Our favorite Green Day songs — and yours?
As far as Generation Y is concerned, punk rock did not begin in 1977 with the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. Instead, punk’s year zero was 1994, when the Bay Area pop-punk trio Green Day released their hit-packed major-label debut, Dookie, which sold 10 million copies and gave the future Simple Plans and Good Charlottes of the world their sound. As the now-veteran Green Day (singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool) prepare to release their most ambitious album, the rock opera(!) American Idiot (out Sept. 21), here are our favorites from a decade of concise, catchy, unforgettable singles:
”Christie Road” (Kerplunk!, 1992) Unlike many ’90s bands, Green Day didn’t need a major label to shape their sound. A standout on their final indie album, the midtempo, melancholy teen lament ”Christie Road” (lyric: ”Gimme something to do to kill some time”) is as melodic as anything they’ve ever recorded, with bassist Dirnt’s secret-weapon high harmonies already nestled against Armstrong’s appealingly adenoidal lead vocals.
”Basket Case” (Dookie, 1994) The band’s commercial breakthrough begins with a classic, chugging rhythm guitar and Armstrong posing the query ”Do you have the time/ To listen to me whine?” Well, sure. A verse later, the manic rhythm section kicks in, convincing a nation of kids that pop-punk is a hell of a lot more fun than grunge.
”Longview” (Dookie, 1994) One of the most hummable basslines since ”Stayin’ Alive” and a loping, tom-tom-heavy beat underlie a witty tale of a bored, frustrated, ”f—in’ lazy” kid watching TV in his parents’ house. In its chorus, sung in Armstrong’s thickest faux British accent, the song becomes an ode to a quintessential adolescent activity: ”Bite my lip and close my eyes/ Take me away to paradise/ Some say quit or I’ll go blind/ But it’s just a myth.”
”Brain Stew” (Insomniac, 1995) Green Day sound suspiciously like former metalheads on this slow, heavy tune — it’s more like Led Zeppelin’s ”Kashmir” than any old-school punk tune. But the song’s grinding, endlessly cycling five chords and sludgy beat (most of the song has no bassline) ably mirror the lyrics’ description of agonizing insomnia.
”Hitchin’ a Ride” (Nimrod, 1997) With Nimrod, Green Day started broadening their sound, as this song’s melodramatic violin intro suggests. Like ”Longview,” ”Hitchin’ a Ride” has a jazzy, shuffling rhythm that explodes into guitar madness midway through — but here the lyrics address the woes of a heavy-drinking adult: ”There’s a drought at the fountain of youth/ And I’m dehydrated.”
”Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (Nimrod, 1997) As the title suggests, this uncharacteristic, strings-and-acoustic-guitar ballad — Green Day’s ”Yesterday” — was meant as an angry kiss-off. But instead the tune, which ably applies punk’s three-chord simplicity to a different musical style, was adopted as a bittersweet soundtrack to breakups, graduations, and even Seinfeld‘s final episode. And that’s despite Armstrong audibly whispering ”f—” as he messes up his first try at the intro.
”Minority” (Warning, 2000) Even on their mellowest album, Green Day found room for their pithiest statement of punk-rock purpose, a celebration of self-anointed outcasts everywhere: ”I don’t need no authority/ I want to be a minority.” At the same time, the song’s layered acoustic and electric guitars — plus an unexpected harmonica part — demonstrate Green Day’s willingness to break their own rules as well.
”Macy’s Day Parade” (Warning, 2000) Even supposedly bratty bands get serious once in a while. This steady-rolling, understated ballad depicts adult life as stultifying (Armstrong sings of a ”red light special at the mausoleum”) but finds redemption in love: ”I’m thinking about a brand-new hope… all along it was you and me.” Awww.
”Jesus of Suburbia” (American Idiot, 2004) Three times as long as anything else on this list, the epic, five-part anthem finds Green Day tearing down all musical limits, in the spirit of the Who’s rock operas (huge crashing chords, stadium-rocking drums, and all). Like the songs on Dookie, the lyrics are about a dissatisfied teen, but the causes of his alienation are more defined: He lives in a ”land of make-believe… that don’t believe in me.” And if one section sounds a little like Bryan Adams’ ”Summer of ’69” — hey, that’s cool, too.