Ten Essential Green Day Tracks
IT is hard to comprehend the fact Green Day have been…
releasing albums since 1990. Considering they are about to release their twelfth album is quite staggering. Revolution Radio is out 7th October and sees a return to the Punk/political sounds of American Idiot. Following the rather lukewarm reception given to the band’s trilogy – ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! – the Californians are returning to something more assured and solid. Whilst is yet to be seen whether they can scale the heady realms of American Idiot we shall see. In honour of the band’s amazing and varied career: I look at their ten most essential songs to date and a little bit about each.
21 Guns (21st Century Breakdown)
21st Century Breakdown was a typically political, angry album from a band witnessing homeland carnage and disruption. Not as focused, astonishing and acclaimed as American Idiot: the album did manage to mix fiery, hands-in-air anthems and poignant moments. 21 Guns is in the latter camp and was nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo/Group with Vocals and Best Rock Song at 2010’s Grammys. The song looks at patriotism; Billie Joe Armstrong, in his head, saw it as a 21-gun salute for the fallen – through the prism of stadium Rock and intended for the huge crowds. Comparisons to All the Young Dudes was made – huge chorus that gets people unified – but it is typically Green Day. Others brought in names like Toto, ELO – hardly bands you’d link with Green Day – but a song that goes through various phases and is the highlight of the album. Whereas other album singles Know Your Enemy were critisised for their stiffness and lack of inspiration: this is a song that is very much anti-war and complete with some high-pitched vocal heroics from Armstrong. If many passed 21st Century Breakdown as a lesser sister of American Idiot: this is the song that should remind them there are some classic Green Day cuts to be found.
When I Come Around (Dookie)
Dookie is arguably Green Day’s finest album (that, Nimrod and American Idiot usually divide people) but you cannot argue against the fact Dookie possesses many awesome songs. The album’s final single was inspired by a woman (Armstrong’s wife; former girlfriend at the time) and a dispute between the two. Following an argument with Adrienne; Armstrong left to spend some time alone. This was the band’s most popular song in their early days and one of the standouts from their 1994 album. In a year that saw some phenomenal, world-changing albums arrive: Dookie stood out among them; in no small part because of this song. The band’s second best-selling single of the 1990s; it was championed by critics who found it to be a mature song from a band that were dividing some with their, at times, immature and juvenile music. When I Come Around is still a song that resonates and hits the heart. One of the most emotional and poignant songs Armstrong has penned – When I Come Around shows Green Day were more than mere Punk Rock brats and political warriors.
Geek Stink Breath (Insomniac)
Insomniac is an album many overlook when thinking about Green Day. Perhaps not in the ‘big three’ when you think of the guys: it is sandwiched between Dookie and Nimrod but does not show any stress and sense of expectation. Armstrong was a new father at this time but the songs, rather luckily, do not focus on that and the sappiness you get from artists who cover this ground. Instead, one enjoys the same self-loathing and disaffected grumbles from a man who still feels under and controlled. Geek Stink Breath might not make many people’s list of greatest Green Day songs but it is such a catchy and strange number – one you have to fall for and experience its quirks and thrills. ‘Geek’ is a slang term for methamphetamine and the song looks at the effects the drug has on the body. The lead-off single from the album; the lyrics look at a singer going down the path of self-destruction and recalls Armstrong’s own experiences with the drug. The track also focuses on people (around Armstrong) who fall prey to the power and allure of methamphetamine and brings in influences of 1970s Punk bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols. Although it was a modest radio hit – probably because of the drug references and bleak subject matter – it is a cracking track with memorable lyrics and a highly-charged band performance. Many found Insomniac lacked any real growth and fell short of Dookie’s standard. The band would address this point in Nimrod but Insomniac, and songs like Geek Stink Breath, are well worth your time.
Holiday (American Idiot)
Following Warning’s rather mediocre reviews in 2000: the band felt the need to step it up and change things up. Whereas Warning was a softer, less charged album than their previous work – American Idiot took critics by surprise and left many reeling. Their most astute, ambitious and theatrical – certain songs were suites; broken down into segments – the band were on-point and angry throughout. Capturing the spirit and defiance of their early work whilst addressing current political malaise and social inequality – the greatest album from the band, in my view. American Idiot is, essentially, a greatest hits collection in one album. Holiday was released as the third single from the album and gained considerable popularity and critical praise. Armstrong spent two months finishing the song as he felt the lyrics were not good enough. Taking pot-shots at American conservatism and how the Republicans segregated groups and alienated one from another – a blatant shot at then-President; one that crowds and live audiences engaged with and felt a connection to.
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (Nimrod)
Nimrod is one of those albums one instantly links to Green Day: perhaps the purest representation of their brand of music and what they are all about. The hooks, melodies and short, sharp shocks run rampant through one of the most anthemic and memorable albums of the ‘90s. At 18 tracks, it could be a bit of a struggle but the truth is the album just rushes by. More globe-trotting and humorous than Insomniac: Armstrong was keen to put the wit back in and ensure (Nimrod) was a more consistent and appealing record. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) shows just how much heart Green Day have. It was conceived in 1990 but not premiered to the rest of the band until Dookie’s recording sessions in 1993 – Armstrong felt the song sounded too out of place compared with the other material. The decision to add strings to any Green Day song is a risky one: it is a gamble that paid off and ensured the song got into the heart and caused something wonderful to happen in the soul. Touching, unforgettable and fantastic: the fact the band released it as a single was one of the most daring things they ever did. The track has gained a huge legacy and, due to its nostalgic lyrics, has been the chosen prom song for many high school alumni. From graduates making their way into the world or lovers reflecting on past times: Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) has captivated an entire generation.
