Back in the early ‘90s, when Lollapalooza and MTV’s “120 Minutes” were the barometers of cool, you would have been excused for laughing if someone told you that Green Day would be one of a handful of bands of that era to stay relevant for two decades and would also get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But the band who got famous from singing about being bored and stoned exceeded all expectations through soul, ambition and sheer songwriting chops. We ranked their 40 best songs from their days on indie label Lookout! Records through the new tracks from Father Of All… including radio hits, deeper cuts and even a few things from their side-projects. What’d we miss?
It’s so close to “Bring It On Home To Me” that Green Day share a writing credit with the late Sam Cooke. Hey, if you’re going to “borrow,” borrow from the best. It’s one of the best songs from the ‘UNO’/’DOS’/’TRE’ era, which would have benefitted from some editing. The highlights would have made a solid album.
The title came from a line in the 2007 film ‘Juno’ (when Juno’s step-mom asks her, “Why would you drive all the way to East Jesus Nowhere?”) and inspired by Bill Maher’s 2008 anti-religion documentary ‘Religulous.’
The idea of a Broadway musical based on Green Day’s songs was a bit ridiculous, but the Green Day of the 2000s was nothing if not ambitious. And some of the parts of the show really worked, including this song. Even better was when the cast of the show and Green Day recorded a new version together.
One of the highlights of the underrated ‘Revolution Radio’ album, the song marked something of a return to politically-charged songs.
Who were the Network? Their lineup included singer/guitarist Fink, singer/bassist Van Gough and a drummer known only as The Snoo, and they suspiciously talked an awful lot of smack about Green Day. The band also -- allegedly -- included members of Devo (you can hear them on another song, “Hungry Hungry Models”).
It’s nearly as great of an album closer as “Whatsername” from ‘American Idiot,” and is another underrated Green Day song.
First off: we do not endorse the message in this song’s title! The Clash was always a big influence on Green Day, but it tended to be the band’s ‘70s output. Here, Green Day seems under the influence of the Clash’s sprawling 1980 triple album, ‘Sandinista!’ And like ‘Sandinista!,’ the ‘UNO’/’DOS’/’TRE’ trilogy would have benefitted from some editing.
How many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands still make records where they are experimenting? How many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands still make albums where they sound like they have something to prove? This first taste of the new album shows that the band still think they have something to prove.
A gem from the band’s Lookout Records era, this is a tribute to the main character in J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher In The Rye.’
One of John Lennon’s most lyrically heavy songs, by 2007, Green Day had earned the respect and gravitas to be able to do the song justice.
Billie Joe, Mike and Tre seem to be having a blast with a huge hard rock riff for “Brain Stew,” before returning to punk form for “Jaded.” It’s the perfect combonation for the arenas that they were now headlining.
One of the best songs from their Lookout Records era, it shows Billie Joe Armstrong’s romantic streak: “I sit alone in my bedroom/Staring at the walls/I've been up all damn night long/My pulse is speeding/My love is yearning.”
A rocking acoustic shuffle with a horn section, this song kind of fit in with the ska music that was dominating the airwaves. Billie Joe Armstrong told Billboard, “It would be funny for a bunch of macho fraternity guys to be singing along and, little do they know, the song's about being in drag."
Sounding like an outtake from Green Day’s garage rock side-project the Foxboro Hot Tubs (more on that later), Billie Joe Armstrong introduces the song by roaring, “I’m not f---ing around!” And he wasn’t. This is another one that should have been a hit.
One of the few covers on this list, this song from 1979 was originally by the Scottish punk rock band the Skids (who probably would not have imagined that a quarter-century later, two of the biggest bands would cover the song and perform it at an NFL game; they performed at the first post-Katrina Saints game at the Super Bowl).
Noel Gallagher of Oasis was a bit annoyed about this song, believing that Green Day ripped off “Wonderwall.” “They should have the decency to wait until I am dead [before stealing my songs]” he complained. “I, at least, pay the people I steal from that courtesy.” He should have taken the compliment and moved on.
The song is great, and so is the video, which poked fun at football. Ironically, years later in 2006, Green Day would perform at the New Orleans Superdome with U2 before a Saints/Falcons game.
Somehow this song didn’t make it to ‘Dookie,’ but that didn’t matter. Green Day were so hot at the time and this song was so great it went to number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock charts. And it deserved to stand on its own from the ‘Dookie’ songs anyway - it was a tribute to Mike Dirnt’s friend Jason Andrew Relva, who died in 1992 from injuries suffered in a car accident.
One of the first rock songs to address an LGBT person’s coming out, the lyrics “Secrets collecting dust but never forget/Skeletons come to life in my closet/I found out what it takes to be a man/Now mom and dad will never understand/What's happening to me” were revolutionary.
