Green Day’s Dookie was the best rock album of 1994. Scores of critics admitted that, yes, this 14-track album full of speedy pop-punk tunes about panic attacks, boredom, and masturbation was quite catchy, but no one would’ve held it against them if they doubted that Dookie would have had staying power. It’s too unassuming, too fidgety, and too juvenile to fit the standard mold of a “Classic Rock Album”. But then again, rock started simply as good-time music for teenagers to lose themselves in, not to incite pop culture critics to stroke their beards in contemplation. Dookie was such a massive success (with ten million copies shipped in the United States alone since its release) because not only was it an unpretentious, remarkably consistent hit package with tons of great hooks, it was also fun as hell.
That is not to sell Dookie short as an artistic achievement. In addition to being the Californian punk trio’s best album, it may also be its most culturally relevant. Sure, American Idiot (2004) captured the zeitgeist of discontent and uncertainty of those who felt weighed down by the Bush Jr. era and conveyed that sentiment through all the rock opera trappings listeners love to dissect for years on end. But Green Day’s major-label debut is universal and far more profound. It’s a record that speaks of the frustrations, anxieties, and apathy of young people (be they Generations X, Y, or Z) with an artistry and empathy few would have credited Green Day with possessing before it yielded its “Big Important Album” with American Idiot. At its core, Dookie is an album about coming to terms with oneself and one’s failings in a manner that is not often triumphant or celebratory but is reaffirming to the underachievers of the world. Dookie is an album that says “Yeah, I’m a fuck-up” in a way that millions of people wish they could express themselves in, and that’s why it’s so great.
So I’m going to highlight all 14 cuts from Dookie (plus the hidden track). I hope to illustrate that not only was Green Day already musically mature at a time when the media painted them as mere snotty brats but that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the greatest, most underappreciated lyricists of his generation.
From the outset, Green Day hits the ground running on Dookie. The record’s first track “Burnout” kicks off a pair of explosive drum rolls and one of the great opening lines in album history: “I declare I don’t care no more”. In just seven words, the song’s mission statement is clear: I am so fed up with life I don’t a fuck about anything, even proper grammar. The protagonist of “Burnout” (his hair “shagging in [his] eyes”) spends his days growing bored in his “smoked-out boring room” (most certainly getting high).
Even when he “hits the streets at night / To drive along these shit town lights”, there’s nothing to make his dissatisfaction dissipate. He doesn’t feel like he’s headed anywhere in life—not that life holds any promise for him, as he states in the chorus, “I’m not growing up / I’m just burning out / and I stepped in line to walk amongst the dead”. My favorite lines in the entire song are “I’ve lived inside my mental cave / Throw my emotions in the grave / Hell, who needs them anyway”. It’s such a potent expression of apathy that works because it’s so matter-of-fact; the protagonist’s feelings are so deadened he can cast them off casually as if he were throwing thrash in the bin. It’s easy to see the song’s appeal to the slacker generation.
Despite being a paean to not giving a damn, “Burnout” is a speedy, antsy rocker that could only be executed by a group of well-practiced musicians. Green Day has always prided itself as a tightly honed band, and it shows as the trio delivers a fantastic performance. The instruments work together in such a way that they serve as one locked in, propulsive rhythmic force. Meanwhile, it’s singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s job to convey the melodic part via his vocals. A lesser punk singer would’ve gone the traditional monotone sneer route, but Armstrong has the chops and the good sense to make his delivery memorably hooky as he bashes out quick power chord changes on his guitar.
One example of how well the group plays together is how the guitar and bass drop out for brief moments in the second chorus, just before Armstrong sings the line “I’m not growing up”. Yet the main display of the group’s interplay is the show-stopping drum solo, where Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt fire short bursts of guitar noise before allowing drummer Tre Cool to go hog wild on his kit. The band does this not once, but four times in a row, and it gets better with each pass. The song almost doesn’t even need to continue after that, but it does, allowing for one more verse before the band barrels onward to the finish line, closing on a perfect, abrupt ending.
As the final buzz of Armstrong’s guitar quickly fades out, a simple question springs to mind: how on earth wasn’t this a single?
2. “Having a Blast”
“Having a Blast” highlights one of the great fascinations that frequently captivates adolescents: the thrill of blowing things up. Green Day lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong uses this as the basis for a revenge fantasy where a frustrated bomber plans to take everyone else out with him. When Dookie was released in 1994, the song’s lyrics were mere cathartic fantasy, about as serious an issue as the pyromaniacal antics of the animated stars of Beavis & Butthead (that is, more idiotically dangerous than truly threatening). In the intervening years, however, school violence involving troubled, alienated teenagers who have no qualms about unleashing retribution on their classmates has become a fixture of the news media. In the light of tragedies like the murders at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, “Having a Blast” has since become Dookie‘s most uncomfortable track.
It’s important to note that in no way is the narrator of “Having a Blast” admirable; few characters on Dookie are. The protagonist is extremely self-centered — with “explosives duct-taped to [his] spine”, he insists, “Nothing’s gonna change my mind.” He says, “I won’t listen to anyone’s last words”, explaining in the chorus:
“Well no one hereIs getting out alive
This time I’ve really lost my mind and I don’t care
So close your eyes
And kiss yourself goodbye
And think about all the times you spent
And what they’ve meant
To me it’s nothing”
While he rationalizes his actions by stating “I’m taking it all out on you / And all the shit you put me through”, the song’s narrator is ultimately very selfish. He doesn’t care about all the people he’s about to kill, and he won’t listen to anything else they have to say to try and save themselves. Everything is “nothing” except the “loneliness” and “anger” that consume him.
As Armstrong sings, he utilizes palm-muted strumming during the verses, gradually building up intensity until he switches to regular strumming for a fuller sound. This evokes the burgeoning tension of the protagonist, who’s literally ready to go off at any moment. After the second chorus, the song forgoes repeating the verse chord progression a third time in lieu of an extended bridge section featuring several dramatic pauses to underscore Armstrong’s vocals. Here, Armstrong employs a songwriting trick he will use throughout the album: introducing a twist into his lyrics to change the listener’s perception of the characters.
