Sociologists never seem to agree as to how to group the people who were born between 1960 and 1964. Traditionally, these “soft” scientists, as those of us who earned degrees in the “hard” sciences of physics, chemistry and biology like to lump the psychology and sociology majors under a title, like originally put us with the Baby Boomers, since many of our parents supposedly were World War II vets, though that was mostly a false assumption. Lately, I have seen us grouped as Gen Xers, since we were all too young to remember all of the major Boomer milestones, such as Woodstock, Fifties television and The Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show. However, the problem with that grouping is we are all children of the Seventies who came of age in the late-Seventies and early-Eighties and were college age when MTV came to our cable companies. So, in reality, we are truly our own group as yet without a name.
So, the artists whom are closest to our ages, or our peers, formed bands that were in one of two distinct genres of music, with very little in between. Either our musicians were influenced by Van Halen, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and went the metal route, and depending on those musicians’ goals, either went the route of the popsters into hair metal or the serious route of the thrashers like Metallica and Slayer. On the other hand, if the musicians decided to either go to college or join the local artists’ community follow the alternative, or punk, music route. And, if any of these musicians ended up in Seattle and were cross-pollinating each others’ loves of music, created something new, that was called Grunge, which was an American version of punk rock.
Personally, I never really got much of the whole metal thing. To be, the metal of the Eighties was all about the party, with little room left for the use of a brain. And, in my mind, metal sounded like the most limiting sound there was, which was perfect for Reagan’s conservative America. The culture of metal was totally based in the “now,” with the fan’s focus on the immediate party at the moment. For me, this stuff hurt my head since I was leaving a major portion of my brain unused when listening to, for example, Bon Jovi’s album. However, I felt totally filled when listening to the punk sounds of Hüsker Dü, the rap/funk/metal fusion of Faith No More or the grinding pop sounds of Pixies. So, when the Eighties turned into the Nineties, metal had eaten itself, although the great Metallica had just positioned itself alongside Guns N’ Roses to become the two biggest bands in the world.
On the other hand, those musicians who had listened to the first Ramones album were finally starting their own bands, and since many had made a detour through college, were now ready to begin pursuing a music career. These people either were influenced by R.E.M.’s elliptical, non-sequitur lyrics or The Smiths more literary lyrical content and set their music to a variation of the punk sound. In the mid- to late-Eighties, I was totally hooked on all forms of alternative rock music, from the updated Power Pop sounds of Material Issue or The Pursuit of Happiness to the punk version of Zeppelin in Jane’s Addiction to the early strains of industrial music (Nine Inch Nails), grunge (Soundgarden, Nirvana and Screaming Trees) or a new thing that will eventually be called punk-pop (Green Day). Most of the alternative nation went on to become rock’s anti-heroes, those stars who, although they made millions of dollars in the early Nineties, refused to become rock and roll cliches. Yet, there were a small niche of these alternative rockers who music was a natural for both rock god status in sales and critical praise. These artists comprised the last remaining rock stars in the traditional Seventies sense. Bands like Green Day and Foo Fighters were the last of these true rock stars.
Today, I would like to take some time to honor one of my favorite rock bands of the Nineties, Green Day. These guys took their punk music cues from the very same original punk bands that I listened to back in high school: Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Ramones, The Clash, and, my personal favorites, The Jam. I was immediately attracted to Green Day’s sound as I heard The Jam jumping right out of their apparent influences the very first time I heard their brilliant major label debut song “Longview.” The thing that captured me was not the lyrical content and its apparent humor, though it did make me laugh the first time I heard it. No, it was the bass and how it jumped out at me and made the band seem heavier, which is exactly how The Jam attacked their music. And, I was hooked, which was unusual for a 31-year-old, since Green Day was built for younger people.
At this point in their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career, Green Day has released twelve (12!) studio albums. This band came into my life in 1994, just as I was beginning my teaching career. I did get to see them in 2000, when they were on tour with Blink-182, another punk-pop band who followed Green Day into mainstream success by making great punk music but not forgetting the pop, much like Cheap Trick, another huge Green Day influence, did when I was a high schooler. So, I am going to rank all 12 of Green Day’s albums, none of which is a clunker. Heck, even Cheap Trick has had a couple of stinkers in their career, but not Green Day! So, let’s get this party started!
