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Best Green Day Songs: 20 Blazing Pop-Punk Anthems For Misfits
List & Guides

Best Green Day Songs: 20 Blazing Pop-Punk Anthems For Misfits

Having thrust US punk into the mainstream, the best Green Day songs make up for one of alt-rock’s most enviable bodies of work.

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Supercharged San Francisco Bay Area punks Green Day burst onto the scene with their mega-selling third album, Dookie, in 1994, and they’ve since outlasted most of their contemporaries. It’s not hard to understand why: in Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day have one of the smartest singer-songwriters of their generation, and he can always rely on the group’s tighter-than-tight rhythm section, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, to deliver the goods. But don’t be fooled by their bratty exterior and flippant attitude – this trio’s enviable catalogue secures their longevity, as the best Green Day songs prove in no uncertain terms.

Listen to the best of Green Day here, and check out our best Green Day songs, below.

20: Don’t Leave Me (from ’39/Smooth’, 1990)

Issued by Californian indie imprint Lookout! Records, Green Day’s debut album, 39/Smooth, was recorded by their initial line-up of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and drummer John Kiffmeyer, who left shortly after the album’s release in April 1990. Armstrong was only 17 when he wrote the songs, so while there’s an understandable naïveté to the record, it also contains a healthy dash of promise. 39/Smooth is the sound of work in progress, then, but it contains one of the best Green Day songs in the angsty, Hüsker Dü-esque Don’t Leave Me, and its overall content suggests something special was coming to the boil.

19: Forever Now (from ‘Revolution Radio’, 2016)

Green Day’s decision to release three new albums – ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! – within weeks of each other in 2012 worked in the commercial sense, but Billie Joe Armstrong was the first to admit that the records were put together with “absolutely no direction to them”. The band returned with renewed purpose four years later, issuing 2016’s powerful and notably more focused Revolution Radio, which Rolling Stone suggested was “vibrant punk rock, uncluttered by outsize grandiosity”. Broadly, that was true, though the seven-minute Forever Now showed the band were still capable of balancing adrenaline with ambition.

18: 2000 Light Years Away (from ‘Kerplunk!’, 1991)

If their debut album, 39/Smooth, was formative, Green Day came much closer to patenting their quintessential punk-pop sound on its follow-up, Kerplunk! – the first album to feature their classic line-up of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool. The record’s confident opening cut, 2000 Light Years Away, was a quantum leap ahead of anything on its predecessor, and the album maintained a similar standard throughout. Moving 10,000 copies on its day of release alone, Kerplunk! yielded sales previously deemed unimaginable for a tiny indie such as Lookout!, and its success led Green Day to signing a major deal with Warner Bros.

17: American Eulogy: Mass Hysteria/Modern World (from ‘21st Century Breakdown’, 2009)

If the stratospheric, multi-platinum American Idiot was Green Day’s Tommy, then it’s tempting to view its equally ambitious follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, as their Quadrophenia: a second highly ambitious rock opera which, rather than drop in on mod-era Britain, centred around the chaotic world of troubled US couple Gloria and Christian. On paper, the tracklist (18 songs broken down into three separate movements) seems daunting, but the music, produced with clarity by Nevermind maestro Butch Vig, is exhilarating throughout. While the album is designed to be listened to as a whole, it’s not hard to single out individual tracks for inclusion among the best Green Day songs – not least American Eulogy’s two acts, Mass Hysteria and Modern World, which bristle with glorious hooks and niggly, Buzzcocks-like guitars.

16: Macy’s Day Parade (from ‘Warning’, 2000)

Coming off the back of the slam-dunk trio of Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod, Green Day’s sixth album, Warning, is often overlooked. That situation should be urgently addressed, for it’s actually one of the most consistent and adventurous albums in the band’s discography. It contains plenty of Green Day’s trademark effervescent punk-pop, but it’s also broader in scope, with acoustic textures and the band’s love of classic 60s pop poking through the surface on tracks such as The Beatles-esque Hold On and Waiting, the latter of which was inspired by the riff from Petula Clark’s 1964 hit, Downtown. Both of those are great, but the reflective, folk-flecked Macy’s Day Parade is even better. An underrated contender among the best Green Day songs, its anti-consumerist sentiments (“It’s a lifetime guarantee/Stuffed in a coffin ten per cent more free/Red-light special at the mausoleum”) remain highly prescient today.