Armstrong poses a series of pointed questions, culminating in the clincher: “Do you ever build up all the small things in your head / To make one problem that adds up to nothing”, which insinuates that the song’s protagonist is making a big deal out of insignificant slights in life. The protagonist of the song may want to “mow down any bullshit” that confronts him, but Armstrong concludes the track by questioning whether or not it’s anything actually worth blowing everything to hell over.
By ending “Having a Blast” with the chorus refrain “To me it’s nothing”, Armstrong argues it isn’t.
How many times in your life have you have loathed that one guy just because you “knew” he was an utter tool (not like you ever bothered to actually get to know him)? “Chump” is all about that sort of knee-jerk irrational prejudice. Backed by a distorted ringing guitar that recalls 1980s underground rockers Hüsker Dü (one of Green Day’s biggest acknowledged influences), Billie Joe Armstrong kicks off the third track on Dookie by sneering “I don’t know you but I think I hate you” and going on from there.
In the song, Armstrong takes the perspective of someone who knows he utterly hates another person before he has even met them. The character’s disdain towards the subject of his woe is the sort of all-consuming preoccupation that tends to inhabit adolescent lives, best evoked by the couplet “You’re the cloud hanging out over my head / Hail comes crashing down welting my face”. Armstrong’s character is perfectly fine in laying blame for all his misery at the other person’s feet, but notes “It seems strange that you’ve become my biggest enemy / Even though I’ve never even seen your face”. He’s quick with the insults (“Magic man, egocentric plastic man”) but short of actual reasons. In fact, all he has is a series of “maybes” that he lists off in the chorus, describing the whole situation as “A circumstance that doesn’t make much sense”, finally conceding “maybe I’m just dumb”. It’s the song’s final cry of “I’m a chump!” that reveals who’s really the jerk in this story.
“Chump” essentially ends at the 1:25 mark. At that point, the band segues into a two-chord instrumental jam that lasts about a minute. It’s rather simple: Armstrong bashes out a few chords over Mike Dirnt’s ambling bassline, progressively shortening the number of rests between beats until the music becomes a flurry of guitar strumming and drum rolls. Let’s not forget that these guys are punk rockers; they know how to craft an engaging musical section with the barest essentials. And sometimes just smashing the hell out of instruments in the right fashion is all that’s needed. After the chaos subsides, a shuffling drumbeat emerges that leads into the next track and the first of Dookie‘s many hit singles…
In 1994, alternative rock ruled rock music. At the time, some in the music press occasionally remarked that punk rock had finally “won” due to the mainstream breakthrough of alternative bands like Nirvana, but that ignored the fact that as a genre alt-rock had long ago become a distinct form from its progenitor. Sure, alt-rock retained punk’s do-it-yourself ethos and its disdain for the iconography and excesses of mainstream music, but anyone who was familiar with the sound of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols (a sound that continued to breed and develop in places throughout the world such as Berkeley, California’s Gilman Street scene) sure wasn’t going to find it replicated by Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, or Nine Inch Nails. While some called 1991 “the year punk broke” (a term based on a widely misinterpreted reading of the title to a Sonic Youth concert video), the music press quickly had to shift the headlines a bit when in 1994 punk truly claimed a victory on the pop charts after over a decade of hiding underground. Green Day’s Dookie was primarily responsible for this turn of events, and it all started with the album’s first single, “Longview”.
Like many compositions on Dookie, “Longview” features a character that’s unsatisfied with his life. While Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has at various points indicated an affinity for crafting characters to inhabit in his lyrics, the jaded slacker at the center of this song is undeniably a distorted version of Armstrong himself. Explaining the inspiration for the track during a 2002 interview with Guitar World, Armstrong said, “I guess it was just living in the suburbs in a sort of shit town where you can’t even pull in a good radio station. I was living in Rodeo, California, about 20 minutes outside of Oakland. There was nothing to do there, and it was a real boring place.” Armstrong stated that feelings of “loneliness and isolation” form the core of the tune. He commented, “I think everyone has felt those things, either right at this moment or at some point in the past.”
What sets the narrator of “Longview” apart from the other characters that populate Dookie is the utter disgust he harbors for his situation. Reflecting on the period that inspired the song, Armstrong told Rolling Stone, “I really didn’t care—for a time I was wallowing in my own misery and liking it. The lyrics wrote themselves.” However, the final product doesn’t contain any sense of contentment. In “Longview”, Armstrong is plainly sick of sitting around all day doing nothing but watching television, smoking pot, and playing with himself, but can’t be bothered to do anything about it, which in turn bugs him even more. It’s a cycle he can’t escape, and his self-loathing is palpable with every emphasized curse word and lyrics like “I’m sick of all the same old shit / In a house with unlocked doors / And I’m fucking lazy”. Even the baser pleasures have lost their appeal, as he explains in the classic line “When masturbation’s lost its fun / You’re fucking breaking.”
There are better sets of lyrics on Dookie (take “Burnout” or “Basket Case”, just to name two), but none are as well-matched to the band’s performance as those from “Longview”. Typically, punk bands tackle the topic of boredom in fast, scrappy songs in order to convey the subject’s stifling nature (see the father of all bored punk songs, “Boredom” by the Buzzcocks). “Longview” completely avoids that track. For one thing, it’s resolutely mid-tempo, which perfectly suits the feeling of sitting around someplace where every dull moment seems like an eternity. More strikingly, Green Day plays the song in a shuffle rhythm, that lazy, swinging groove typically used by folks ranging from elderly bluesmen to lame dive bar cover bands content to play America’s “A Horse with No Name” at the drop of a hat. /
What self-respecting rock band would use a shuffle rhythm in 1994, much less a punk band? The inspiration for its use seems to be Operation Ivy, the San Francisco Bay Area punk band that served as a major formative influence on Green Day, and whose shuffle-based “Knowledge” is a live set staple of the trio. Green Day sure has become smitten with shuffle rhythms, as most albums, it has released since Dookie have produced a single utilizing the technique (examples include “Hitchin’ a Ride” from Nimrod, “Minority” from Warning, and “Holiday” from American Idiot).