We always knew that Green Day were big Kinks fans, but it didn’t usually get this obvious. Listen to this song and “Picture Book” back to back. That’s not a knock; this song was an amazing kickoff to their 2000 album, and it showed that they could be just as badass strumming acoustic guitars as they were bashing electric ones.
We’ll hand the mic -- or the keyboard -- to Corey Taylor here. Yes, Corey Taylor of Slipknot. On his solo acoustic tour, he noted that he’s such a big Green Day fan that if *you* aren’t a fan, you can’t be friends with him. And this is his favorite song from ‘Dookie.’ If you haven’t listened to this jam in a while, give it a spin and then explain to us how it wasn’t a huge hit.
The leadoff track on “Insomniac.’ It showed fans that, despite selling millions of ‘Dookies,’ the band hadn’t let success get to their head.
Most of Green Day’s best songs have ended up on the radio, but somehow this one didn’t. Was Green Day thinking of bringing ‘American Idiot’ to Broadway even in 2004? If you saw the stage production, you know that this song was the perfect high-energy ending to the show. But Green Day’s own version is the definitive version.
Green Day strayed from the punk rock formula often over the years, but this is one of the first examples of it; “When I Come Around” was a perfect bit of pop-rock, and was irresistible even to those who don’t care about punk rock.
One of the highlights of their concerts, the song’s subject matter -- alcohol dependency -- is dark. “Troubled times/You know I cannot lie/I'm off the wagon and I'm hitchin' a ride.”
“Scream at me until my ears bleed/I'm taking heed just for you” was a line that Billie Joe Armstrong wrote for a girlfriend, and it showed a sensitivity that made him stand out from his peers. So did feminist lines like “She's figured out/All her doubts were someone else's point of view/Waking up this time to smash the silence with the brick of self-control.”
The first single from the follow-up to ‘Dookie’ showed that the band weren’t changing direction too much (at least, not yet).
They recorded an earlier version of the song for 1992’s ‘Kerplunk!,’ but the ‘Dookie’ version is better. The song, about moving out of your parents’ home… something ‘Dookie’ certainly enabled all the guys in the band to do.
If you’re not familiar with Foxboro Hot Tubs, stop what you’re doing and get a copy of their album, it’s some of the best, and most fun, garage rock that you’ll ever hear. After ‘American Idiot,’ Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool decided to have some fun, and they formed a new band. Their 12-song album (their only one so far) lasts just 30 minutes, and all of those minutes are perfection.
When they started out in punk rock clubs, a full-on power ballad like this might not have gone over too well. By 2004, punk rock’s stringent rules weren’t as important, thankfully.
By the 2000s, few current rock bands were addressing politics, but “Know Your Enemy” seemed like the perfect blend of Rage Against The Machine and the Ramones, two bands who were sadly long gone by then.
In which Billie Joe Armstrong perfectly captures the angst of a teenager who thinks too much. “Every night I dream the same dream,” he yelped. “Of getting older and older all the time.” The song boasts one of Mike Dirnt’s funkiest basslines.
By 2000, MTV’s accursed ‘TRL’ was steering pop culture from alternative rock to nu metal, boy bands and Britney. Green Day wanted no part of it, and they let us know on this acoustic rocker: “Stepped out of the line/Like a sheep runs from the herd/Marching out of time/To my own beat now,” indeed.
‘American Idiot’ (and ‘Warning’ before that) showed Green Day’s fans that they were stretching out musically; still, it was surprising to hear the piano intro that introduces this song. But very quickly, the title track of their 2009 opus moves into the operatic punk rock road that they started traveling on with ‘American Idiot.’ At this point, they were equally influenced by the Ramones *and* Queen.
‘American Idiot’ was musically and thematically more ambitious than anything than Green Day had attempted up to this point, but “Holiday” showed that they could still knock out great, simple punk rock jams.
What do you do when you come from the punk rock underground and you suddenly realize that you’re a millionaire? That’s something that Billie Joe Armstrong seemed to struggle with early on, and you can hear him working it out here.
Would a goofy bunch of guys like Green Day ever be able to grow up? This acoustic ballad -- which was really a Billie Joe Armstrong solo song -- showed that the band’s singer/songwriter had more range than he’d been given credit for. This was a Green Day song that you could impress your parents with.
The second of three #1 modern rock radio singles from ‘Dookie,’ (the first was “Longview,” the third was “When I Come Around”), it was a fun song about going crazy.
Green Day had been around for five years by the time they *cough* dropped ‘Dookie,’ but this is the song and video that brought them into the homes and hearts of America. Like their peers from the north in Seattle, Green Day had their share of angst. But unlike those guys, they actually had some fun with it.
This song, and the album that it came from, are probably why Green Day became one of the first bands of their generation to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like a lot of their ‘90s peers, their cultural cache was slipping by 2000s. “American Idiot,” the leadoff track and first single from the album of the same name, showed an older, angrier and more ambitious Green Day, and the album was so strong, it catapulted them to the pop charts and stadium headlining status.