The Basket Case and the Longview
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Green Day’s Dookie at Twenty-Five
THIS year is an important one...
IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Müller
because we get to celebrate albums turning twenty-five! One can say that is the case every year but, in 2019, that means we look back at 1994. I think that year is the best from all of music and it is interesting to see how the biggest and best albums fare this year. I am looking forward to Oasis’ Definitely Maybe (29th August) and Jeff Buckley’s Grace (23rd August( turning twenty-five but, first up, is Green Day’s Dookie. It is unusual for big albums in general to be released so soon in the year but it was clear that, by February 1994, Green Day has entered a new phase and were striking hard! By 1994, Grunge had sort of entered a new time and we had seen the end of Nirvana – that came with the suicide of Kurt Cobain in April 1994. Band like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were around and, although Grunge was not dead, it was different to what we saw from the likes of Nirvana and their ilk. In terms of Pop, it was a ripe time but there were not a lot of artists providing a balance of Punk and Pop: a nice and fun sound but one with plenty of bite. 1991’s Kerplunk scored good reviews for Green Day but nothing would equal the sort of buzz they received in 1994. Kerplunk has twelve tracks and runs just over thirty minutes; plenty of variety and straight-out smashes meant the Billie Joe Armstrong-fronted band had obvious substance and brains. 1991 was a terrific year for music but 1994 was on a different level!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
What I love is how much freedom there was and how far it is to define the ‘1994 sound’ – there is so much genius from all corners of the musical globe! Dookie was a natural evolution from the band’s successful Kerplunk. Record labels were circling Green Day given their new trajectory and, as rumour has it, a trip to Disneyland was even offered by one label – I’m trying to picture that image and it makes me smile! Green Day were impressed by Reprise and their work with The Muffs so signed to them. The band was moving on and, whilst Dookie is not pure Punk, it is a step in the right direction and brings in a nice balance of Pop. The band wanted to create a sound similar to Sex Pistols: a bit dry but with plenty of raw energy and fun. Billie Joe Armstrong, Tré Cool (drums and guitar) and Mike Dirnt (bass and backing vocals) set to work and, by the end of the sessions, had a tight and incredible set of songs! Songs like Longview and Basket Case became huge hits – the bass line for the former was written by Dirnt whilst under the influence of LSD. Billie Joe Armstrong led the songwriting and a lot of the tracks take from his personal life and have a very confessional feel. Basket Case, the biggest hit from Dookie, is about Armstrong suffering from anxiety – he was diagnosed with a panic disorder soon enough. The song is quite complex and memorable and, as Armstrong said in interviews, he wanted to challenge listeners and himself.
Although there are hard-hitting and tense songs on the album, there are plenty of radio-friendly songs that ensured Dookie was spread far and wide. Green Day would eventually stray away from the radio-friendly sound on future albums but, on Dookie, there was that balance of accessible and edgy. She is an example of Armstrong showing his sensitivity (about a feminist poem, with the same title, Armstrong’s former girlfriend showed him; this song was a response and poem for her). When I Come Around, another monster track, was fuelled when Armstrong and his girlfriend has a falling out and Armstrong had time to reflect. The fact the songs were so frank and open connected with the listeners; many of whom were going through the same sort of thing as Armstrong. Not only did the lyrics strike a chord but the songs’ incredible nuance and catchiness meant Dookie gathered huge acclaim. There were some mixed reviews but most were pretty kind and impressed. In a retrospective review, AllMusic gave their thoughts:
“They were products of the underground pop scene kept alive by such protagonists as All, yet what they really loved was the original punk, particularly such British punkers as the Jam and Buzzcocks. On their first couple records, they showed promise, but with Dookie, they delivered a record that found Billie Joe Armstrong bursting into full flower as a songwriter, spitting out melodic ravers that could have comfortably sat alongside Singles Going Steady, but infused with an ironic self-loathing popularized by Nirvana, whose clean sound on Nevermind is also emulated here. Where Nirvana had weight, Green Day are deliberately adolescent here, treating nearly everything as joke and having as much fun as snotty punkers should. They demonstrate a bit of depth with "When I Come Around," but that just varies the pace slightly, since the key to this is their flippant, infectious attitude -- something they maintain throughout the record, making Dookie a stellar piece of modern punk that many tried to emulate but nobody bettered”.
Pitchfork made some interesting observations in 2017:
“What set Dookie apart from the grunge rock bellowers of its day was Armstrong’s voice, foggy and vaguely unplaceable. “I’m an American guy faking an English accent faking an American accent,” he teased at the time. Though Armstrong’s tone was bratty, his phrasing had that lackadaisical quality that left room for listeners to fill in their own interpretations. On Dookie, Armstrong channeled a lifetime of songcraft obsession into buzzing, hook-crammed tracks that acted like they didn’t give a shit—fashionably then, but also appealingly for the 12-year-old spirit within us all”.
At a time when Green Day’s reputation and quality was not completely established, it could have all gone wrong. 1994 was such a huge year and we were seeing this transition from Nirvana and Grunge to the new movement. So many new bands came through and very few made an impact. Molly Lasker, reflecting on Dookie turning twenty-five talked about its influence and how it changed music in the 1990s:
“The album teetered on the edge; it was too aggressive to be pop and too mainstream to be punk. It was, perhaps, one of the biggest genre-defining releases of the ’90s. It made the entire pop-punk movement possible.
Before Dookie, ’90s rock was bleak, with bands like Nirvana whose brand of grunge was heavier and more dismal than Green Day’s. Dookie wasn’t built on melancholy like Nevermind was. Instead, it delved into themes of sexual orientation, anxiety, masturbation, boredom and ex-girlfriends. It was dewy-eyed and inexperienced, in all the best ways possible...