The shuffling groove of “Longview” dwells in that most ’90s of rock song structures: quiet bass-driven verses followed by loud choruses full of distorted guitars. An obvious influence for that arrangement would be then-reigning alt-rock regents Nirvana, a group Armstrong has noted a strong affinity for (in fact, as Green Day found itself thrust into the maelstrom of mainstream notoriety, Armstrong frequently phoned Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love for advice on how to cope). With guitar completely absent during the verses, most of “Longview” serves as a showcase for Green Day’s rhythm section. As Tre Cool lays down a puttering drum beat, Mike Dirnt plucks out what has since become the most recognizable punk bass riff of all time, a loping four-bar figure he came up with while tripping on acid.
Green Day really sells “Longview” when the song bursts into its aggressive chorus. As Armstrong finally throws his guitar into the mix, he sings, “Bite my lip and close my eyes / Take me away to paradise / I’m so damn bored I’m going blind / And I smell like shit.” It’s worth noting that when performing these lines in the song’s music video, Armstrong’s expression in the close-up shots is positively hateful, all domineering brow and piercing eyes. The lines are amusing on the surface, but Armstrong ensures to instill them with an intense self-loathing that illustrates just how truly pathetic the character’s situation is.
The song is probably its most conventionally punk when it switches to a two-chord bridge section. Here, Armstrong sings “I’ve got no motivation / Where is my motivation / No time for motivation / Smoking my inspiration” as the band moves back and forth between the D and the E chord. The choruses and bridge offer only momentary release in the arrangement. Inevitably, the song ends with the return of that leisurely main bass riff. In that context, the sound of Armstrong’s closing guitar licks ringing out as the song fades away evokes a numbing sense of existential defeat.
When “Longview” was issued to radio, stations eagerly jumped on the track, soon propelling it to number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in mid-1994. Meanwhile its music video—filmed in the band’s messy practice pad/apartment in Oakland, California, with the inclusion of a stunt couch for Armstrong to rip apart at the clip’s climax being the only change of décor for the promo—went into regular rotation on MTV. While there’s no doubt that Green Day’s arrival on the pop culture radar was perfectly timed to fill the teenage angst void left by the suicide of unwilling Generation X spokesman Kurt Cobain that April, in my opinion, there’s one reason above all else that “Longview” became a breakthrough hit for the band: it’s full of dirty words. I can’t think of an earlier rock single that had to have so many words unsubtly censored for airplay (now it’s standard practice to spin heavily bowdlerized versions of “dirty” tracks on rock radio).
A listener could easily tell what words went where in the song and could fill in their own “fuckings” and “shits” in the necessary spaces with no need for prompting. Of course, the word “masturbation” was left in, and—like all the curse words that didn’t make it into the radio edit—singer Billie Joe Armstrong goes out of his way to place heavy emphasis on it when utters it in the third verse. Let me assure you: teenagers love stuff like that. I think I still have a handwritten copy of the song lyrics I made in high school somewhere in my closet.
If it were notable just for its filthiness, “Longview” would be nothing more than a mid-’90s novelty like King Missile’s “Detachable Penis”. But despite its crude surface, “Longview” is unequivocally a great song with a killer bass riff and endlessly quotable lyrics. Its explicit nature may not have made “Longview” seem like an obvious single choice (particularly for a band courting commercial radio for the first time), but the song’s compelling quality cannot be denied. Despite (and for some, because of) its content, it’s one of those songs you want to listen again the instant it finishes. And that’s how Green Day made 1994 the year punk broke.
Still, the song’s impact on the public consciousness has had its shortcomings for the group. Armstrong told Guitar World in 2000, “A lot of people think I masturbate five times a day because of the words to ‘Longview’.”
5. “Welcome to Paradise”
“Welcome to Paradise” first surfaced on Green Day’s second album, the 1992 Lookout! Records release Kerplunk. Re-recorded for Dookie, the 1994 version packs a much more effective punch than the original. As the composition is unaltered, the Dookie incarnation demonstrates what wonders better production and an extra two years of practice can do for a song. Here, the guitar tone is less brittle, the drums hit with a greater wallop, and Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals have more conviction and less of a warbling quality compared to the performance on Kerplunk. Reprising this song for Dookie (where it fits in naturally, despite having been written for another album) almost note for note was the best piece of evidence Green Day could produce to shut up holier-than-thou punks who criticized the group for “selling out” by signing to a major label.
In both forms, “Welcome to Paradise” is an exhilarating listen, a sheer roller coaster of musical momentum that knows how to deliver at the right spots. Opening with a verse riff that vaguely recalls The Clash’s “Complete Control”, the band then launches into a sharp drop at the start of the chorus, rising up and down as the chords change, and ultimately screeching to a halt for a brief instrumental pause (during which Billie Joe Armstrong sarcastically utters the title phrase) before setting out for another go-round. As usual, Armstrong carries the song’s melody with his vocals; this allows him to twist simple lines like “It makes me wonder why I’m still here” into indelible hooks that burrow into the listener’s head. The highlight of “Welcome to Paradise” is the interlude section, a demented surf/punk breakdown centered on a chromatic chord progression that builds up in intensity until all three musicians in the band are blazing away on their instruments at full charge. That section alone made “Welcome to Paradise” my favorite song on the album for years.
Lyrically, the song was inspired by Armstrong’s crash pad experiences in the rougher areas of Oakland, California. The song’s verse structure relies on a basic framework where key lines are repeated throughout, while certain words are swapped out for others over the course of the composition for effect. For example, in the first verse Armstrong is singing “Dear Mother can you hear me whining”, but by the last verse the line has become “Dear Mother can you hear me laughing”, which highlights his gradual acceptance of “a wasteland I like to call my home”. This approach may give the impression is that Armstrong is playing lyrical Mad Libs, but the end result is more accomplished than that implies. He isn’t hindered by the framework he has set up, and he’s always willing to swap his patterns for evocative lines like “A gunshot rings out at the station / Another urchin snaps and left dead on his own” when necessary. Using these techniques, what Armstrong is ultimately able to convey is his gradual acceptance of living away from his parent’s place, going from trepidation to exhilaration in the process.
