Californian pop-punkers Green Day recently announced a trilogy of new albums entitled ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!. To celebrate, here’s a list of what I think are their greatest songs…
When news of the upcoming Green Day album trilogy first reached me, I was overjoyed. For around two years, they’ve been one of my favourite bands. I even like their last album 21st Century Breakdown, even though that was pretty much universally looked down on.
It was through their music that I got into punk and other alternative rock, as well as learning to play guitar, drums and bass better so I could copy their songs.
The band have got a lot of criticism for ‘selling out’, but I don’t think that matters. Despite what they look like, or what label they’re signed to, they still produce excellent music that has a message worth listening to. So to celebrate ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, here are my top 10 favourite Green Day songs.
Honourable mention – The Judge’s Daughter (1990)
This is a track that almost nobody has heard of, from the band’s very first studio album, before Tré Cool replaced John Kiffmeyer as drummer. It’s a raw pop-punk song, notable for one reason only: the best guitar solo that Billie Joe Armstrong has ever recorded. In 22 years, he hasn’t topped it. This is one to show critics who say that Green Day have no musical talent.
10. Redundant (1997)
Not the most well-known of tracks, but this introspective number from 1997’s ‘Nimrod’ comes with a great chorus-pedal riff and strong lyrics about the lack of excitement in a relationship. The songs on this album were the first to show Green Day’s progression into a more mature style, as opposed to their previous three-chord punky thrash. It also has a great video (even though the effects are slightly dated) influenced by ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ by the Ramones, showing a series of bizarre events happening around an uninterested band, filmed by a static camera.
9. Geek Stink Breath (1995)
This song, from ‘Insomniac’, is a perfect example of the bridge between the first two phases of Green Day’s career. It retains the catchy riffs, sweet bass grooves and tight vocal harmonies of their first three albums, but has a slower tempo and dark lyrical content detailing a meth addiction, with Billie Joe singing in a disgusting slurred drawl. The video is also pretty nasty – cutting between grungy, close-up footage of the band performing the track, and gory scenes of tooth removal.
8. King for a Day (1997)
It’s extremely hard not to love this song, a jaunty, ska-inspired tune about a cross-dresser. Of course, this is also from ‘Nimrod’, the album where Green Day crossed over genre boundaries to find a new, unique sound. This is clearly influenced by the ska punk of Operation Ivy and Rancid, which is hardly surprising – Tim Armstrong, lead guitarist of both those bands, is supposedly related to Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong.
King for a Day is a live favourite, with the band donning ridiculous costumes and leading the crowd in a selection of other hits, including ‘Shout’ by Lulu. Although it’s goofy and out-of-place among darker material, King for a Day always puts a smile on my face.
7. Sassafras Roots (1994)
A little-known track from the band’s first major-label album ‘Dookie’, it’s basically an anthem for sitting on your arse, wasting time and doing nothing all day – which is a statement I can really get behind. It also has a fantastic, groovy bassline, like all the songs on this album.
One of the major disappointments in Green Day’s recent music is that bassist Mike Dirnt never gets a chance to show off his skills. His basslines, along with Keith Moon-influenced drummer Tré Cool’s beats and fills, are what separate Green Day from their pop-punk peers in terms of musical talent.
6. Pulling Teeth (1994)
Another song from ‘Dookie’, but this one seems to anticipate the later stages of Green Day’s career. It stands out from the rest of the album by using full, open guitar chords, instead of the basic three-note power chords that the band are known for. Along with this progression in the musical style, the lyrics are also very dark, detailing an abusive girlfriend beating up the narrator so he can’t leave her. You wouldn’t know it listening to the song, though; the jolly major-key chords and tight vocal harmonies give the whole thing an air of pop pleasantness.
5. American Idiot (2004)
This was Green Day’s comeback single after the mildly disappointing alt-rock album that was 2000’s ‘Warning’. And what a way to announce your return to the music scene – that killer guitar riff kicks everything off with a tinny radio effect, before the whole band comes in and blows you away. Tré Cool provides the classic fills that have been inspiring air-drummers for years, while Billie Joe and Mike thrash out those unforgettable chords. The lyrics are firey and enraged, attacking the “subliminal mind-fuck America”.
The inspiration for this song came from an unlikely source – Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd. Billie Joe heard one of their songs on the radio, proclaiming how great it was to be a redneck, and decided he had to write the complete opposite of that song. And so this modern punk classic was born, completely revitalising Green Day’s career.
4. Longview (1994)
This was the band’s very first single after being signed to Reprise Records. It’s an excellent track with a unique and complex bassline – written by Mike Dirnt while he was on an acid trip. Lyrically, it’s the flipside of Sassafras Roots, detailing the boredom, misery and isolation encountered by having no job and doing nothing productive. Also, there’s a monkey in the music video, which instantly makes it 56 times cooler than any other song.
3. Homecoming (2004)
This is one of the two ‘rock opera’ tracks from American Idiot. At over nine minutes long, it’s an odyssey through different tempos, genres and even vocalists.
