It's all relative. Some groups sell two million CDs and have arrived. But when Green Day's "Insomniac" peaked at the two-million mark, it was seen as a disappointment. That's because its predecessor "Dookie" sold over eight million copies. There wasn't all that much difference between the two albums except "Dookie" had more successful singles. Green Day's Punk, Metal and Ska mixture was intact.
It wasn't easy growing up. Bassist Mike Dirnt's mom was a heroin addict. Dirnt lived with foster parents but they divorced when Dirnt was seven. He went back to live with his mom until he moved in with guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong's family. Armstrong's dad had died when Billie Joe was ten. The two became close friends starting their first band when they were fourteen.
In '89, drummer Al Sobrante was added and Green Day became the band's name. They also got a deal with Lookout Records who released Green Day's first three efforts: EP "1,000 Hours," the full length "39/Smooth," with John Kiftmeyer replacing Sobrante, and "Kerplunk," with Tre Cool (Frank Wright III) on drums. These recordings built a solid Punk following that attracted major label attention. Signed by Reprise, "Dookie" won heavy MTV support and Green Day found themselves with an out of the box hit, "Longview." "When I Come Around" had a friendly pop-Punk sound that ruled the Modern Rock charts. As the fourth single it benefited from the group's extensive touring through the summer of '94. Green Day was also one of the highlights of Woodstock '94.
"Insomniac" rolled out a year later. Maybe they should have taken some more time off. While it had "J.A.R." the album just didn't have "Dookie's" impact. Claiming exhaustion (see, they should have taken more time off) Green Day cut short a European tour and returned home. Then they wrote and recorded "Nimrod." It contained the masterpiece "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)." Along those same lines, Dirnt got into it with Third Eye Blind's Arion Salazar backstage at an Irvine Meadows, CA, concert. However, it still remains unclear just who hit Dirnt with a beer bottle fracturing his skull.
Life goes on and "Warning" landed in "00 loaded with great songs. But it was "American Idiot" that re-established the group. The '04 released landed them on top of the album charts for the first time.
Following the highly lauded "American Idiot" the time was ripe to show Green Day live. Already well-known for energetic performances, the group's "Bullet In A Bible" DVD delivered the goods. Green Day, and especially Armstrong, demonstrated an intimate understanding of stadium Rock and how to put on a memorable show. The '05 DVD chronicled a pair of London shows before adoring fans.
Green Day won praise and got slammed all within a couple of weeks in the fall of '06. First, they performed during the pre-game show on ESPN's Monday Night Football to celebrate the reopening of the Louisiana Superdome (nearly destroyed during Hurricane Katrina) in New Orleans. They played a live version of their recently recorded hurricane charity single, a cover of Scottish Punk band, the Skids, "The Saints Are Coming." The two bands also performed U2's "Beautiful Day," and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Footage was sold online to benefit Music Rising, an organization co-founded by U2's the Edge that replaced musical instruments lost in '05's Gulf Coast storms.
Not to let the good feelings last too long, the Killers frontman Brandon Flowers weighed in criticizing Green Day for choosing to film their DVD Bullet In A Bible in the United Kingdom. Flowers insisted that seeing "a bunch of (English) kids screaming, 'I don't want to be an American idiot' . . . really lit a fire" in him. He was right of course, there are plenty of people in the U.S. who don't want to be American idiots either.
Green Day had kept their Punk ethos intact. But some cantankerous nitpickers argued that "American Idiot's" mainstream appeal was due more to the ballads "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" than the far more potent title track, "Jesus Of Suburbia" or "Holiday" (one of the greatest songs of the decade). But any suggestion Green Day sold out might generate a menacing stare from Trey Cool. Not cool.
On a non-musical note, Converse unveiled an official signature athletic shoe in Armstrong's honor. Since Converse sneakers were part of Green Day's 'look' from inception, the '08 move was so logical that it was surprising that it didn't happen sooner. A portion of the proceeds from the black, red and white sneaker sales went toward the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The sneaker was part of the footwear company's 1Hund(Red) line, which was affiliated with U2 singer Bono's Product Red charity campaign.