“Welcome to Paradise” is one of the highlights of Dookie, but it remains its most underappreciated single. This probably has to do mostly with the lack of a music video. The band refused to let Reprise do a huge promotional push behind the track, in spite of receptive rock radio airplay (it peaked at number seven on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, and reached number 20 over in the United Kingdom). For Armstrong, the song reflected a certain period of his life and that was that; he didn’t care if there wasn’t a music video to help make the song a monster hit like “Longview” and “Basket Case” had been. Despite its lower profile compared to the album’s other hits, “Welcome to Paradise” is an excellent track that proved that Green Day lost none of its spark by leaving its indie label roots behind.
6. “Pulling Teeth”
After five potent doses of heady pop-punk, “Pulling Teeth” is the first track on Dookie that really allows the listener to catch his or her breath. Drawing inspiration from an episode where Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt broke his arms while having a pillow fight with his future wife, the leisurely-paced “Pulling Teeth” features a character who is physically tormented by his girlfriend. The narrator is trapped in an abusive relationship, noting wryly “She comes to check on me / Making sure I’m on my knees / After all she’s the one / Who put me in this state”. The track is pure black comedy wrapped up in electric ballad form, as exemplified by the Beatles-esque delivery of the chorus “Is she ultra-violent? / Is she disturbed? / I better tell her I love her / Before she does it all over again / Oh God she’s killing me”.
Sandwiched between album highlights “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case”, the song easily falls prey to “album track syndrome”, where a listener is prone to skip over it in order to get to another, more familiar tune. I certainly do that every time I listen to the record, partly because it’s not one of my favorites, but more importantly because it kills the momentum the album has been riding out up to that point. I know “Pulling Teeth” has its fans, but I’ve always found it a bit boring.
It’s not a bad song per se. Like the tracks preceding it, “Pulling Teeth” displays Green Day’s knack for musical interplay and lyrical character studies. Based on a standard rock ballad structure, the band adds touches like dual lead vocals that harmonize throughout and one of the album’s few proper guitar solos in order to play up the song’s subversive intent. However, Green Day delivers the song predominantly in a chugging groove that moves slower than all other songs on the record save “When I Come Around”. Such grooves are rare in Green Day songs, as the band moves best when it’s jumping around syncopated chord changes at a breakneck pace.
The band has a harder time keeping its performances interesting when it slows things down (this is why for all its merits I don’t think the group’s American Idiot megahit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is all that great). Here, it almost sounds like a chore for Green Day to keep from speeding up and busting loose. Unfortunately, the backing performance can’t be too adventurous, as the lyrics are undoubtedly the main focus of the track. As a result, the appeal of the song primarily rests on the listener finding its gender-tweaking “battered male” concept amusing. If you don’t think that a woman abusing her boyfriend is inherently funny (and why should you?), “Pulling Teeth” loses its center and becomes a two-and-a-half-minute slog that sits between you and “Basket Case”. Despite being a nice exercise for the group, these hindrances make it hard to classify the song as one of the album’s essential tracks.
7. “Basket Case”
Before I begin, is anyone going to argue that “Basket Case” — Green Day’s second Billboard Modern Rock Tracks number one hit, the result of a vibrantly cartoonish music video and the band’s infamous mud-slinging set at Woodstock ’94 — isn’t one of the best songs on Dookie? Because if you are, you are objectively wrong and you suck and I hate you. Here’s why.
First, let’s look at how the song is laid out. “Basket Case” has a pretty straightforward song structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, and finally outro. Simple, huh? Except that’s not how the listener perceives the song.
You see, in order to keep “Basket Case” from sounding like thousands of other songs with a similar framework, what Green Day does is cast the first verse and chorus as a long intro section, a mere prelude for the mayhem to follow. For much of the first verse/chorus pairing, only singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong is playing on the track, instantly grabbing the listener’s attention with an unforgettable introductory monologue:
Do you have the timeTo listen to me whine
About nothing and everything all at once?
I am one of those
Neurotic to the bone no doubt about it
The first verse alone sells the song. Really, all the words afterward merely sustain the impact of those initial lines. In my opinion, no one in the 1990s was better at self-effacing song lyrics than Billie Joe Armstrong. Even though the Green Day frontman wrote the song about his frequent panic attacks (the sort of thing that generally falls under the heading of “perfectly valid problems to ‘whine’ about”), he casts his woe as irrelevant piddle. Obviously it isn’t, but Armstrong’s put-down streak never abates on Dookie. On “Basket Case”, no one takes Armstrong seriously, least of all himself. The entire second verse is about Armstrong seeking out first a shrink and then a whore in search of relief, only for both of them to dismiss his aliment (the former by saying he needs to get laid, and the latter by telling him his life as a bore, adding to “quit [his] whining ’cause it’s bringing her down”). No matter what he does, Armstrong is a loser, an anxiety-ridden jumble of insecurities with no answers and few excuses. Just as important is that he’s not shy about laying out his failures for all to see. By never letting himself off the hook, Armstrong not only earns the listener’s sympathy but his or her camaraderie.
But let’s get back to the music. Aside from some token drum rattles and harmonized vocal phrases, Armstrong is on his own during the intro/first verse. As a result, his guitar-playing serves a percussive purpose to support his singing. For those of you who don’t play guitar (and for those of you who do, you are playing along to this post, right?), Armstrong utilizes a technique called palm-muting, where the instrumentalist dampens the guitar strings as he strikes them, which creates muffled, chugging sound (best demonstrated when played through an amplifier). It’s a popular technique in metal; Metallica for instance derives a lot of its attack from palm-muting. In addition to crafting a solid backing rhythm for his vocals, Armstrong occasionally lets slip an unmuted chord — typically on the second and third beats of the bar, but occasionally on an upbeat — to spice up the section. These intermittent unmuted chords help indicate to the listener that the section is gradually building up to something big.