12. 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (1991). The debut is not that bad, but the band went into the studio still more of a true punk band, and totally forgetting their power pop side. But the foundation had been laid.
11. ¡Tré! (2012). The third album in Green Day’s 2012 trilogy of albums that were unrelated, expect they were recorded at the same time as those on the other two albums. Although the band tried to evenly distribute the songs over these three albums, the public was just plain tired of mediocre Green Day music.
10. Revolution Radio (2016). After Billie Joe’s very public meltdown after the 2012 trilogy, he sobered up, and the public was ready for the big comeback. The problem is that this tentative set never really caught on with the public. At least, the band did not burn out the audience like they had in 2012.
9. ¡Uno! (2012). After Green Day’s triumphant commercial and critical comeback with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, as well as the band’s highly successful Broadway adaptation of those two albums, Green Day bit off more than humanly possible as they tried some one-upmanship by releasing three albums over a six-month period of time. Unfortunately, the band sounded tired and uninspired. Maybe, if they had just released one new album from all of that material, Green Day may have recorded a true classic. Instead, we got three decent albums and a huge Billie Joe meltdown, unfortunately in the short run. Maybe, in the long run, this 2012 drive may have saved Billie Joe’s life, as well as Green Day.
8. Nimrod (1997). Honestly, this album was a little too precious for my liking. This was their teenybopper album, which is totally fine that they made this more of a pop album. At least they got this boy band album out of their system. I think this album, along with Weezer’s great first two albums, influenced all those early-Aught emo bands, such as Sum-41, Dashboard Confessional, Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy.
7. ¡Dos! (2012). Of the trilogy albums, this is my favorite. Unfortunately, since it is the “middle child” of the albums, it did get a little lost in the shuffle. This album’s release was also lost in the wake of Billie Joe’s huge I Heart Radio concert meltdown.
6. Kerplunk (1992). This was Green Day’s last independent album, but it was the one that grabbed the major labels’ attentions. This one set the stage for the major success they were about to have.
5. 21st Century Breakdown (2009). The hype behind this album was unbelievable. Nothing could have lived up to it. First, the band was coming off the huge comeback of American Idiot, a concept album that touch American’s doubts about everything in the post-9/11 days. Then, Billie Joe announced that he was working another concept album-slash-rock opera that would personalize this whole struggle of people in the post-9/11 world. He also said that the two albums would become the basis of a Broadway show. Still, if you evaluate this album on its own merits, Green Day hit another home run. Unfortunately, many people have trouble separating it from American Idiot.
4. Insomniac (1995). This abrasive album was released in the wake of the major success that was Dookie. At the time, no one knew what to think of it, since the band was trying to win back their punk street cred. Much like Nirvana did with In Utero, Green Day attempted with Insomniac. People forget that with Green Day, deep down, they were always a power pop band. So, to me, Insomniac was a success.
3. Warning (2000). This album told me immediately that Green Day was growing up and becoming adult punks. And, they were taking stock of society. For my money, “Minority” might be the band’s greatest statement within the punk esthetic.
2. American Idiot (2004). Urban legend says that Green Day had wrapped up an album in 2003, but the master tapes were stolen before copies could be made. Fortuitous? Who knows? It forced the band to create a whole new album of material, this time forcing them to look at the world around them and what they saw pissed them off. And, thus, we got the biggest change in perception of a band in rock history. Before this album, Green Day was considered a good band. After this album, they were Rock Gods and future Rock & Roll Hall of Famers.
1. Dookie (1994). America finally got its own version of The Jam, as Green Day personified what it was like to be a male Gen X-er. The problem with this album was it was so good was how could they ever have a career and grow? Ten years later, we finally got that answer.
See? Green Day deserves their place in the RRHOF. They are one of the last true rock stars, a band of throwbacks who still believe that rock music can be life-changing and life-affirming at the same time. And, they proved that punk rock can grow up and be adults, while maintaining the same jaundiced view of society they had as disaffected youth. As a matter of fact, this only proved their humanity.