Yet music critics believed in Dookie, and the album amassed acclaim worldwide. It charted internationally and paved the way for the band to become one of the most prolific acts of the 1990s and early 2000s. Their subsequent releases followed suit; while their later albums didn’t have quite the same impact as Dookie, the band continued their well-deserved ascent to the top”.
I remember entering sixth-form college in 1999 and seeing a lot of bands continuing Green Day’s mix of fun and Punk. Some were quite successful (such as Blink-182) and there were plenty of goofy and insignificant alternatives. By this time, Green Day were moving in a more mature direction but the influence of Dookie is clear. Green Day saw themselves as an angsty alternative to the scene of the time but were worried about the influence of record labels and keeping them in the studio – forcing them into multiple takes to create their vision of a radio hit. Some of those in the Punk scene rallied against Green Day and felt Dookie was a step in the wrong direction. The band did not care at all. When the album came out, the crowds got bigger and bigger and the band felt comfortable with their stadium credentials. Even though the band would suffer a form of identity crisis before long – a Punk band who were mainstream; how could they come to peace with this contradiction? – Dookie became a huge album and took Green Day to the next level. The band is still very fond of Dookie and play some of the album’s songs on tour.
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Random thoughts and gratitude for the 25 year anniversary of the big D: We wanted to think of something special to do but we couldn’t quite come up with anything.. Maybe play the record in its entirety at the pyramids in Egypt. Or jam it Machu Picchu ? Exclusive in Viggiano.? Never quite came to fruition.. But never despair. 2019 still has time.. Dookie makes me think about Berkeley a lot. Our house on Ashby and Ellsworth a block from telegraph avenue. Living in a basement with a band called East Bay Weed Company. Our friend Ben Mattick... socialist college girls living up stairs. Coming up with she and coming clean. Riding bikes and bong hits. Turning 21. Pete’s Wicked Ale. Hysterical laughter. Maniacal laughter. Butterball turkey. “The Ashby house” was our little punk house. I would write songs all night and wake up at 2:00 pm. Have a bagel and a coffee on the front steps.. debilitating panic attacks.. my guitar, my Marshall, my 4 track tape recorder. Weird A &R dudes sniffing around. Eventually Meeting producer Rob Cavallo.. we learned so much from him. Playing Beatles songs over and over... Richie Bucher’s amazing ep cover he did for a band called Raúl inspired us to ask him to do the cover art for Dookie. Mike’s G3 bass. Tre’s Noble coolly snare... driving in my old Ford Fairlane hearing Longview on the radio for the first time. Blair Hess. our first show in Italy at a place called in bloom. Wild nights in Barcelona.. having a lot of uncertainty about our future but not giving a shit. Wanting and dreading to be a rock star.. if that’s even possible.. Local punk scene backlash... Fist fights at Gilman street... stress stress stress!! You have to have gratitude for the bad and the ugly too.. Well... that’s the random thoughts I have for now... I hope people keep listening.. cause we’ll keeping playing... love BJ
It is clear Dookie arrived at the right time and was the sort of guiding light the scene needed. The National, when marking Dookie’s anniversary, talked about the need for more upbeat music that wasn’t as doom-laden as Grunge:
“Dookie’s success created an appetite for more upbeat rock, and in the process helped shift the US punk community away from its restrictive principles.
As a result, a slew of once-struggling punk bands embraced the opportunities afforded them, and groups such as The Offspring, Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Sum 41 all commanded, and still do bring in, big audiences and sell an impressive number of albums. Despite their pedigree, the success would have been harder for these bands if Green Day had not charted them a course.
Twenty-five years on, the album and the band has yet to receive the credit they’re due. Like their forebears the Ramones and The Clash, Green Day played an important role in expanding the sound of punk. While they went on to more success with their politically charged 2004 album American Idiot, the reverberation of their masterpiece Dookie still resonates today”.
That sense of timing and arriving just when change was needed was another reason Dookie impacted in 1994 and has endured to this very day:
“However, like most landmark albums, Dookie actually arrived at just the right moment. Some would even argue that it dropped in the nick of time, as the rock genre at that stage was positively humourless. It needed a Dookie. In 1994, Pearl Jam released their rollicking yet bleak Vitalogy, Bush kept the grunge flame alive with their sludgy debut Sixteen Stone and Nine Inch Nails were deathly dark with foreboding opus The Downward Spiral”.
The band knew when to be funny and when to be serious. Dookie boasted an array of singles, each with their own killer video. Green Day had that great blend of humour and attack and seemed to respond to young listeners who wanted the teeth and swagger of Punk but something a little more melodic – even if Green Day themselves were ostracised by some clubs in the Punk scene. Green Day would go on to become more political in time and I wonder whether we have seen another band as potent and important since. By that, I mean one who has managed to create an album that inspired so many so quickly and had that rare contrast of fun and serious. There are a lot of Punk-Pop bands around today and many of them owe a huge debt to Dookie. We look back at the album at twenty-five and it has not really aged at all. The songs sound fresh and a lot of the songs we overlooked the first time have picked up new light and appeal. Dookie is an incredible album and is definitely one of my favourites from the 1990s. Life would change beyond recognition for Green Day and, in 1994, this epic and phenomenal album rivalled the biggest releases. Think about the genus albums from 1994 and you can rank Dookie alongside all of them. From Longview, Basket Case and Burnout to She, When I Come Around and Chump; the magnificent Dookie is filled with gems that are still...
MAKING their mark on music twenty-five years later.