When Armstrong hits the line “I think I’m cracking up” partway through the first chorus, the band properly kicks in, only to pull back again for a brief interlude where Armstrong performs some sixteenth-note flourishes, dabbed by a tasteful bass fill by Mike Dirnt. After that, it’s on: Green Day is now in full attack mode. Tre Cool’s drum rolls alone are as captivating as the vocal hooks. Because of the structure, the second verse and chorus convey familiarity due to the repeated chord progressions, but the song doesn’t become repetitive.
A brief bridge section emerges where Armstrong sings “Grasping to control” before hitting a brief pause, followed by the words “So I better hold on” as the band resumes its punk rock Light Brigade charge into the lyric-less third verse. At the start of the third and final chorus, Armstrong resorts to palm-muting again, but this time he has the whole band behind him, giving the section the momentum of a freight train leading into Armstrong’s final cry of “I think I’m cracking up / Am I just paranoid? / I’m not sure”. Following that, the guitarist plays an outro melody supported by Cool’s hammering fills, and the song concludes in an appropriately rockist manner with a few dramatic chord strokes.
What makes “Basket Case” utterly thrilling is that this all that occurs in little more than three minutes. Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool were not content to simply bash out a few chords as fast as humanly possible, repeat three times, and then commit the product to tape. Instead, they crafted a concise package intended to take the listener on a journey through surging pop brilliance. Luckily they worked out the finer points beforehand so you shouldn’t have to worry about them whenever “Basket Case” comes on the radio. Really, trying to spot all the compositional tics as you listen to this song is akin to passing a signpost at top speed on the highway.
That is, you’re not experiencing this to enjoy the scenery. The song is built perfectly so as to elicit a visceral, emotional reaction from the listener. Considering that, it shouldn’t require much pressure to surrender yourself to the tune in the first place. “Basket Case” is intended to grip you from the start, and will lead you through the next three minutes without ever lettering you go until the last chord fades away. Suitably, by song’s end your pulse is racing and you’re ready to hear it all again from the top.
And that, boys and girls, is what a perfect pop song sounds like.
In the Green Day episode of the VH1 documentary series Behind the Music, Mike Dirnt commented, “We’ve never been entirely embraced by the punk rock community because we do sing love songs.” The radio-only single “She” is doubtless an affront to such punk hardliners. Written by Billie Joe Armstrong for an ex-girlfriend, “She” is all about wistful pining for that special someone, aided and abetted by poppy chorus harmonies. But it’s also one of the punkiest tracks on Dookie, faster and more bracing than most anything else on the record. Like first-wave punks the Buzzcocks, Green Day demonstrates with “She” that sometimes the best way to convey romantic yearning and anticipation is through punk’s short/loud/fast credo, and that’s something close-minded practitioners of the genre should never forget.
I’ve always considered “She” to be a perfect companion to “Basket Case”, the preceding cut on Dookie. I always listen to them as a pair. The band seems to hold a similar inclination, as it often performs the tracks back-to-back in concert. In a way, “She” ups the ante of “Basket Case”, offering something similar but approaching it with more speed, power, and simplicity. “She” takes its cues from “Basket Case” early on, opening with a sparse rhythmic backdrop (highlighted by Dirnt’s pulsing three-note bassline) that allows Billie Joe Armstrong to take center stage as a lyricist. Sounding almost as if he’s mere inches away from the listener, Armstrong tenderly paints the scenario of a girl unsatisfied with the predetermined life she’s trapped in. With a “sullen riot penetrating through her mind”, this girl is “waiting for a sign” (i.e. him) that will impel her to break through her silent suffering “with a brick of self-control”.
Living up to the punk genre’s standard expectations, once Armstrong’s guitar joins the fray he forsakes anything fancy for the simplicity of three barre chords (a fourth fleetingly appears in the chorus), delivering them with a passionate attack that would have been less effective he had relied on single note licks. During the choruses, Armstrong switches his lyrical perspective to talk to the subject of the song directly, achingly asking her, “Are locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you? / Are you feeling like a social tool without a use?” Interestingly, Armstrong doesn’t cast himself as a knight in shining armor coming to rescue his love. Instead, he offers to bear the weight of her world on his shoulders, telling her, “Scream at me / Until my ears bleed / I’ll take it in just for you”.
For the second verse, Armstrong resorts to palm-muting his chords, making the section brim with anticipation of the release offered by the chorus. The song climaxes at the end of the second chorus, where Armstrong unleashes a full-bodied scream before launching into the bridge section. Here, Armstrong hammers out his straightforward chord progression as if he were whipping up a show-stopping guitar solo frenzy. And in a way, he is. The sheer conviction of his playing makes ordinary G, D, and C chords (performed on an instrument tuned down a half-step, as is almost every song on the album) as potent as any guitar hook he wrings out elsewhere on Dookie.
Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool aren’t to be overshadowed here, though. Dirnt tackles melody duty, making his instrument’s notes bubble up against Armstrong’s nigh-impregnable wall of chords to add color. Cool gives his drum part a driving intensity, hitting his snare first on the second and fourth beats of the measure, then in unison with his cymbals on every downbeat, and finally executing a simply awesome rolling fill to top it off, only to do it again for the second run through the chord progression. While the final chorus no different than the others, the song’s closing moments are so informed by the energy from the bridge that by the end it seems like Armstrong’s message has become all the more urgent and inviting.
Hitting radio in 1995 as the fifth and final single from Dookie, “She” peaked at number five on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts, and number fifteen on the Mainstream Rock Charts. The fact that not only was it the fifth single pulled from the record, but that it did so well, is indicative of both what a sensation Dookie had become over the course of a year as well as the album’s consistency. It’s not unusual for a multi-Platinum album to yield so many singles, but often there’s a drop in quality once record companies start delving deep into the records for a fifth or sixth potential smash. “She” may not have the endlessly-quotable lyrics of “Longview” or “Basket Case”, the fist-pumping anthemic drive of “Welcome to Paradise”, or the sheer pop perfection of “When I Come Around”, but its unbridled heart-on-the-sleeve passion makes it as good as any of those cuts.
