10 Best Green Day Songs
Since their 1994 breakout album 'Dookie,' Green Day have been several things: old-school punk torchbearers, new-school punk pioneers, upholders of the rock opera, rock 'n' roll saviors and the band that does that song that you've heard at every high school graduation ceremony over the past decade. But most of all, they've been three bratty kids from California who've managed to unite old and young rock fans with their songs for 20 years now. Here's our list of the 10 Best Green Day Songs.
In a way, 'Dookie''s second single is symbolic of Green Day's rise following the album's release. (It's about making it in the big, bad world on your own for the first time.) Only thing, the song was originally released on the band's second album, 1992's 'Kerplunk.' But the rerecorded version found on their breakthrough album is tougher, and it more forcefully pushes the fear and excitement of a band on the move.
'Wake Me Up When September Ends,' the fourth single from 'American Idiot,' comes near the end of the album, right before a main character dies. Appropriately, this plaintive ballad strikes a mournful tone that's mostly at odds with the rest of the LP's middle-finger anarchism. It still fits within the theme of the album, but more so than any of the other 'American Idiot' tracks, it stands on its own as one of Billie Joe Armstrong's finest compositions.
'Insomniac,' the follow-up to 'Dookie,' is mostly a messy, rushed record with very few memorable songs. This medley of two tracks, which show up near the middle of the album, was released as a single and is the highlight. 'Brain Stew' features a dirge-like guitar riff and takes up most of the song's 4:45 running time, but it's the last pummeling minute or so of 'Jaded' -- a ferocious punk throwback -- that drives it home and secures its spot on our list of the 10 Best Green Day Songs.
Following the monster success of 'Dookie,' Green Day recorded a song for the movie 'Angus,' which nobody bothered to see. But 'J.A.R.' -- a tribute to a friend of bassist Mike Dirnt who died in a car accident -- reached No. 1 on the modern rock chart and has since become a favorite at their live shows. With its rolling drums and chainsaw guitars, it sounds like a 'Dookie' outtake and is better than anything on the follow-up album 'Insomniac.'
After 'Dookie''s gargantuan success, Green Day had a rough time for a while. Until 2004's 'American Idiot' came along and salvaged their sinking career, it looked like they would end up footnotes in the rock 'n' roll annals along with many other forgotten '90s alt-rock bands. 'Nimrod' (1997) and 'Warning' (2000) are mostly disposable albums, but this marching first single from the latter is one of the band's best songs, a simultaneously simple and complex work that hinted at things to come.
'Longview' -- 'Dookie''s first single -- was most fans' first taste of Green Day. And what better way to announce yourself to the mainstream than with a four-minute song about jerking off and getting high that shifts from stalking, bass-driven verses to giant choruses fueled by stabbing guitars? It pretty much set the band's rep, even though they'd become way more ambitious than Armstrong's slacker lyrics let on.
Yeah, your mom likes it, and the damn song has been played in almost every video montage on TV and at graduation ceremonies for 15 years now. But it is kinda great, perhaps Armstrong's finest moment as a songwriter. It certainly is the band's most adaptable track (Armstrong often performs the song solo at Green Day concerts). It's also their most timeless and the one they'll be remembered for, whether they like it or not.
Until 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' reached No. 2 in 2005, 'When I Come Around' was Green Day's biggest single, hitting No. 6 on the pop charts a decade earlier. It's pretty much a love song written by Armstrong to his future wife, but as one of the few breaks from 'Dookie''s 60-mph crunch, it showed that the band was just as capable at classic rock moves as it was at punk posturing.
Five singles were released from 'Dookie,' and four of them make our list of the 10 Best Green Day Songs. This one is the greatest. In a way, it's the most typical Green Day song of the bunch, a blast of pop-punk angst that sounds like it's about ready to roll off course at any second. But 'Basket Case,' despite that madhouse title, is one of the group's sturdiest songs, built on a killer riff and equally killer performances by the trio.
Up until 'American Idiot' came along in 2004 and gave them a much-needed jolt, Green Day had spent the past decade trying to live up to 'Dookie''s unexpected success. ('Nimrod' and 'Warning' both hit the Top 10, but they didn't stay there long.) After a four-year break, they returned with a concept album, a more grownup sound and a political agenda that didn't mince words. Where other post-9/11 albums, for the most part, focused on the healing, 'American Idiot' centered on more direct action. The story itself is kinda jumbled -- wayward kids walk through an American wasteland besieged by war, financial uncertainty and morons in power -- but the music takes a bold step toward more classic rock sounds. The title tune is the album's centerpiece, statement of purpose and the top track on our list of the 10 Best Green Day Songs.