15: Brain Stew/Jaded (from ‘Insomniac’, 1995)

Green Day’s fourth album, Insomniac, was another multi-platinum smash which equalled Dookie’s Billboard 200 peak of No.2. Heavier and addressing bleaker lyrical themes such as alienation, boredom and drug use, it was every bit as energetic as its illustrious predecessor and contained a wealth of excellent tracks. Arguably its apogee, the slashing, Nirvana-esque Brain Stew addressed Billie Joe Armstrong’s own insomnia (“I’m having trouble trying to sleep/I’m counting sheep, but running out”), though the song delivers to its fullest when heard in conjunction with its hyperactive hardcore sibling Jaded, which followed Brain Stew on record, and usually still does onstage.

14: Redundant (from ‘Nimrod’, 1997)

Released in October 1997, Green Day’s fifth album, Nimrod, retained the high-octane energy of Dookie and Insomniac, but found the band making their first significant stylistic deviations. To their credit, most of these worked a treat, with Armstrong and co making a good fist of ska (the brass-enhanced King For A Day), surf rock (Last Ride In) and even pulling off a surprise smash hit courtesy of the acoustic ballad Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). Rarely celebrated, but no less engaging, the slow-burning Redundant was streaked with shimmering, Byrds-esque guitars that place it right up there with the best Green Day songs.

13: Burnout (from ‘Dookie’, 1994)

Effectively the sound of apathetic adolescence distilled to just over two minutes of glorious ramalama, Burnout opened Green Day’s giant-slaying third album, Dookie. Its lyric may have been ennui-stricken (“I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out/And I stepped in line to walk amongst the dead”), but musically it was an unstoppable surge of grade-A punk-enhanced pop. The fact that such an absolute earworm wasn’t chosen as a single tells you all you need to know about Dookie’s all killer, no filler tracklist.

12: Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) (from ‘Nimrod’, 1997)

Billie Joe Armstrong’s former girlfriend’s decision to leave him and move to Ecuador reputedly prompted him to write Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), which he presented to the band for the Dookie sessions. However, as it was an acoustic song, producer Rob Cavallo felt it was wrong for the album, and the tune was shelved – until Armstrong again expressed the desire to record it for Nimrod. This time around, Cavallo hit upon adding a string arrangement to Armstrong’s plaintive acoustic guitar and vocal, and this subtle embellishment suited it to perfection.

The producer later told Green Day biographer Marc Spitz, “I knew we had done the right thing. It was a hit the second I heard it,” and he was spot on. The mellow Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) had a broad, radio-friendly appeal that took it into numerous European Top 20s and yielded well over two million sales, proving that the best Green Day songs don’t always need to rely on muscle and volume.

11: Minority (from ‘Warning’, 2000)

Encouraged by the success of Good Riddance and Nimrod’s overall diversity, Green Day again struck out for pastures new on their sixth album, Warning – a record which was greatly influenced by Billie Joe Armstrong’s love of Bob Dylan. The latter’s 1965 classic Bringing It All Back Home was rarely off the Green Day frontman’s stereo as he penned Warning’s songs, and Dylan makes his presence felt in everything from the record’s acoustic textures to the burgeoning political awareness in Armstrong’s lyrics – not least on the brilliant Minority, an outspoken, pro-misfit anthem (“Down with the moral majority/I wanna be the minority”) which spent five weeks at the top of Billboard’s Modern Rock chart and remains one of the very best Green Day songs.

10: Geek Stink Breath (from ‘Insomniac’, 1995)

Clearly influenced by Ramones, Insomniac’s lead single, Geek Stink Breath, featured a killer three-chord riff and chugged along in fine style. However, beneath the bravado, Billie Joe Armstrong’s cautionary lyric discussed the adverse effects of methamphetamine: a substance the singer had enough experience with to know that it was no picnic in the long term. His words pulled precious few punches (“I found a treasure filled with sick pleasure/And it sits on a thick white line”) but they avoided sanctimonious preaching, and the song was hooky and melodic enough to reward Green Day with another well-deserved UK Top 20.

9: Hitchin’ A Ride (from ‘Nimrod’, 1997)

Throwing a curve with its Eastern European violin intro, Nimrod highlight Hitchin’ A Ride then thrillingly kicked up several gears and morphed into a magnificent rockabilly-grunge hybrid driven along by monster riffs and Tré Cool’s thunderous drums. Sobriety was again the topic under discussion, but while Billie Joe Armstrong’s angst-ridden lyrics may have cautioned against alcoholic excess (“Do you brake for distilled spirits?/I need a break as well/The well that inebriates the guilt”), Hitchin’ A Ride was far too exhilarating to sound punch drunk.

