From California’s Bay Area, Green Day stormed the mainstream in the early ‘90s by infusing the raw power of punk with a melodic pop sensibility and apathetic lyrics that captured the angst-ridden restlessness of the American teenagers of their era. Influenced by late-70s punk predecessors, Green Day went on to introduce a younger generation to the genre. Today, they are one of the most popular rock bands to date.
What’s with the Name?
When the band was formed in 1987, friends Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, along with Sean Hughes, formed a band under the name Sweet Children. But before their debut extended play was released, the group was forced to drop the name Sweet children to avoid confusion with another local band, Sweet Baby. The band decided to adopt the name Green Day because the members were fond of cannabis.
Formation and Early History
Armstrong and Dirnt met in grade school they were both attending in Crockett, California. They bonded over their love of classic punk groups such as the Ramones and the Dead Kennedys. In 1987, they and Sean Hughes formed their first punk rock band called Sweet Children. A year later, Hughes was replaced by former Isocracy drummer John Kiffmeyer, also known as “Al Sobrante.” Sweet Children quickly became a popular live act in the San Francisco bay area.
In 1988, the owner of Lookout! Records Larry Livermore saw the band play and signed the group to his label. After that time, the band changed their name to Green Day to prevent confusion with another local band Sweet Baby.
In 1990, Green Day released their debut studio album, 39/Smooth. Shortly after the band’s first nationwide tour, Kiffmeyer left the Bay Area to study at a state university. He was replaced by drummer Tré Cool, which Kiffmeyer graciously accepted. Cool has been playing in the punk band The Lookouts since age 12. The group built a cult following and a foothold in California’s punk revival scene.
The band’s second studio album Kerplunk was released in 1992 and sold 50,000 copies in the US. The underground success of the album caught the attention of major record labels. Eventually, Green Day left Lookout! For Reprise Records, who released their major-label debut.
Mainstream Success: Dookie and Insomniac
After recording in three weeks, Green Day became a commercial success with the release of Dookie in 1994. The MTV airplay for the videos of the songs “Basket Case,” “Longview,” and “When I Come Around” popularized the album, and these three songs reached number one position on the Modern Rock Tracks charts. Over 10 million copies of Dookie was sold in the US. The album carried the band’s catchy, pop-punk sound and apathetic lyrics to the mainstream. It earned a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance.
This album was followed by the band’s fourth studio album, Insomniac, which was released in 1995. It features darker music compared to the more melodic Dookie. It featured singles such as “Stuck with Me,” “Geek Stink Breath,” “Brain Stew/Jaded,” and “Walking Contradiction.” This album did not have the same success of Dookie, but it sold three million copies in the US. It also won the band award nominations for Favorite Hard Rock Artist, Favorite Artist, and Favorite Alternative Artist at the 1996 American Music Awards.
Late ‘90s to early 2000s Decline
The band took a brief hiatus in 1996 and even canceled a European tour due to exhaustion. In 1997, they began to work on a new album. The members agreed that the album needed to be different from their previous ones that featured a pop-punk brand of music. Green Day released their fifth studio album Nimrod in 1997. It featured a variety of music, from surf rock, ska, pop-punk, to an acoustic ballad. In the following years, the band went on tours and concerts in support of the album.
Their sixth studio album came in the turn of the new century, entitled Warning. Critics’ reviews of the album were varied. Some observers said that the band was losing its relevance, marking the decline of its popularity. While Green Day’s previous albums reached a status of at least triple platinum, Warning only had a gold certification. Still, Green Day won eight awards for their nominations at the 2001 California Music Awards.
Renewed Success in the 2000s
After a four-year break from recording, Green Day released American Idiot in 2004 – a stylistic gamble for the group, containing politically-charged lyrics with operatic scope. It eventually became the band’s first album to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. The album’s first single “American Idiot” was highly successful as well. This album depicted modern American life under the control of an “idiot” ruler, giving different angles on modern icons, leaders, and every man. It was released two months before President George W. Bush was re-elected, and the album became protest art.
In 2005, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, and seven of the eight awards it was nominated for at the MTV Video Music Awards. In 2006, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” won a Grammy for Record of the Year. American Idiot was also the album where the ever-relevant song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” came from. In 2012, the album was ranked number 225 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone.
In 2006, the band started working on new material for the next album, but the writing and recording process took three years and four recording studios. The rock album 21st Century Breakdown was released in 2009. The band received a second Grammy Award for the best rock album. By December 2019, the album sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.
In 2012, Green Day released a trilogy of albums entitled ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, which marked the band’s return to high-energy punk roots while also drawing inspiration from classic-rock forebears. It gained positive reviews from critics, though fans were lukewarm towards the three albums.
In 2015, Green Day was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after their first nomination.
Green Day’s next release was in 2016: the Revolution Radio album. It was a more focused return to basics. When the band performed at the American Music Awards in November 2016, they made a political statement about the recent election of Donald Trump by chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” during their “Bang Bang” performance.
In February 2020, Green Day released a new album Father of All Motherfuckers. In April 2020, Armstrong announced that he had written six songs and intending to record new ones with the band once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Nirvana brought us some of the most infectious rock music songwriting. Here are some of the great songs that helped them get there:
- American Idiot (2004)
- Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (1997)
- Basket Case (1994)
- When I Come Around (1994)
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams (2004)
- Jesus of Suburbia (2004)
- Welcome to Paradise (1991)
- Brain Stew/Jaded (1995)
- J.A.R. (1995)
- Longview (1994)
- 21 Guns (2009)
- Wake Me Up When September Ends (2004)
- She (1994)
- Bang Bang (2016)
- Holiday (2004)
- Minority (2000)