When Green Day started out in the early 1990s, they helped make punk-pop one of the major musical movements of the decade. But this Northern California trio weren't going to be pigeonholed into just one sound, and over time they've evolved, to continued creative and commercial success. Picking the band's best songs may not be easy, but here's one man's humble attempt to select their top 10 tracks.
On one hand, "Basket Case" represents all the cliches of alt-rock's self-loathing in the 1990s. (The song's opening lines: "Do you have the time/to listen to me whine?") But even if this Dookie smash is a time-capsule item, it's also a sterling example of how a young man's angst can be turned into galvanic, insanely catchy punk rock that a whole nation of alienated young people can recognize as their anthem.
When Green Day released "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" as a single in the late '90s, some scoffed that the band had gone soft and sappy. But while radio overkill may have dulled its poignancy, this Nimrod track (complete with strings) recalls the beauty of R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People era as Armstrong bids farewell to someone close to him.
Green Day sounded reborn on 2004's American Idiot, embracing a new-found maturity on an album with the scope and vision of a rock opera. This opening track was three minutes of unfiltered fury as Armstrong laments the dumbing-down of the American population. But because the guitars and drums ring out with such authority, "American Idiot" sounds almost gleeful as it watches the nation collapse into rubble.
A superb mixture of snotty impudence and melodic flair, this Dookie hit finds Billie Joe Armstrong in kiss-off mode, telling off a girl who's not worthy of his time. And the song contains one of punk-pop's most wonderfully self-effacing lines: "I'm a loser and a user/So I don't need no accuser."
Following up the multi-platinum success of Dookie, Green Day sought a slighter darker, more aggressive sound with their follow-up, Insomniac. "Geek Stink Breath" embodies this aesthetic masterfully, flaunting trickier guitars without being any less catchy. Not bad for an unrepentant song about wanting to seek your own self-destruction.
A touching expression of disillusionment, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" offers comfort to the listener with its sharp, tough arrangement and sing-along chorus. But the lyrics paint a picture of a man at the end of his rope, wishing for something -- anything -- to pull him out of the depths of despair.
If ever you wondered what it feels like to be so exhausted and strung out that you can barely think straight, check out "Brain Stew," an appropriate song for an album called Insomniac. Without revealing the full story of what exactly happened, the narrator explains that he can't sleep, his mind racing with anxiety and uncertainty. He's stuck with his thoughts, and the jagged guitar riffs probably aren't doing a thing to help him calm down.
Armstrong laments the passing of his father in "Wake Me Up When September Ends," quite possibly the most beautiful song Green Day will ever write. Subtly building in intensity, the song finds the singer realizing that although he lost his dad back when he was just a child, the pain never quite goes away. By the time "Wake Me Up" reaches its explosive climax, it feels like Armstrong has had a good cry, shaken but ready to move on.