9. “Sassafras Roots”
After its opening chord crashes and drum beats, “Sassafras Roots” settles into a four-bar A-E5/A-A-E5/A-D-E chord progression that it relies on throughout much of its duration. Billie Joe Armstrong’s quick guitar upstroke chord changes dominate the first half of this figure, while Mike Dirnt’s noodling bassline is more noticeable in the second half. It’s an appealing instrumental passage, but honestly, it’s relied on so much that it quickly becomes repetitive. Luckily the chorus and bridge sections add variety to the whole proceeding, in particular providing a setting for Tre Cool to unleash some cracking machine gun drum rolls.
The verse instrumental figure acts as a backdrop for Armstrong’s call and response lyrical template, which is deliciously self-effacing. Armstrong will throw out a line to forward his narrative (i.e. “Roaming round your house”, “Why are you alone?”, “When you could be with me?), which is dutifully answered on every occasion by the rest of the group joining in on backing vocals to assist the frontman in singing the phrase “Wasting your time”. No matter what’s going on or what they are doing, the protagonist and the subject he’s speaking to are always pissing their time away. While he has romantic aspirations, Armstrong adds a sneering edge to his quest with this unrelenting three-word putdown and lines like “I’m just a parasite”.
Despite Armstrong’s dismissive wording, “Sassafras Roots” is still is a love song, acting as a representation of ’90s rock lyrics that often wrapped romantic topics in irony and sarcasm in order to avoid emotional directness. One of Armstrong’s strengths as a lyricist is that he can cast his ever-ready insults (be they inwardly or outwardly directed) in a light that ends up illuminating the perspective or persona he is adopting. The constant repetition of the words “Wasting your time” act to make the narrator’s intentions aloof, when in fact he desperately hopes that the person he is addressing will embrace him. He’s just too guarded to make his affections known directly. The song’s chorus lines “Well, I’m a waste like you / With nothing else to do / May I waste your time too?” concisely encapsulates this sentiment that Armstrong would love to spend time with you… uh, if you’re not too busy. Because he’s not doing much either. Just wasting time. Yep. Certainly, “Sassafras Roots” subscribes to the notion that sometimes acting like you don’t give a damn is a sign that you care more than anything else in the world.
10. “When I Come Around”
“When I Come Around” is more than just the best song off Dookie. It’s quite possibly the best tune Green Day has ever made, one of those transcendent moments in pop music where all the elements congeal to form a greater whole that’s gratifying on an almost instinctual level. Even upon a cursory listen to the track, it’s no surprise that it was a hit. In early 1995, “When I Come Around” became the third and final single from Dookie to top the Billboard Modern Rock Charts (helping the album match a number of Modern Rock chart-toppers managed previously only by U2’s Achtung Baby), acting as the capstone to a year-long breakthrough success story that included multi-million unit sales and a Grammy Award win for Best Alternative Music Performance.
“When I Come Around” is undoubtedly my favorite track from the album. It’s also one of the songs I hold dearest, by any artist. As such, it’s been somewhat difficult to write this entry in my overview of the Dookie album. If only you knew how many times I’ve rewritten this post before submitting it. I’ve loved “When I Come Around” ever since I began tuning into my local modern rock station in the late ’90s. Even upon my first proper introduction to the song, I was keenly aware that I was somehow already familiar with the track, which mystified me, as up to that point I didn’t listen to rock music past 1980, and was only starting to get into more recent releases. My best guess is I heard it around 1995 when riding to a sixth grade field trip to the beach, an occasion during which I recall spying the unmistakable CD case for Dookie laying on the floor of the minivan I was in.
Even after all this time, and all the myriad styles and artists I have encountered in the intervening years, my appreciation of the song has increased, even edging out old Dookie favorites “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case”. And frustratingly, even after so many attempts to tackle the issue, I really can’t explain why I adore it so much. Sure, it was the perfect song for me to connect with when I was in high school, but that was nearly a decade ago, and I love the song even more now than I did then. I wouldn’t call “When I Come Around” my all-time favorite song (contenders for that slot change far too frequently to me to declare a winner), but it’s clear given its number one ranking on my Last.fm and iTunes playlist tallies that it’s the likeliest contender. When it comes down to it, this song is just utterly fantastic, and I don’t think I could ever get bored with it.
Why is “When I Come Around” such a killer single? Primary credit should be given to its use of that oft-deployed rock and roll secret weapon, The Riff. No, not the riff. The Riff. Mind you, this is a very important distinction of terminology, one made between mere repetitious guitar licks and those instrumental parts so awesome you find yourself uttering swear words as exclamations when the song comes on the radio. Green Day isn’t a riff-inclined band, but “When I Come Around” has Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong driving the song with an instantly recognizable two-bar guitar part that ranks among the best rock riffs of the 1990s. It’s four chords (G5, D5, Em, and C, tuned down a half-step) played in a moderate tempo palm-muted groove.
The I-V-VI-IV chord progression is rather routine (sharp-eared folks will notice it’s the same chord progression as U2’s “With or Without You”), but the way Armstrong plays it gives it a unique character that makes it instantly recognizable from the moment it first escapes the speakers. Amidst the aforementioned palm-muting, Armstrong lets the full chords ring out once apiece to emphasize certain beats. To further distinguish the riff, Armstrong hits the full E minor and C major chords on the upbeats of the first and second beats then rests a bit before playing the C again on the way back to the G5. These little touches do a lot to add color to what could have been a straightforward chord sequence. Also, notice how the song doesn’t end on the G5 tonic chord, but on the C, an inspired choice that lets it close in a manner that’s sonically appealing but isn’t overly tidy.
Given how fetching the guitar riff is, it can be easy to overlook Mike Dirnt’s bass part. In fact, I never paid any mind to what he was doing until I saw a transcription of the bassline in a guitar magazine. Laid out, it becomes clear that Dirnt isn’t content to simply keep pace with the guitar by doubling what Armstrong does. Instead, Dirnt produces a positively busy bassline laced with several pull-offs and hammer-ons, giving it a bubbling melodicism that both intertwines with and contrasts with Armstrong’s guitar part. Also of note is Dirnt’s little pull-off fill that occupies the space vacated by the guitar when Armstrong sings the title phrase in the chorus. It’s a dead-simple little touch that’s placed at just the right spot in the song.