She’s a Rebel (American Idiot)
On an album that is stuffed full of instant and grabbing songs: She’s a Rebel is certainly among the very best. It does not get singled out among many reviews but that is folly. Not only does the song hark back to the band’s early days but it is a song that just rattles around the head. The song’s rebel is “salt of the earth” but someone very dangerous. With each new line, one wonders who is being referred to. Whether an activist that is striking against injustice – and doing it through questionable means – or the embodiment of Green Day’s disaffected generation – it is a propulsive, hook-laden song that compels you to get off the chair and wave your fists in time to the song’s meaty riffs and swaggering vocals. “From Chicago, to Toronto/She’s the one they call oh-what’s-her-name” displays the keen Green Day wit, whilst the band’s performance is one of the tightest on the album. The heroine signals the dawning of time and revolution; a vivid and tempestuous figure that speaks against corruption. Past the half-way mark that breeziness and insatiable kick comes in - a fast-paced, megavolts riffs scratches away whilst the bass bounces and the percussion slams with abandon. An infectious and sticks-in-your-head-forever song – from an album that was contained them in spades.
King for a Day (Nimrod)
If you ever felt compelled to show a song that would baffle anyone with preconceived notions about Green Day the King for a Day is it. One of Nimrod’s treasures possesses parping horns and a sense of woozy jubilance. Lyrics such as “Sugar and spice and everything nice/wasn’t made for only girls/G.I. Joe in panty hose/is making room for the one and only” stick in the mind and have that quintessential blend of humour and intelligence from the band. It is a song that puts guitars second and embraces something rather silly, immature and reckless. Never in a bad way as the song is one of the most focused and worthy from Nimrod. It proves how daring the band could be and pretty much make everything pay off. Words that sees a young Armstrong rifling through his mother’s drawers – finding something in a size four – and going to bed a king and waking up a princess – one of the most imaginative and eye-opening songs from the group. The percussion is especially impressive and sounds like an eight-limbed beast hammering the skins. If you are not chanting along at the chorus and getting into the spirit then you have lost all zeal and faith in life. Marching, stomping and rambunctious: all the ingredients and chemical elements that go into a Green Day song. Perhaps not highlighted by fans as a particular favourite – another one of their songs that deserves a lot more acclaim and exposure.
American Idiot (American Idiot)
You want meat, grit and authority? From the opening notes, American Idiot’s title track is snarling beast that goes for the balls. One of the most explicitly political songs on the album struck a huge chord with critics and remains one of Green Day’s finest singles ever. The song states mass media has orchestrated paranoia and idiocy among the public – Armstrong not wanting to be another idiotic American. Armstrong recalled how cable media portrayed the Iraq war in deceptive tones. It was almost like reality T.V. he felt. The frontman saw adverts interspersing clips of bloodshed and could not remain silent. Inspired – in a negative way - by songs like Lynrd Skynrd’s That’s How I Like It (which celebrates being a redneck) he honed in the issue. There is that pride is war and violence; celebrating everything wrong with the world. Rather than a finger-pointing song; it is a call for unity and an eye-opening song that promotes change and betterment. The song was nominated for four Grammy Awards and remains one of the band’s signature tunes. Boasting one of their most electric and pummelling riff and most unified band performance – in my view, the song that defines what Green Day are all about. After a rather fallow period for albums (struggling to find the creative inspiration they enjoyed with Dookie and Nimrod); American Idiot was a welcome return. Its title track summed up the feeling of many Americans and is a song that seems entirely appropriate for a time where Donald Trump could lead the nation.
Building off the success of Nimrod: Green Day went in a different direction with 2000’s Warning. The music remained peppy and spirited but the lyrics reflected new-found maturity and sticking closer to Pop – perhaps less Punk than any album they had written to that point in time. Their slickest and most grown-up album; it did divide some critics that felt the band should stick with what they did best. In fact, the U.S. legends progressed their sound and wrote an album that is their most underrated. Still snarling and rebellious in places; its strengths in the cohesiveness and consistency of the material. The title track is a perfect example of the solid and nuanced material that can be found throughout Warning. Billie Joe Armstrong wanted to create whose lyrics consisted signs and labels. The idea sprouted and grew from there and it rose to number three in the U.S. Rock chart. Making the top 40 in the U.K. and impressing critics: it is one of the most successful songs from the record. If the overall record split some reviewers and fans its title track was a lot more successful. A track that showed Green Day could be more organic and mature without losing their appeal and wonder.
Basket Case (Dookie)
Ending with, in many people’s eyes, the best Green Day song. It is certainly one of their earliest classics and remains a live staple. The third single from the band’s third album was one of the most personal songs from Armstrong. It reflects anxiety and panic that was building in his body – shortly before he was diagnosed with a panic disorder/anxiety. He felt the only way to understand it and make sense was to get it out in music. There is no denying what a legacy this one track has and how it has been taken to heart. It scooped a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal by a Duo or Group and was named the best Punk song ever by Mike Davis and Zane Lowe (as part of their Lock Up Special on Radio 1). Basket Case has also been voted 33rd-best Hard Rock song by VH1 and topped many other polls. One cannot hear the song without singing along and repeating it. Not just topics and struggles reserved for Armstrong himself. Many fans and listeners connect with the song’s messages and find solace in its, if vivid and eccentric, mandates. The song’s video was actually filmed in a real institution – at the request of the band – and gives extra meaning and reality to a song that summed up a remarkable album (Dookie).