Green Day celebrate 39/Smooth anniversary with never-before-seen video from 1990
Watch Green Day (with original drummer John Kiffmeyer) perform Paper Lanterns in 1990 at a “backyard in Oakland”.
Dookie or American Idiot? Kerplunk! or 21st Century Breakdown? We, er, break down every Green Day album in order of brilliance…
“With Green Day, the first thing that comes to mind with making a record is making a mess first,” Billie Joe Armstrong told Kerrang! back in 2018, detailing the Oakland heroes’ mindset going into each and every studio album (of which there’s been plenty). Thankfully, the frontman has, across three decades, consistently gone on to turn this aforementioned “mess” into quite the opposite, with Green Day’s inimitable 13-album discography garnering the band millions of dedicated fans, a couple of hundred award nominations, and a legacy that most rock bands could only dream of.
And they’re still at it, too: the 4K-rated Father Of All… not only proved that Billie Joe, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool are as strong a force as ever, but also that they’re eager to plunge headfirst into fresh and exciting new waters. And as easy as it would be to write a ‘Green Day albums ranked from best to best to best to best’ list, that’s not quite how the internet works. Here, then, we tackle the band’s discography from not-so-classic to certified masterpiece…
It’ll probably come as no surprise that – spoiler alert – all three volumes of Green Day’s ill-fated 2012 trilogy have ended up at the back-end of this ranking. That isn’t to say that they are bad albums; after all, what is widely considered to be the trio’s lesser work still has several strokes of greatness (the energetic force of Stop When The Red Lights Flash and sweet, infectious Stray Heart in particular). Unfortunately, the likes of Fuck Time and Nightlife just aren’t up to scratch, and the fact that ¡Dos! contains the trilogy’s least-played material live says it all. Next…
In penultimate place, we have ¡Tré!. Billie Joe told Q magazine several years after the trilogy’s release that, “Those records have absolutely no direction to them,” and this is easily the most all-over-the-place of the lot. Both opening and closing with gorgeous ballads (Brutal Love and the Twilight soundtrack-featuring The Forgotten respectively), the 12-track full-length disconcertingly takes in rock operas (Dirty Rotten Bastards), pop-punk (X-Kid, 99 Revolutions) and a whole lot more in-between. It’s all just a bit confusing, tbh.
The punk rock titans started off strong here, with Kerrang! awarding ¡Uno! 4Ks at the time of release and praising it for its “sharp and often exhilarating change of gear from the Green Day of the past eight years”. Indeed, breakneck single Let Yourself Go actually threw things further back to the band’s earlier Dookie and Insomniac years, while the wonderfully unfussy pop melodies in Stay The Night and Rusty James were a refreshing breather following the record’s ambitious predecessor, 21st Century Breakdown. And sure, Kill The DJ’s surprising dip into the dance genre might not have pleased every Green Day fan in the world, but for the most part, ¡Uno!’s quality is higher than people give it credit for.
It seems a bit harsh to put Green Day’s debut album towards the latter half of this list – especially given that it contains one of their best-ever songs: Going To Pasalacqua (seriously, how the hell was Billie Joe only 17 years old when he wrote that one?!). This humble Lookout Records release, however, just doesn’t pack quite the same punch as everything that would come afterwards, despite the young punks showing incredible promise on The Judge’s Daughter, I Was There and Don’t Leave Me. It’s got some pretty great songs, but boy did the band go on to raise the bar…
Remember the eyebrow-raising moment you first heard Billie Joe’s never-before-tried falsetto come in on Father Of All…’s bluesy lead single and title-track? It had the same effect on those who were in the studio recording the song with him, too. And that’s the coolest thing about Green Day’s 13th full-length (though calling it “full” might be a bit of an exaggeration considering it’s their shortest release ever). This is an album that relishes in the unpredictable, while cohesively journeying through some of the frontman’s lesser-spotted influences like soul and Motown. It has more ‘signature’ Green Day moments like closer Graffitia, but ultimately it’s the unpredictable playfulness that really wins out. Who’d have expected that from a band 30 years into their career?
‘My name’s Billie and I’m freaking out…’ sings the frontman as he launches into the spectacular Forever Now. And, while there’s plenty to panic about in the subject matter of Green Day’s 12th album, there’s also a confidence to Revolution Radio that really dominates. A self-produced effort, RevRad saw the trio take on their most “hands-on” approach yet, with Mike even opting for bass lessons to improve his playing. It all makes for and endlessly compelling soundtrack behind songs inspired by Black Lives Matter demonstrations (the title-track), mass shootings (Bang Bang), the Flint water crisis (Say Goodbye) and terrorist attacks (Troubled Times). As is the Green Day way, ‘freaking out’ has never felt so powerful.
While lead single Minority has since became a set staple – and live highlight – for our now-arena and stadium conquering champs, the band’s experimental folk-punk offerings on Warning were initially met with a somewhat disappointing commercial performance. Two decades down the road, however, and the “sense of freedom” that Billie Joe says he felt during the making of Green Day’s sixth album still resonates – from the inspired inclusion of a dominatrix on the superbly sordid Blood, Sex And Booze, to instruments like the mandolin, electronic organ, accordion and saxophone all bolstering the frontman’s bold songwriting. Plus, how can you argue with that closing trio of Waiting into Minority into Macy’s Day Parade?!