As the song relies on a riff instead of standard chord changes for its verses, Armstrong can’t dominate the song’s melodic duties with his vocals as he usually does. Instead, Armstrong sings around the riff in a winding manner that makes some lines run into one another for a constant flow, in the process yielding some atypical emphases such as the slightly-hysterical utterance of the phrase “so don’t get”. It’s notoriously hard to sing over busy riffs, but Armstrong manages to hold his own, producing some pretty memorable vocal hooks, not the least of which is the song’s chorus “No time to search the world around / ‘Cause you know where I’ll be found / When I come around”.
Speaking of the chorus, “When I Come Around” contains some of the strongest lyrics on Dookie. Armstrong’s lyrics rely on the fact that “when I come around” can have a literal and a metaphorical meaning. In the first verse, Armstrong’s narrative persona is practically sauntering, telling a lonely soul, “You’ve been searching for that someone / And it’s me out on the prowl / As you sit around feeling sorry for yourself”. While the first verse is all about how Armstrong’s character is arriving to fulfill that person’s needs (the literal meaning), the second verse is a reversal that forces him to reevaluate his intentions (the metaphorical meaning). In that second verse, he quite pointedly acknowledges, “I’m a loser and a user / So I don’t need no accuser / To try and slag me down, because I know you’re right”. He continues, “So go do what you like / Make sure you do it wise / You may find out that your self-doubt / Means nothing was ever there / You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right”. By that final line it doesn’t seem like he’s addressing another person anymore. Rather, it’s more that he has “comes around” to the realization that he’s not what the other person needs.
As a whole, “When I Come Around” is an aural representation of yearning, wary anticipation, and contemplative self-reflection. That’s why I feel the single’s accompanying music video (featuring the band members wandering aimlessly around San Francisco as lonely souls spy on one another in a voyeuristic loop) suits the song perfectly, even if Green Day itself considers the clip to be a weak effort. When that video came out, Green Day was one of pop culture’s hottest talking points, yet the group was still trying to come to terms with both the positive and negative aspects of its sudden fame. In the center of the media glare, Green Day ended up providing a video that, while unambitious compared to the promos for “Longview” and “Basket Case”, offered up a revealing image of itself: three young men walking listlessly in a space of broad possibilities with no destination in mind, uncertain of what was in store for them next.
Of course, Green Day could’ve made a video featuring nothing but television static and it wouldn’t change the fact that “When I Come Around” is simply an amazing pop song. If one song from Dookie deserves to enter the rock music canon, this is it.
11. “Coming Clean”
“Seventeen and strung out on confusion”, Billie Joe Armstrong belts out the opening line of “Coming Clean” in a high, booming notes to immediately drive home the coming-of-age struggle the song concerns itself with. Tied to a guitar groove that emphasizes the upbeats of the rhythm, “Coming Clean” is a short track that barely makes it past the minute-and-a-half mark. Regardless of its brevity, it’s rightly considered one of the standout album cuts from Dookie, as Armstrong tackles the subject of sorting out one’s sexual identity in a concise, empowering manner.
Sure, there are no overt mentions of homosexuality in the song (the closest you get is the line “Skeletons come to life in my closet”), but Armstrong has made it clear in interviews that dealing with such desires during adolescence is what “Coming Clean” is about. Forgoing Armstrong’s typical self-effacements, “Coming Clean” is the only track on Dookie that can’t be described with the word “bratty”. The reason is simple: “Coming Clean” is intended as an affirmation, one that demands respect from others even if they unwilling to offer acceptance.
Even though the song is infused with plenty of Generation X anxiety (“Mom and dad will never understand”), it is in the end a celebration of self-discovery and emotional honesty, as indicated by the couplet “Seventeen and coming clean for the first time / I’ve finally figured out myself for the first time”. Furthermore, Armstrong subtly dismantles any knee-jerk “sissy” pejoratives that be lurking about by repeating the phrase “I found out what it takes to be a man”.
If homophobic biases maintain that homosexual feelings are less than manly, Armstrong argues that was really defines manhood is coming to terms with one’s identity, whether or not others will accept you for who you are.
It’s worth mentioning that Green Day opted to take along queercore band Pansy Division as an opening act during its Dookie promotion in 1994. It was an inspired move that simultaneously introduced a homosexual point of view to a burgeoning mass audience while also puckishly pissing off the less tolerant members of the crowd.
12. “Emenius Sleepus”
With the heroic phase of Dookie completed, we now enter the home stretch of the album’s tracklist. To be frank, there aren’t any hidden gems of sonic awesomeness lurking amongst the album’s concluding numbers. While none of the remaining tracks are duds, they’re all very workmanlike Green Day songs that don’t rise to the pop pinnacles of the album’s best material. Still, there are a few points of note worth highlighting in the tail end of the record’s runtime.
The most noteworthy aspect of “Emenius Sleepus” is that it’s the only song on Dookie featuring lyrics written by bassist Mike Dirnt. As opposed to chief lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong’s witty, brat-savant character studies, Dirnt’s words are less distinctive and more restrained. Essentially a lament about two friends who have grown apart, Dirnt’s words are light on details, leaving it to the listener fill in the particulars of what exactly went down on his or her own. Dirnt does express disgust at what has become of his former friend (“And now I think you’re sick / I wanna go home”), but his words are tinged with regret, particularly in the second verse lines “What have you done with all your time / And what went wrong”.
Unlike Armstrong’s material, “Emenius Sleepus” doesn’t contain any spite (either internally or externally directed). Instead, it’s the lyrical equivalent of shaking one’s head in disbelief at how an old acquaintance has changed. Dirnt’s muted, reflective approach to Green Day lyrics can also be found in his words for the band’s first post-Dookie hit “J.A.R.”, a song so good it’s baffling that it never appeared on a proper album release.