The track is split into five main sections. The first two, ‘The Death of St. Jimmy’ and ‘East 12th Street’, are guitar-driven punk tracks describing the suicide of the narrator’s alternate personality, and then his boredom at becoming a normal member of society after leaving the punk scene (yeah, it’s a weird story). The third, ‘Nobody Likes You’, was written by Mike Dirnt, who takes the lead vocal. Backed by a marching-band drumroll and church bells, Mike sings about staying up into the night thinking of an old girlfriend. It’s a melancholy piece, which contrasts perfectly with the next part – Tré Cool’s section.
Entitled ‘Rock and Roll Girlfriend’, Tré’s part of the song is like if Elton John decided to cover himself in eyeliner, roll around in a solid gold bathtub filled with cocaine and join a punk band. It’s a throwback to classic rock ‘n’ roll, telling the story of a rock megastar with a hot girlfriend, ex-wife and kids all around the country, a man who can “play the shit out the drums” and hasn’t “drank or smoked nothing in over 22 days”. There’s an absolutely genius bit, easy to miss, where Billie Joe sings the line “don’t wanna be an American idiot” as the backing vocals, a callback to the first track on the album, reminding the listener of the opera’s story, and what has come before.
It has a sax solo.
What more do you need?
The final part of the opera is called “We’re Coming Home Again”. It’s the climax of the entire album, with huge chorus vocals and a stomp-along drum beat with more than a shade of ‘We Will Rock You’ about it.
Separately, the pieces are fairly unremarkable two-minute tunes. But together, placed as the penultimate track on the album, it’s an emotional rollercoaster ride that finally puts the limelight on the quieter members of the band.
2. Welcome to Paradise (1994)
It might seem strange putting an older, less technically impressive song after the incredible ‘Homecoming’. But ‘Welcome to Paradise’ is the perfect example of a classic Green Day tune. The drumming is complex yet frantic, Tré Cool somehow hitting every note perfectly despite the apparent randomness of his playing. The bassline is interesting to listen to, playing with the main melody while still supporting the guitar, showing off Mike Dirnt’s considerable skills as a player. The vocals from Billie Joe and Mike are spot-on, bringing to mind thoughts of Lennon and McCartney harmonising together. And last, but most definitely not least… it has a truly excellent bass solo.
All the ingredients add together to create one of the greatest pop-punk songs of all time, and the true highlight from the album. Some may argue for ‘Basket Case’ or ‘When I Come Around’, and while I agree that they’re also great examples of the style, ‘Welcome to Paradise’ just has a certain something that elevates it above the rest. To top it, Green Day would have to completely change their style… and guess what they did ten years later?
1. Jesus of Suburbia (2004)
The second track on the American Idiot album, and the first ‘rock opera’ Green Day wrote. It kicks in straight after ‘American Idiot’ finishes, barely leaving you time to catch your breath before Billie Joe slams on his guitar and plays those huge, crunchy power chords, singing “I’m the son of rage and love, the Jesus of suburbia”.
Like ‘Homecoming’, the song is split into five movements. The first, ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ is an angry tirade against the narrator’s life. It’s the perfect cliché of the angsty teen – living with his mother and stepfather, finding fun in drugs and drink, feeling suppressed by everything around him.
The second part, ‘City of the Damned’, is less furious, more frustrated and weary. The narrator is sick of the dead town where he lives, and longs for escape. The third part, ‘I Don’t Care’ dials the fury straight back up, with Billie Joe venomously spitting out lyrics over a heavy bassline. When that runs out of steam, the song transitions into part four, ‘Dearly Beloved’. Driven by an acoustic guitar and a simple drum beat, the narrator describes how he feels insecure and worried about his own mind. Part five, entitled ‘Tales of Another Broken Home’ is the narrator’s escape, leaving the town he hates, breaking the routines in his life and making his own way.
Like ‘Homecoming’, the separate parts aren’t particularly impressive, but it’s the combination that makes it work so well. The lyrics do an excellent job of summing up the endless boredom in small towns, as well as the reactions against it and the desire to escape.
Instrumentally, the band are on perfect form. The bass and drums provide a strong backbeat, while not overpowering the lyrics, since they’re the main focus of the song. The guitar track is aggressive and thick when it needs to be, soft and gentle when the mood changes. The vocals are delivered with passion and sincerity. This is the track where the band got serious, where everyone suddenly realised that this album would be their masterpiece. Some may take it as emo nonsense, but this song represents the second coming of Green Day, where they decided to focus on telling a story rather than just writing perky ska tunes about crossdressers. This is Green Day at their absolute finest, lyrically and musically, and that’s why it’s my favourite song of theirs.
So those are my top 10 Green Day songs. Tell me your own in the comments, or say that they sold out back in 1994, or just complain that they’re not true punk anyway.
Green Day’s ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! will be released on 25th September, 13th November and January 15th.
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