Following a spin as the Foxboro Hot Tubs and a return of the Armstrong fronted Pinhead Gunpowder, everyone was ready to get back to the business of Green Day. "American Idiot's" urgency had dissipated - due more to the merciful end of the Bush era than anything else. The group faced the near insurmountable challenge of following a mega-hit. Fortunately for them, they had some prior experience with "Dookie."
Butch Vig produced "21st Century Breakdown," the band's '09 follow-up to "American Idiot." Aside from his success with Garbage, Vig produced Nirvana's landmark "Nevermind" and the Smashing Pumpkin's brilliant "Siamese Dreams."
Prior to the set's release, Armstrong revealed that Green Day nearly had a collective breakdown. "This is the album that could have killed us," admitted the frontman. "We had set the bar so high with 'American Idiot.' We all became sick as dogs."
A flurry of activity surrounded the release of "21st Century Breakdown," a three-act Rock opera built around the characters Christian and Gloria.
A 90-second snippet of "Know Your Enemy," the first single off the album, opened CBS' telecast of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Game.
On a little more familiar turf the following evening, Green Day performed the album in its entirety at a 500-capacity club in San Francisco - the trio was augmented by two guitarists and a keyboardist at the surprise show - the first of a handful.
A couple weeks later "Know Your Enemy" went to radio. Rolling Stone described the track as "a straight-ahead Rock song with a chanty 'oh-way-oh-way' refrain." Then the song's video premiered on MTV, VH1 and all other worldwide MTV Networks platforms.
Usually, albums are released on Tuesdays, but "21st Century Breakdown" landed on a Friday (May 15th)- to cut through the clutter (like that was necessary). The band appeared at a New York Best Buy store to sign copies for the first 500 fans who purchased the album.
The promo push didn't let up. First, there was an intimate (an audience of about 300) MySpace Music concert in New York. Green Day kicked-off the summer concert series on ABC's Good Morning America with a live performance from New York's Central Park. Stops on Letterman and other shows raised the band's mainstream profile.
Admittedly, this attention was initially due to the landmark success of "American Idiot" but fortunately "21st Century Breakdown" had the ability of equaling, if not surpassing, "American Idiot."
The set made its debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart after moving 215,000 copies in only three days. It was the group's second chart topper. "Idiot" was the first.
Green Day received nominations in the 2009 Teen Choice Awards. They were up for Choice Music: Rock Group and Choice Music: Rock Track ("Know Your Enemy"). But Paramore took both categories - their Rock Track was "Decode." Can't win 'em all.
The next bit of Green Day news came out of their hometown. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre's '09 production of American Idiot, the musical based on Green Day's '04 album, made its premiere. Directed by the Tony Award-winning Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), the score included all the songs from "American Idiot" and some from "21st Century Breakdown." "We've seen firsthand what amazing actors they are," said Armstrong of the cast. "Their talent has truly brought the album to life." American Idiot had a five-week run.
A version of "21 Guns," with Green Day and the cast from Idiot, was recorded in an Oakland studio just days after the musical's final performance in November. "They sung the hell out of it," said Armstrong. "It's great to have something out there for people to hear who didn't get to see the show." A few months later, Green Day and cast performed "21 Guns" at the '10 Grammys in L.A. To top off the evening, "21st Century Breakdown" landed the Best Rock Album award.
American Idiot made its Broadway debut (previews began in March, '10, with the official opening on April 20th) and launched a successful run with Armstrong occasionally playing the St. Jimmy character.
Awards and Broadway success is nice but getting your own video game is a big deal. Harmonix and MTV Games unfurled Green Day: Rock Band video game in June, '10. "We want people to fire this up, choose their favorite Green Day tracks, and play along with us as Rock Band avatars so they can feel what it's like to perform onstage as Green Day," said Armstrong.