Of course, what came immediately after Kerplunk! not only changed Green Day’s lives, but the punk landscape as a whole. But on their humble second effort – the band’s last before signing to a major label – the trio were already quietly making waves through word-of-mouth and their desire to persistently hit the road. With a line-up solidified by Tré following the departure of original drummer John Kiffmeyer, Green Day’s enduring chemistry is particularly evident on Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?, Christie Road and the sweet yearning of opener 2000 Light Years Away. And, as Billie Joe even pointed out to Rolling Stone recently about that particular ode to his now-wife, Adrienne: “It’s been a staple in our set ever since, and it led to many, many, many songs I’ve been writing about her for the next almost 30 years.” Really, Kerplunk! is the album where Green Day properly got started.
“How on earth are Green Day going to follow American Idiot?” the world asked in the five years after the release of their globe-conquering seventh album. For the band, it was… sort of simple: form a garage-rock group by the name of Foxboro Hot Tubs and party the months away, before bringing all that newfound “swagger” and “fucking energy” back into the studio with them. Okay, so it wasn’t quite as quick or straightforward as that, but it certainly gave Green Day the much-needed drive to play out some of their grandest ideas yet across 21st Century Breakdown’s 18-song tracklist. Accompanied by the stunning production work of Butch Vig, it’s a record that still sounds tremendous to this day – and it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a few more 21CB-era songs (the title-track, American Eulogy, ¡Viva La Gloria!, Murder City, The Static Age) included in the band’s modern-day setlist… just saying.
Okay, now this list is really getting tricky. You might even say that we’ve found ourselves at a ‘fork stuck in the road’ (sorry). And of course Billie Joe’s bitter break-up ballad to an ex-girlfriend who had moved to Ecuador played a momentous role in the triumph of Nimrod, but there’s so, so much to Green Day’s fifth LP than just Good Riddance. After the album’s more to-the-point predecessor (which we’ll get to in a second) the band really started to flex their creative muscles here, as Billie Joe noted to Kerrang! at the time: “We didn’t want to do another Dookie, we wanted to stretch out. We’re punks, obviously, but we’re also songwriters, and we’ll be writing for the rest of our lives.” Armed with songs such as Hitchin’ A Ride, Redundant, Scattered and – of course – Good Riddance, career longevity was never in doubt.
Adopting a much more bleak tone – both lyrically and sonically – than its predecessor, Billie Joe told Rolling Stone that he “wanted to show the uglier side of what Green Day was capable of” on Insomniac. This goal was achieved with real potency through the likes of Brain Stew and Geek Stink Breath as he tackled the grim subject of methamphetamine use over abrasive guitars, while on 86 he spat back at those who deemed the trio ‘sellouts’ after the major-label success of Dookie. Most impressive of all, though, is the fact that Green Day’s always-dynamic songwriting never once suffered at the hands of this newfound “ugliness”. To this day, that’s still one hell of an accomplishment.
Really, what more can be said about Green Day’s monumental seventh album? Yes, the songs are genuinely incredible, but the context in which the full-length was made also makes it all the more jaw-dropping. Mike later admitted on live DVD Bullet In A Bible that Billie Joe had phoned him to ask, “Do you even want to do this anymore?” following the mixed reaction to Warning and the toll of that particular cycle, before the master tapes to their then-new album Cigarettes And Valentines were mysteriously “stolen”. Far from giving up, though, the trio came back swinging – not just wanting to overcome their circumstances, but even go as far as to out-do each other as they went. It resulted in songs like the epic Jesus Of Suburbia and Homecoming, fired-up punk rock classics like Holiday, St. Jimmy and Letterbomb, and heart-wrenching emotion of Wake Me Up When September Ends and Whatsername. “I just had a feeling about American Idiot,” producer Rob Cavallo later told Kerrang!. “I just knew that when we released it, people were going to respond and explode. I had this feeling of electricity in my body that was as intense as any I’d had before. The only time I had it like that was on Dookie.” Speaking of which…
Billie Joe Armstrong might have humbly pondered, ‘Do you have the time to listen to me whine?’ on Dookie’s second single Basket Case, but it’s a question that is incessantly met with a resounding “Yes” over a quarter of a century later. Of course the vibrant, youthful energy of Green Day’s third album still resonates, but between the outward sarcasm and self-deprecation lies an unassumingly smart group of songs that continue to stand the test of time. From Longview’s iconic LSD-fuelled bassline, to those electrifying drum fills on opener Burnout, to the effortless sing-along choruses of Welcome To Paradise and When I Come Around, and the understated power of She, Dookie is simply impeccable. As Tré noted on the album’s 25th anniversary in 2019, it also disproved “those who jawed about punk being dead or not being appealing on a commercial scale”. “Fuck y’all,” he wrote. “We’re still here.” And long may they reign.
Watch Green Day (with original drummer John Kiffmeyer) perform Paper Lanterns in 1990 at a “backyard in Oakland”.
Green Day will be making their Danny Wimmer Presents debut in September, joining Foo Fighters, Tool and Avenged Sevenfold as Louder Than Life headliners…
With just a few live dates scheduled in for Green Day this year, here’s what they played at their first show of 2023, headlining Tempe’s Innings Festival…
Headlined by blink-182 and Green Day, nostalgia fest When We Were Young have added a new date with the same line-up this October.
Wondering why you’ve never heard Nimrod-era demo Black Eyeliner before? It’s because it went on to become Green Day’s Church On Sunday and The Longshot’s Kill Your Friends…
Harley-Davidson are celebrating their 120th birthday this summer with the help of Foo Fighters, Green Day and more…
Hear Green Day’s demo cover of Alison by Elvis Costello, taken from their upcoming Nimrod anniversary release.