California Über Alles

Album: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1979)


  • This song is about California governor Jerry Brown, who was challenging Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primary in an attempt to become president. In the song, an imaginary President Brown outlines his hippie/zen/fascist vision of America. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Zach - Central, NJ
  • "Über Alles" is a German phrase meaning "above all else." It was part of the German national anthem until the end of World War II, and is closely associated with the Nazis. This song envisions a Nazi regime in California, with Jerry Brown as the Führer.
  • In 1984, the Dead Kennedys released a sequel to this song on their album In God We Trust, Inc. about then-president Ronald Reagan, who preceded Brown as Governor of California. This update - which is done in jazz/lounge style for most of the song - is called "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now."

    In a Songfacts interview with Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, he said: "I realized I was wrong about my conspiracy theory about Jerry Brown. Sure, I'd made it up all by myself and it turned out not to be true, so it was updated with Reagan lyrics until 'We've Got A Bigger Problem Now,' and the jazz version we goofed off with at sound check wound up becoming a staple of that record and the live show."
  • This was the Dead Kennedys' first single. The band formed in San Francisco in 1978, but took their cue from the anarchist punk that was coming out of England. (Lead singer Jello Biafra is from Boulder, a bucolic city in Colorado that seems an unlikely place for an uprising. He claims that he somehow got his hands on an import of the Sex Pistols single "Anarchy in the U.K.," which set him on his path.)

    "California Über Alles" set the provocative tone that would become the group's prime directive: upsetting the establishment. They quickly built up a following with their chaotic live shows and shocking songs like "Kill The Poor" and "Holiday In Cambodia."
  • The group released this song on their own independent record label, Alternative Tentacles, in 1979. Bob Last, the head of a British label called Fast Product, heard the group when he was vacationing in New York City and signed a deal with the band to distribute "California Über Alles" in the UK. The song got the attention of the influential BBC DJ John Peel, who played the song on his show, boosting the band's fortunes considerably.

    The group then signed a one-year deal with a large independent label called Cherry Red Records, which issued the Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables album in 1980. After the year, the band was back on their own, using Alternative Tentacles to peddle their goods.
  • Jello Biafra wrote this song with his friend John Greenway; they were in a band called The Healers at the time and performed this song with that group.
  • When Arnold Schwarzenegger took over as Governor of California, Jello Biafra couldn't resist a new update of this song. The result was "Kali-Fornia Über Alles 21st Century," which he recorded with the Melvins and released in 2005. He told us: "How can you drop a song that has lines like 'Steroids for the master race, So you all can have my face?'"
  • This looks like a good place to mention somebody else who had a dark view of California: Al Kooper in Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards says, "The New York sensibility has always regarded California with suspicion. If your system is geared to New York's nonstop adrenaline rush, the relaxed California life-style can seem as if you're playing a 45 RPM record at 33(1/3). Usually, if New Yorkers follow that slow a pace, they move to Florida."

    Kooper also relates the experience of staying at a friend's house which was actually a disgusting bug-ridden crash pad, and visiting another friend who, although rich, was too stoned to notice that he was eating dog food. Together, these experiences gave him an impression that California is depressing.

Comments: 22

  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomJello Biafra was inspired to write the song by Jerry Brown setting himself up as a "leader" for the hippies in California to further his political career. The song takes this idea to the extreme as a comment on how roups of people can be manipulated by a "power hungry fascist"posing as a liberal(Jello's description of Jerry Brown).
    A ery funny lyric (if you can cope with this kind of humour!) which mixes up images of hippy California and Nazi Germany ("suede-denim secret police"/"organic poion gas"/"jog for the master race" etc).
  • Corey from Richmond, VaLove this song. Now it's 1984. 1984 is a great book.
  • Mikey from Ft Worth, TxThis was later redone by the Diposable Heroes of HipHoprisy in 1991 with lyrics about then Governor Pete Wilson. I think the fascist references work better with Wilson than with Jerry Brown.
  • Ziggy from Redding, CaPossibly one of my favorite Dead Kennedy songs, i love the DK's vocals, that kindy shaky-cool tone, and i love the chorus of this, it just sounds so awesome!
  • Dee Dee from Seattle, WaJello Biafra did a version of this song with the Melvins called Kalifornia Uber Alles, taking the perpective of California governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar (sp).
  • V-starr from ?????????, MiThis song is alwsome! It's on Tony Hawk's American Wasteland.
  • Max from Laconia, NhThe guitar in this song sounds broken. I love it!!!!!!!!!
  • Jeremy from Minneapolis, MnTo Paul from Zion, IL
    The use of Uber in California Uber Alles
    is used to point out the similarity between the imagined Jerry Brown regime and Hitler's reign over nazi Gemany. Germany's national anthem is Deutschland Uber Alles.
  • Sam from Cambridge, Ontario, CanadaThe 1984 references are as follows:

