“Longview,” “When I Come Around,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
Who Are They?
One of the bands responsible for reviving punk rock in the ‘90s (and can also be identified as this blogger’s favorite band).
Green Day began as Sweet Children, the project of long-time best friends Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, in 1987. With original drummer John Kiffmeyer (a.k.a. Al Sobrante) serving as the band’s manager, the boys were signed to Lookout! Records and recorded their first EP, 1,000 Hours, in 1989.
Before release of 1,000 Hours, Billie Joe and the gang decided to drop the name Sweet Children in favor of the name Green Day (a slang term for a day spent smoking weed).
Green Day’s first full-length album, 39/Smooth, was released on Lookout! in 1990 (re-released a year later as 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, which included songs from previous EPs). After their first nationwide tour, John ditched the band to attend college. The Lookouts’ drummer Tré Cool stepped up as a temporary replacement, but it soon became clear that he was the one element Green Day had been missing.
Green Day’s underground success with 1992’s Kerplunk! attracted the attention of a slew of major labels, and the band eventually left Lookout! and signed with Reprise Records.
The decision to sign to a major label was met with a pretty intense backlash from the Easy Bay scene. Green Day were regarded as sellouts and were basically banned from local punk hotspot 924 Gilman Street.
But no matter. Major label debut Dookie dropped in 1994 and immediately made a splash with audiences and critics alike. Singles “Longview,” “Basket Case,” and “When I Come Around” all reached #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Holy commercial success, Batman!
Green Day also scored slots on both Lollapalooza and Woodstock ‘94’s lineups. (Woodstock ’94 was nicknamed “Mudstock” because of the band’s impromptu mud fight with the audience.)
After Dookie won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album in 1995, Green Day released its follow-up, the much darker and heavier Insomniac. Though not nearly as poppy as its predecessor, Insomniac still received high praise from critics.
Nimrod, an experimental deviation from the band’s standard pop-punk sound, was released in 1997. The album was comprised of a variety of musical styles, including surf rock, ska, and one acoustic ballad you may have heard of.
“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” became Nimrod’s defining single and was played during every high school graduation, television show finale, and wedding reception in the world (which is pretty hilarious considering that the song is basically a big “fuck you” to the East Bay kids who called them sellouts).
Where Are They Now?
Still relevant and considered one of the most successful ‘90s bands ever.
After the surprise success of Nimrod and “Good Riddance,” Green Day went back to the studio and make back with Warning in 2000. Warning was a step further in the direction Nimrod had barely touched upon. Comprised of mostly acoustic songs pertaining to faith, hope, and social commentary, the album confused fans and critics.
This resulted in a decline in popularity and a supporting spot on the 2002 Pop Disaster Tour with blink-182. (Imagine Green Day opening for blink-182 now. You can’t. You just can’t.)
Two compilation albums (International Superhits! and Shenanigans) followed Warning, and Green Day went back to the studio in 2003. After completing 20 tracks for the album tentatively titled Cigarettes and Valentines, the band’s master tapes were stolen from the studio and our heroes were forced to start from scratch.
In the meantime, a mysterious band called The Network was signed to Billie Joe’s label Adeline Records. After the release of the band’s only album, Money Money 2020, it was rumored that The Network was actually Green Day in disguise. Neither band confirmed this (though it’s pretty obvious that The Network is, in fact, Green Day wearing masks).
After much soul-searching and hard work, Green Day released the “punk rock opera” American Idiot in 2004. The album follows the life of a fictitious character referred to only as “Jesus of Suburbia.”
American Idiot won the Grammy for Best Rock Album and 34389473 other awards and is widely considered to be Green Day’s magnum opus (though we can’t forget about Dookie).
Following the hugely successful American Idiot was another side project (Foxboro Hut Tubs) and the Butch Vig-produced 21st Century Breakdown. (Reasons why I hate 21st Century Breakdown can be found in the “What Does Sam Think?” section below.)
Perhaps the most unusual achievement of the band is a Broadway musical version of American Idiot. In 2009, Green Day met with director Michael Mayer and many cast and crew members of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening to create a stage version of the album. Too ridiculous to work, right?
Wrong. American Idiot: The Musical was a smash hit on Broadway, much to everyone’s bewilderment. (Fun fact: Billie Joe appeared during the original Broadway run as St. Jimmy for a few shows. He was such a huge hit with audiences that they brought him back for a few more shows before the end of the musical’s Broadway run.)
But Why Green Day?
Billie Joe announced yesterday via Twitter that the band is back in the studio recording the follow-up to 21st Century Breakdown! Green Day debuted a few new songs at some secret shows in the past few months, but it hasn’t been confirmed that they’ll end up on the album.
What Does Sam Think?
I’ll try not to go full fangirl in this section, but you should still prepare yourself.
I’m well aware that not everyone likes Green Day, especially after American Idiot. I remember friends of mine calling them sellouts when “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was released as a single. You do realize that they were “sellouts” long before American Idiot, right? The term “sellout” refers to a band that signs to a major label, which is what happened when Green Day released Dookie on Reprise back in 1994.
But I’m not going to try to sway your opinion of this band or bully you into listening to their music. What I will say is that Green Day is a band that really stands apart from all the other ‘90s-era pop-punk bands.
How do they manage to do that? Well, they’re not afraid to change up their sound, and they’re not afraid to grow up. They had a winning formula with Dookie, but just one album later, they took a different route. (Just a side note: Insomniac is probably the most underrated Green Day album. It’s pure punk. We can fight about it later.)
The maturity shift between Dookie and Nimrod is also pretty impressive. “Good Riddance” was such a huge step away from the band’s familiarly snotty sound, and the fact that fans went apeshit over it says a lot.
Warning was fairly risky, but I wouldn’t say that it’s Green Day worst album (though I did used to hate it).
To be honest, my favorite album is American Idiot simply because it was crazy enough to work. (It also came out at a pivotal time in my life, but I won’t get all nostalgic and misty-eyed here.) The maturity in both the instrumentation and lyrics is almost staggering. I thought to myself, “Is this really the same band that sang about getting high and masturbating all day?”
American Idiot is smart, robust, and has just the right amount of political undertones.
21st Century Breakdown, on the other hand, took the political aspect too far. It’s a little too preachy and takes itself way too seriously. If American Idiot was told from the point-of-view of the disillusioned youth in Middle America, then 21st Century Breakdown is a cantankerous old hippie’s ramblings about the “good ol’ days.” The album has a few redeeming songs (“Peacemaker,” “East Jesus Nowhere”), but it crumbles under its own weight.
From what I’ve heard so far, the new album has the potential to be a return to “old school” Green Day. Rolling Stone reported that the band is laying off the political commentary for this one.
Since the length of this entry is probably killing you, I’ll end with this: Even if you hate Green Day, you have to admit that they’ve got massive staying power and a pretty catchy sound to boot.
-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.