Ah, Dookie. One of my oldest loves. I can remember buying both Dookie (1994) and Warning (2000) at Best Buy on my thirteenth birthday. I had been putting off buying Warning since its release the previous October, something I apparently had in common with other Green Day fans, since nobody bought Warning. Considering Dookie, their major label debut, shifted over ten million units and the acoustic ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was inescapable during the late ’90s, it must have been shocking for Warning, easily their most pop-minded record (and that’s meant in a good way), to underperform so drastically. It failed to sell even a million copies, and Green Day quietly disappeared, releasing the stopgap albums International Superhits! in 2001 and Shenanigans in 2002, which consisted of singles and rarities, respectively.
Green Day had the mother of all comebacks in the fall of 2004, releasing the politically charged rock opera American Idiot during the Bush vs. Kerry election season. It was an admirably ambitious album, but it perhaps tapped into American political apathy a little too well — it became such a huge hit that many of its listeners viewed its message as an explanation instead of a criticism. Bush was reelected, thanks in large part to the fact that Kerry was just a lousy challenger, and American Idiot has taken on a new significance as a document of the Dubya years, I think. Green Day emerged from the wilderness in a big way, as American Idiot sold a whopping six million copies in a fading US CD market and gave alternative rock a much-needed shot in the arm.
I remember buying American Idiot the day it came out, since I listened to Green Day a ton in middle school and wanted to hear their latest. Their long absence from the public eye had forced me to move on to other stuff, namely classic rock, but I never forget my loyalties, and I wanted to show my support. I remember listening to American Idiot and liking it, but I couldn’t help but think that somehow the train had sort of left without me. I just wasn’t into it like I used to be into Green Day’s older material, and I wound up largely ignoring it for years. Green Day had this huge comeback, something that I had been waiting a long time for, but when it came, I felt left behind. It was an entirely different crowd that bought Dookie during the alternative explosion of the early ’90s, as Dookie became one of the three most definitive albums in alternative rock. (Nirvana‘s Nevermind and Pearl Jam‘s Ten — though I suppose the Chili Peppers‘ Blood Sugar Sex Magik could/should be considered a fourth — are the other two.)
For one thing, Dookie lent a staggering five singles — “Longview,” “Welcome to Paradise,” “Basket Case,” “She” and “When I Come Around” — to alternative radio that are still in heavy rotation to this day. Back when I bought Dookie and first listened to it, I was only explicitly familiar with “Welcome to Paradise,” but I can remember having this magical experience of listening through the album and thinking, “Oh, yeah! I know this one!” over and over. Of alternative rock radio’s four big albums, I bought this one first, so it’s always been pretty special to me. Dookie, like Nevermind, launched a revolution of its own in the form of pop punk, which we still haven’t seen the end of. (I suppose it is to Green Day’s credit they got tired of pop punk before everyone else did.)
Dookie probably never could have happened without Nevermind, and it was even a near-identical story of a talented trio getting to record for a major label for the first time. Like Kurt Cobain, Green Day vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong has a natural ability to lend pop hooks to punk riffs, giving an effortless flow to his songcraft. Unlike their neighbors to the north, however, Green Day, who are originally from Berkeley, California, have a much lighter touch. (Better weather might have something to do with it.) They never take themselves too seriously on Dookie, something I miss now when I listen to their more recent work.