Speaking of Green Day onstage, the band issued their ninth LP, "Awesome as F***" in '11. The two-disc set (either CD and DVD or CD and Blu-ray) included live performances from the band's '09-'10 world tour with portions filmed in Japan. It was their first live release since '05's "Bullet In A Bible."
Following two studio concept albums ("American Idiot"/"21st Century Breakdown") Green Day stated they were ready to try something different - maybe an album that was just a collection of songs? Like in the "Dookie" days? Nope. In '12 the group announced they were working with long time producer Rob Cavallo in Oakland on a trilogy titled: "Uno!," "Dos!," and "Tre!"
"We are at the most prolific and creative time in our lives. This is the best music we've ever written, and the songs just keep coming," stated a press release. "Every song has the power and energy that represents Green Day on all emotional levels. We just can't help ourselves... We are going epic as f***!"
Unfortunately, Green Day ground to a halt when Armstrong had an on stage meltdown in Las Vegas at the iHeartRadio Festival. During the September 21st show, producers notified Green Day - via teleprompter - that they had one minute left on stage causing the group to abruptly stop playing as Armstrong called out the show's producers, flipped them off and smashed his guitar before storming off stage.
"We would like to apologize to those we offended at the iHeartRadio Festival," read a band post shortly after the show.
Two days later, Armstrong entered rehab for substance abuse. In October, with their frontman still in rehab, Green Day announced that they had canceled all dates for '12 and postponed early '13 shows. "Obviously, the timing for this isn't ideal, but Billie Joe's well-being is our main concern," wrote Dirnt in a statement.
Releasing three albums in 78 days is always a dicey proposition. Sideline the tour support and not much is going to happen.
"Uno!" sold 139,000 copies in its debut week, and over the next three months it moved a total of 256,000 units. By comparison, "21st Century Breakdown" sold 215,000 units its first week. It didn't get any better for "Dos!" or "Tre!," selling 69,000 copies and 58,000 copies, respectively, in their debut weeks.
Things had devolved to the point where even when Green Day won, they lost. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled in the band's favor regarding their use of illustrator Dereck Seltzer's "Scream Icon," in the '09 video "East Jesus Nowhere." Circuit Judge Diarmuid O' Scannlain called it a ""close and difficult case." Despite the '13 ruling, Green Day still got stuck with over $200,000 in legal fees.
Green Day Discography
2004 American Idiot
2009 21st Century Breakdown
2011 Awesome as F***
The third time's the charm. After two good, if unexceptional, albums, Green Day nail it with "Dookie." As is often the case, a major success like "Dookie" casts a shadow over everything else. But the follow up "Insomniac" is nearly as good. That said, "Dookie" has undeniable Rockers, "Longview," "Basket Case" and the listener friendly "When I Come Around."
There have been a number of bands that have a "Dookie-like" payday. They often spend the remainder of their careers recycling. Not Green Day. "American Idiot" (the title says it all) has none of that Post-Punk cheap shot stuff. Standing stark naked politically, in view of George Bush's '04 election, Green Day comes out snarling through garage Rock chords. "American Idiot" defines the hubris that was the coin of the realm. "Holiday" drills the point home. "Jesus Of Suburbia," "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" and "She's a Rebel" deliver an inescapable energy and lyrical poignancy. This is one of Rock's all time great albums. No question. It's uncompromising and uncompromised.
Following a classic album like "American Idiot" can be lethal. Expectations are off the page. Also, "American Idiot" had a formidable antagonist in the Bush administration.
So are things appreciably better on "21st Century Breakdown," Green Day's first post-Bush album? Not so much. There's still war, misery and that recession - all factors in a world seriously askew. Christian and Gloria, the opera's protagonists, face grave adversity. Armstrong's lyrics, tinged with desperation, are no less confrontational. But the plight of Christian and Gloria wouldn't matter if the songs weren't absolute masterpieces.
