Lawrence Livermorethe founder of Look for! Folders, green dayclaims that when he first invited the band to do the EP that would become 1989’s 1000 hours, Billie Joe Armstrong was so young, he did not recognize the opportunity as being of great importance.
More than three decades later, chances are he will now. With 13 studio albums and at least one masterpiece to their name, the blue-collar band from Northern California has long been one of America’s great rock bands. The fact that by representing punk rock, the trio was able to find a mainstream audience that had eluded everyone Ramones for Husker Due, the substitutes for Xmade their accomplishments all the sweeter.
Read more: 15 best punk albums of 2004, from Green Day to My Chemical Romance
Donning our combat fatigues, then, without further ado, here’s our ranking of Green Day’s (mostly) illustrious work…
13. Father of all motherfuckers (2020)
The fact that Green Day refused to play one of the songs from Father of all motherfuckers during the concerts undertaken since its release tells you everything you need to know about the trio’s misjudged and failed 13th LP. Where to start? Well, how about clarifying that the problem here isn’t that the band has strayed from their model of sound – from “Macy’s Day Parade” to “Restless Heart Syndrome”, they’ve been doing this for years, anyway – but let the songs about it, their most recent release, arch sound, rushed and contrived.
12. Back ! (2012)
The second installment of their trilogy can’t see the wood for the trees, Back ! proves the theory that Armstrong rarely writes songs that are bad (let’s forget about the awful “Fuck Time”, okay?), he can, when not fully committed, eliminate tracks that aren’t particularly interesting . The weakest link in a fairly mundane triumvirate (having not played any of her songs live in nearly a decade, Green Day would seem to agree with this assessment), only the lovely “Amy” and the typically propulsive “Stop When The Red Lights Flash” still suggests life in the old gods. Back ! would also suffer the ignominy of being the first of their major label albums to fail to sell 100,000 copies in its first week of release.
11. ¡Uno! (2012)
In a similar but different way to The 21st century breakdown, ¡Uno! was Green Day’s attempt to outrun the vast shadow cast by american idiot. The first of three albums released in quick succession – with just four months between them – Armstrong would later claim less than perfect encore when it came to recording the songs on an unnecessarily expansive body of work that of our days is not so very unloved, but overlooked. That being said, when the LP hits the mark, like it does on “Let Yourself Go” and “Angel Blue”, the band sounds almost as good as before.
ten. 39/Smooth (1990)
Recorded for just $700 – and for a record label (Lookout!) that signed the band on a handshake, no less – Green Day’s debut album marked its writers as ones to watch from the start. Scratchy and byproduct like 39/Smooth perhaps, when Armstrong announces “Here we go again” at the start of the world-class “Going To Pasalacqua” ahead of time, he was heralding the arrival of a major new talent in a punk-rock scene that had sprung from the morgue by the release of bad religionis essential To suffer and the opening of a bespoke punk club, 924 Gilman St., in which Green Day appears so often that he becomes the de facto home band.
9. ¡Tre! (2012)
When ¡Tre! manages to come into focus, it really is a thing of beauty. The main body of the opening track “Brutal Love” is as good as anything Green Day has put its name to. Elsewhere, “Drama Queen”‘s carefree patience shows just how adept this band is at taking their time with careful, thoughtful arrangements. For those interested in the material that gives it a bit of power, “99 Revolutions” and “Missing You” link together nicely. At some distance, ¡Tre! is the best of the three albums released by the trio in 2012.
8. Kerplunk! (1991)
The favorite album of many band members, Kerplunk! This marked the last time Green Day was an indie punk-rock band of a genre typical of the hyper-ideological Bay Area scene from which they hailed. But with songs the quality of “2000 Light Years Away”, “Christie Road” and an early version of “Welcome To Paradise”, the group was poised to burst the banks of underground popularity. While touring in support of their second album, audiences were quickly growing larger than the venues they were playing. Fans complained that they couldn’t find Kerplunk! in shops. Green Day needed to improve its functioning. Change was coming.
7. Warning (2000)
At the turn of the century, Green Day’s business profile seemed to be a matter of controlled decline. But despite only receiving a hesitant nudge from the core members of the trio, the certified gold Warning was only a commercial failure compared to the towering ubiquity of Dookie. That’s not to say the band’s sixth album is perfect; its production is sometimes undercooked and its pieces do not always fit together well. But make no mistake: their best moments — “Church On Sunday,” “Waiting,” and “Macy’s Day Parade,” to name three — are the sound of a band that isn’t afraid to grow. and, at times, to defy expectations.
