel the anger coming from the band distancing itself from the more well known version from The Clash. But where the clash’s version is an innocent tale of an outlaw and a girl, the Kennedys version is a scathing critique of the legal system and classism.

After the first chorus lead singer Jello Biafra changes the whole tone of the song when he shouts “I blew George and Harvey’s brains out with my six-gun” alluding to the at the time recent deaths of mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk at the hands of Dan White. White a fellow supervisor in San Francisco shot both Moscone and Milk in city hall after sneaking in through the basement after a disagreement over zoning. He later was found guilty of manslaughter and served five years of a seven year sentence. White, a former police officer, garnered support from the San Francisco Police Department—with some officers even wearing “Free Dan” shirts. The Kennedys touch on this with bitter lyrics such as, “You can get away with murder if you’ve got a badge.”

This sentiment is still prevalent to this day where authority figures continue to evade the consequences of their actions. The instrumentation on the song is incredible, with drummer DH Peligro making himself heard over the song’s heavy guitar riffs. Those riffs by East Bay Ray are a perfect representation of the chaos and anger in the lyrics, leaving the listener with an overall feeling of rage and dissatisfaction. Although the mixing can often drown out Biafra’s lyrics as well as the bass, those flaws are just minor distractions from an overall incredible song. The Dead Kennedys were truly ahead of their time and tracks like this is why I keep coming back to their trailblazing catalog.