8: Warning (from ‘Warning’, 2000)

Arguably the best of many excellent song from Warning, the album’s title track set a high benchmark for the record from the get-go. Built on a circular riff redolent of The Kinks’ Picture Book, the music was eminently catchy, though Armstrong’s anti-apathy lyric (“Sanitation, expiration date, question everything/Or shut up and be a victim of authority”) was delivered with conviction and gave the song its edge. The band first performed Warning live at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit show in 1999, and it went on to become a Top 40 hit, though the song has been absent from their live set since the early 2000s.

7: Letterbomb (from ‘American Idiot’, 2004)

After their longest gap yet between albums, Green Day returned in style with 2004’s American Idiot: an ambitious but dextrously performed “punk rock opera” which topped the US and UK charts, sold multi-millions around the world and thrust the band right back into the heart of the mainstream. Featuring a cameo from Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Letterbomb wasn’t one of the album’s four big-selling singles, but it’s a terrific blast of tanked-up pop-punk, and it sounded right at home in the mini-set Green Day performed at their 2012 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction.

6: Longview (from ‘Dookie’, 1994)

Dookie’s lead single, Longview, was also the band’s first official single, and thus the first Green Day song most people heard – so it helped that it was an absolute doozy. Though effectively a paean to couch surfing, smoking dope and apathy in general, the song was anything but an underachiever in the musical sense. Indeed, its quiet-loud dynamic took a leaf out of Nirvana’s book, with the mellow verses dominated by Mike Dirnt’s nimble, jazzy basslines before the band exploded during the chorus. The perfect anthem for the “slacker generation”, Longview went on to top the Billboard Alternative Rock chart, graze the UK Top 30 and introduce Green Day on the world stage.

5: Wake Me Up When September Ends (from ‘American Idiot’, 2004)

A massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, Wake Me Up When September Ends was included on American Idiot, but it stands apart in that it’s the one song on the record which didn’t concern the record’s fictional anti-hero, Jesus Of Suburbia. Indeed, it was entirely personal for Billie Joe Armstrong, as the song’s emotive lyrics (“Here comes the rain again/Falling from the stars/Drenched in my pain again”) related to the death of his father from cancer when Armstrong was just ten years old. Performed with both muscle and agility, Wake Me Up When September Ends is about as glorious as power ballads get, and its inclusion among the best Green Day songs is mandatory.

4: When I Come Around (from ‘Dookie’, 1994)

One of Green Day’s signature songs, When I Come Around was inspired by Billie Joe Armstrong’s former girlfriend (now wife) Adrienne and a dispute which led to a temporary separation between the pair. Consequently, it sounds rueful, but also hopeful. Driven by a killer riff and featuring a delightful, Buzzcocks-esque middle section, this lovelorn almost-ballad was slower and more reflective than most of the Dookie material, and its inherent radio-friendly appeal helped it rise to No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song remained Green Day’s biggest US hit until Boulevard Of Broken Dreams usurped it a decade later.

3: Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (from ‘American Idiot’, 2004)

As well as representing their commercial peak, Green Day’s all-conquering seventh album, American Idiot, was a creative tour de force, taking in everything from the deceptively poppy Holiday to the grandiose, suite-like brilliance of Jesus Of Suburbia and Homecoming. Its most successful single, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and bagged a Grammy Award. The accolade was well-deserved, for this yearning, widescreen power ballad wasn’t just one of the best Green Day songs – it showed just how impressively the group had matured in the ten years that had passed since Dookie.

2: Basket Case (from ‘Dookie’, 1994)

As universal themes go, anxiety is certainly one of the most relevant to draw upon in the modern world, and it was Billie Joe Armstrong’s personal struggles with anxiety and paranoia that led him to write one of Dookie’s key tracks, Basket Case. An early version of the song featured on the demo tape which first impressed producer Rob Cavallo, and it’s easy to hear why: this catchy yet combustible punk-pop anthem has hooks galore and everyday sentiments (“Sometimes I give myself the creeps/Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me”) that never fail to strike a chord with people from all walks of life.

1: American Idiot (from ‘American Idiot’, 2004)

It’s impossible not to make comparisons between Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen and Green Day’s American Idiot. Both are absolutely top-drawer refusenik anthems that captured a moment in time, and both were inevitably misunderstood by their respective countries’ outraged moral majorities. In Billie Joe Armstrong’s case, it was the US mass media and their insensitive coverage of the Iraq War which galvanised him into writing American Idiot – and thank god he did. A seismic blast of righteous ire, the song reaffirmed the relevance of punk music as an agent for social change, and it more than deserves its place at the top of this list of the best Green Day songs.

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