6. Radio Revolution (2016)
Since “The Difficult 12th Album” does not exist, Radio Revolution is the sound of Green Day striving to make great music to the point where they don’t have to. While at times perhaps sounding a bit too much of an effort, when the self-produced set lands its punches, it does so to great effect. Expansive and complex, “Forever Now” could well be a complement to the progressivism of american idiot. Even the LP’s less immediately catchy moments — the “Outlaws,” “Youngblood,” and “Too Dumb To Die” biographies, for example — are exquisite creations. A return to form, therefore, for a group that was beginning to go astray.
5. The 21st century breakdown (2009)
For Green Day, the task of following a masterpiece that will forever be remembered as the last true blockbuster of the rock age involved crafting an album that was even more elaborate than what had come before. These are the major themes of The 21st century breakdown that in Great Britain, Q The magazine was moved to describe the trio “as America’s most adventurous rock band”, an assessment that might well have been true even if they weren’t quite the most fluid anymore.
At times, the trio’s eighth album shines with sweat – “East Jesus Nowhere” is at least twice as long as it should be, while the album’s denouement stumbles straight off a cliff – and it could definitely handle a haircut. But the vocal detractors who claim this three-act LP is a dud are wrong. “Know Your Enemy”, “Last Night On Earth”, “Last Of The American Girls”, “Restless Heart Syndrome” and “The Static Age”, to name five, are the equal of any song from the remarkable Green Day canon.
4. Dookie (1994)
Oh, shut up. While Dookie is arguably one of two truly monumental Green Day albums, not their best. It’s not even that close either. Recorded under the tutelage of the then novice producer Rob Cavallo, the band’s third album and major label debut, initially seemed to be falling apart. But the refusal of Warner’s promotions department to allow lead single “Longview” to die a lonely death meant that during the warmer months of 1994, Armstrong, mike dirt and Very cool had become the first domestic punk-rock band to break the mainstream. Hey ho, let’s go, indeed.
3. Nimrod (1997)
Besides being the birthplace of the modern Green Day, Nimrod is the biggest leap of the band’s career. Without it, there would be no american idiot. Attentive listeners will marvel at how far the trio have come in the two years between it and its predecessor, Insomniac. Throughout, the fluidity – a quality that seems downright effortless, in fact – of songs such as “Nice Guys Finish Last”, “Hitchin’ A Ride”, “Redundant” and “Uptight”, is the work of a group that suddenly looks like a long-term prospect. Not only that, but with the bittersweet ballad “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”, a track written during the Dookie sessions, they released a song for the ages.
2. Insomniac (1995)
Walking the Haight, San Francisco in the early months of 1995, the suddenly rich and successful Armstrong was accosted by a punk who told him he was sold. In Berkeley, due to being signed to a major label, his band was no longer welcome to play at the all-ages punk club 924 Gilman St. where they had made a name for themselves. Transported (if not transformed) by the conquering success of DookieGreen Day discovered that it can sometimes be just as shocking to receive more than you expect as it can be to harvest less. As much as anything, the coiled, restless and surprisingly economical Insomniac should be seen as the band’s defiant response to their baffling new situation.
At best, it is a remarkable and formidable reprisal. “No Pride” sounds like he could choke on his own self-loathing. The opening section of “Panic Song” sounds like a panic attack set to music. “Brain Stew” is a song for people for whom peace and rest have become inaccessible. Cuter and not at all adorable, that’s when Green Day proved they were tougher than the rest.
1. american idiot (2004)
Eighteen years after its release, what about american idiot? With 14 million worldwide sales to its credit, no rock album will ever again reach the dizzying heights it so easily soared. That being the case, its artistic value at least matches its ultimate commercial position. Containing what Armstrong considers to be his best song – “Homecoming”, which he might just be right about – the expansive, fluid and, more often than not, downright magical thematic masterpiece isn’t just the best album of its authors; it is one of the most adventurous and authoritative albums of any time.
From the propelling punk rock of its title track to the piercing poignancy of “Whatsername” – including, let’s not forget, “Jesus Of Suburbia”, “Holiday”, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, “St. Jimmy” and many others – barely a moment is wasted. More, even, than the sum of its parts, american idiot stands at the diamond-encrusted pinnacle of innate ability and hard-earned execution. A triumph in every way.