13 .”In the End”
Musically, “In the End” is dead simple. That’s because it’s played so fast. Green Day holds to the theory that the faster one plays, the simpler the arrangement has to be so the song doesn’t become a blurry mess amidst all that distortion. Played in a rollicking standard-issue punk rhythm, Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar sticks to two chords (A5 and G5 power chords) for the verses. Even the typically dynamic breakdown section has Armstrong plucking out as few notes as possible on his instrument. Not surprisingly, Armstrong’s vocals are the focus of attention in this brief burst of a song, issued in a staccato delivery that constantly arches upwards melodically. The most exciting part of the song is definitely the elongated “Sooooooo” Armstrong belts out to bridge his way from the chorus back to the verse, enhanced by the music dropping out behind him for a measure.
“In the End” is a resentful screed against a girl who’s chosen to go with the guy that’s “all brawn and no brains”, instead of the speaker. Inquiring, “How long will he last / Before he’s a creep in the past / And you’re alone once again?”, he pointedly asks if that’s really what she wants. Having figured out what he perceives to be her true colors, Armstrong references the best song on Dookie when he sings “I hope I won’t be there / In the end when you come around”.
As catharsis, “In the End” does the job (in fact, it’s a great song to put on when faced with rejection and you aren’t partial to more morose musical tastes), but it doesn’t possess the depth a track like “When I Come Around” does. Rare for a song on Dookie, it’s one-sided with no self-effacing reflection or critical introspection. Sure, it’s common to feel wronged when the object of one’s affection chooses someone else, but it’s not as captivating as the times when Armstrong delves into his angst to confront his own flaws. Still, it’s a testament to Armstrong’s knack for memorable phrases that he’s able to conjure up an image of why he detests his rival merely with the lines, “Someone to look good with / And light your cigarette.”
Green Day has a knack for kicking off records in a riveting fashion, but the band often has a problem wrapping them up as strongly. For album closers, the trio typically opts for an unremarkable rocker (“Walking Contradiction”, “Prosthetic Head”) or a decent understated number that lacks the punch and passion of preceding tracks (“Macy’s Day Parade”, “Whatshername”). And the less said about the ghastly AOR sheen of “See the Light” from last year’s 21st Century Breakdown, the better. Consequently, “F.O.D.” — the final listed track on Dookie — stands as the band’s best official album closer by virtue of the process of elimination more than for being a great tune.
Green Day aims to conclude its third full-length record in climactic fashion, building from understated verses and choruses (featuring only Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice and an acoustic guitar) to an anthemic crash of amplifiers and drum rolls as Armstrong profanely explains the meaning behind the song’s acronym title. It doesn’t quite work, though. The main reason is because the acoustic preamble is meant to set listeners up for the sudden sucker punch of the full band onslaught, but it’s severely undermined by the fact that Armstrong plays his acoustic guitar exactly as he would an electric –strumming power chords aggressively with a precise rhythmic thrust (it must be noted though that this does provide listeners with a glimpse of Armstrong’s rhythm guitar prowess shorn of amplifier distortion). Really, the only major difference in tone between the two parts of the song is that one half is noisier than the other.
Lyrically, “F.O.D” is a sampler of ideas Armstrong has expressed more effectively elsewhere on Dookie. We have a narrator who holds a grudge against an unspecified other (and is thoroughly disgusted by them), and boy does he relish the prospect of that person getting what’s coming to them. The well-worn subject matter would be forgivable if the execution was above-average. But for every decent set of phrases like “Let’s nuke the bridge we torched 2,000 times before / This time we’ll blast it all to hell”, there are lyrical clunkers like the lines “When it’s all said and done / It’s real and it’s been fun / But was it all real fun”, an attempt to play on words that just falls flat. And then once the band and the distorted electric guitar join the fray, Armstrong opts for his brattiest putdowns (“You’re just / A fuck / I can’t explain it because I think you suck”) shorn of any trace of his standard wit. Despite its visceral charm, one can’t help but feel that the band is trying too hard at playing dumb in this section for the sake of selling the overarching joke.
Flawed yet still enjoyable, “F.O.D.” is a decent enough song, but it can’t really stand on its own. It’s hard to imagine anyone listening to the track outside of its proper place in the Dookie track listing order. It also can’t truly rely on its status as the closing number of Dookie to argue for its worth, as it’s not actually the last track on the record.
15. “All by Myself”
When the sound of drumsticks hitting the floor subsides at the end of “F.O.D.”, your first instinct might be to just turn off the stereo. But hold on for a moment. Let the album continue to play, and in a little over a minute you’ll catch the first strains of an acoustic guitar. Yep, Dookie contains one of those little treasures of the CD age: the unlisted bonus track.
The song is called “All by Myself”, a brief little ditty written and performed by Green Day’s spazzy drummer Tre Cool. The entirety of the song is Cool plucking arpeggiated notes based on the high strings of his acoustic as he sings about sneaking into someone’s room while they are away. The lyrics are very slight, but Cool milks them for all they’re worth through his puckish delivery, all the while suggesting that the song is about masturbation (and if you’ve seen some of his live versions of the tune, his lyrical ad-libs do more than merely suggest). It’s a juvenile joke (even a bit idiotic), but it’s amusingly effective — even Cool has to stifle a chuckle when he gets to the second verse — because it doesn’t overreach itself in its execution like its “F.O.D.” does, and it completely lacks the snide, off-putting tone that colors that track. Although certainly not among Green Day’s songbook elite, “All by Myself” acts as an effective contrast with “F.O.D.”, and in part due to that fact it works surprisingly well as a conclusion for the album. And if you like that track, Dookie co-producer Rob Cavallo has issued assurances that Cool has more like it stockpiled.
It may seem strange that the off-kilter coda “All by Myself” ends up acting as a more satisfying album closer than the more conventional anthem inclinations of “F.O.D.”, the official concluding number. But that sort of irreverent nose-thumbing suits the nature of Dookie — a bratty, unassuming adrenaline rush of a record that happens to be one of the best albums of the last 20 years — quite well.