    -"Big Bro'" is Big Brother, or the government watching you
    -"Now it is 1984" says that we are living in George Orwell's dystopian society
    -The "suede/denim secret police" are the ministry agents and they are "coming for your uncool niece"

    Excellent song!!!
  • Dylan from Olmsted Falls, United StatesGreat song with!
  • Ralph from Newton, MaI'm a high school teacher in Massachusetts and we have a state-mandated "Harmony Week." As one option, a group of kids was learning meditation in a room all sitting lotus-style on the floor. I didn't know whether to laugh or puke.
    I realized then that Brown didn't need to become president for the hippies to control everything when that whole generation was given the keys pretty much from birth.
  • J from Nyc, NyThis song is awesome! Every now and then (like now) it pops into my head over the years and I can't get it out for a few days, they ipod gets stuck on "fresh fruit for rotting vegetables" for a few days.
  • Paul from Zion, IlUber means over, so they're saying california over everything/all. I'm just putting this because i'm tired of uber being used incorrectly.
  • Paul from Zion, IlOh, i almost forgot, just in case anyone is wondering about the 1984 thing (i doubt you are) it's a reference to george orwell's book 1984, which is shockingly close to america today, which isn't a good thing.
  • Sid from Lawton, Iathis song is fun to listen to. If you don't get DK's sarcasm, you won't like them at all. A great example is I Kill Children, fun to listen to, but not to be taken seriously.
  • Angela from Las Vegas, NvThis song is Ã?BER sinister
  • Kim from Stuart, FlThis song is a great example of how the specific references in older punk songs can bring generations together. My father, an old-school newspaper journalist, had a grand time ranting about that SOB Brown when I asked him who the song was about.
  • Zachary from Charlotte, NcThis has to be easily one of the top 10 punk rock songs of all time the lyrics are funny, in a greatly satircal sense, and it speaks the truth.
  • Morgan from Huntington Beach, Cathey were not exagurating anything when they wrote this. jerry brown really was a racist and really wanted to be the dictator of california. i think this song falls in with govenator as well
  • Mike from Plainfield, Illove the band and song, i lol'd at the lyrics
  • Martin from Sydney, AustraliaThe 'uber alles' bit comes from the German national anthem 'Das Lied der Deutschen', which had the infamous lyrics 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt' ('Germany, Germany above all, above anything in the world'). After 1945 only one stanza out of the four original was deemed PC enough to be sung.
  • Jane from San Antonio, TxI have no idea of the lyrics, but I will always remember this song. It came out in the 80's and was played frequently at a club I attended in Leeds, England. It is soooo frantic and urgent, and I only knew the chorus line, which is the song title, but sang it quite energetically all the same. :)
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Alice Cooper

Alice CooperFact or Fiction

How well do you know this shock-rock harbinger who's been publicly executed hundreds of times?

Facebook, Bromance and Email - The First Songs To Use New Words

Facebook, Bromance and Email - The First Songs To Use New WordsSong Writing

Do you remember the first time you heard "email" in a song? How about "hater" or "Facebook"? Here are the songs where they first showed up.

Supertramp founder Roger Hodgson

Supertramp founder Roger HodgsonSongwriter Interviews

Roger tells the stories behind some of his biggest hits, including "Give a Little Bit," "Take the Long Way Home" and "The Logical Song."

Song Cities

Song CitiesMusic Quiz

Nirvana, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are among those who wrote songs with cities that show up in this quiz.

Janis Ian

Janis IanSongwriter Interviews

One of the first successful female singer-songwriters, Janis had her first hit in 1967 at age 15.