This is one of the few Dead Kennedys songs that was written by the entire band - most were composed solely by Biafra. In our 2013 interview with Biafra
, he said it was still his favorite song, and explained how it came together:
"The original 'Holiday in Cambodia' is more a straight punk song. We called them 'chainsaws' back then, 'chainsaw punk' after the Ramones song ('Chainsaw'). The other guys didn't like it. They didn't want to play it. I was heartbroken, I was crestfallen, they'd never done that to me before. And then Klaus (Flouride - bass player) began noodling around on what became that signature bass line. I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute. That's cool. What would happen if we swiped everything from my 'Holiday in Cambodia' song - verse, chorus, bridge - but used that as the original root rhythm?'
Actually, we had a three-chord chorus and bridge that came from the original, and then the verse we swapped out. Eventually, Ray (guitarist East Bay Ray) came up with that signature guitar part when he enters the song. It was taking a while; we didn't even play it at our first show, although we knew we had it under our belt. It was a pretty chief song for making me decide I ought to stick with these guys and it might turn into something really unusual, because I was playing around with some other people, too.
Before we played, I came back out of the bathroom and back to Ray's garage and heard that lick, and I was like, 'Yow!' And Ray told me he'd seen Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett at Winterland when he was a kid, and I took note of that. So when I was trying to get something to put on top of Klaus' riff, I kept trying to get it to fit there, and fit there, and fit there, and finally, it appeared."