The Act I of the opera features the pop-Punk Green Day - even down to the inspirational ballad "Last Night On Earth." Just as "Holiday" eclipsed "American Idiot," "Know Your Enemy" puts "21st Century Breakdown" into a deep shade. And it isn't because the title track is lacking.
Act II is the theatrical Green Day. "East Jesus Nowhere" with its Arabic riff is one of the album's stellar moments. "Peacemaker" uses a Spanish motif. "Murder City's" hook - "desperate but not hopeless" is one of those generational catch-phrases in a league with Kurt Cobain's "hey wait, I gotta real complaint."
"Viva La Gloria" starts with a pumping piano before taking a cabaret-Punk turn. Act II closes with the "Restless Heart Syndrome," a "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" with strings. Armstrong once again shows his skills as a balladeer.
Act III leads with "Horseshoes And Handgrenades." Armstrong shouts "I'm not f***ing around." No doubt. Here's the angry Punk Green Day. Yeah, save the best for last. "The Static Age" keeps up the intensity as does the two part "American Eulogy" - "Mass Hysteria," with the siren guitar, and "Modern World."
"See The Light" ends the album on a raucously hopeful note. "I just want to see the light, I don't want to lose my sight." Amen to that.
Smart money would have bet that "21st Century Breakdown" wouldn't come within spitting distance of "American Idiot." But this is one instance where the smart money would be dead wrong.
"Uno!" is another great Foxboro Hot Tub's album. Oh wait, it's Green Day (essentially the same thing, but different). Power pop rules but Green Day's Punk side still shines through. "Nuclear Family," "Let Yourself Go" and "Kill The DJ" and "Carpe Diem" ("life's a gas and it's running out, living a cliché, gonna seize the day") could sit comfortably on "American Idiot" and/or "21st Century Breakdown."
"Stay The Night," "Fell For You," and "Oh Love" have a lighter touch and show where Green Day might have veered back in the '90s had they not been such marvelous cynics. Punk or Power Pop, Green Day hits on all cylinders.
If "Uno!" was a return to post-Punk Power Pop, "Dos!" goes even more retro. "See You Tonight" has Everly Brothers harmonies while "Stop When The Red Lights Flash" mashes Beach Boys vocals with the Ramones. "Wow! That's Loud" sideswipes a Yardbirds' rave-up. And "F*** Time" even proffers a "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" style riff.
While it's fun to play "identify-the-influences" it's pure unadulterated Green Day that fans come for. Like "Uno!," "Dos!" hits the mark by playing it straight with no chaser. "Ashley," "Lady Cobra," Makeout Party" and "Lazy Bones" are dead on.
"Tre!," the last chapter in the trilogy, excels when Green Day, namely Armstrong, has something to get pissed about. Hardly surprising, "Sex Drugs & Violence" is the set's best track followed by "Dirty Rotten Bastards" and "X-Kid."
The album opens with "Brutal Love," a grinding mid-tempo torch ballad with a tinge of R&B. Another ballad, "Drama Queen" deals with the trials and tribulations od "daddy's little girl" ("drama queen is old enough to bleed") and offers a critical eye softened with a scintilla of sympathy.
There are even romantic moments ("Missing You" and the ballad "The Forgotten") which sound strange coming from the band that gave the world "American Idiot," "Jesus Of Suburbia" and "Holiday." The trilogy doesn't match those highs but Green Day continues to channel teen and twenty-something angst with authority.
Sifting through Green Day's back catalog has many rewards. "Insomniac" features the classic "Geek Stink Breath" and the riff Rocker "Brain Stew." "Nimrod" shows the group's sound expanding. There are even some slow songs with strings. That's not what you buy Green Day for, even if it does have "Prosthetic Head."
Green Day's debut "39/Smooth" and the follow up "Kerplunk" are good with "Kerplunk" possessing stronger songs.
Green Day's guitar Rock is sharp on '00 release "Warning." "Misery," "Church On Sunday" and "Hold On" are among the highlights. Good work.