For last year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Scene gave me the opportunity to talk about KISS by listing their best and worst makeup-era studio albums. This year, Green Day is getting into the Rock Hall, and I'm back to evaluate their studio catalogue (I’ve omitted rarities compilations like Shenanigans and Demolicious). It’s hard for me to rank Green Day’s discography, because it is, for the most part, consistently excellent. Although some albums are definitely better than others, the band has never made a flat out bad record. So, without further ceremony:
1. Dookie – 1994
From the opening snare hits of “Burnout,” 1994’s Dookie plays like a bratty punk rock manifesto. It was Green Day’s breakthrough album and bridged underground punk with mainstream rock. Dookie is packed with great songs that are still rock radio staples. You can focus on hits like “Welcome To Paradise,” “Basket Case,” “Longview” and “When I Come Around,” but Dookie holds a treasure trove of great deep cuts like “Pulling Teeth” and “Coming Clean.” As of 2014, Dookie has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and its continued influence on modern music cannot be overlooked. It’s simply one of the greatest albums of all time.
2. American Idiot – 2004
Ten years after Dookie, it looked like Green Day’s best years were behind them, but then the band came back in a big way with American Idiot. Forget the fact that the album was turned into a Broadway musical. American Idiot has so much fight to it. You’ve got the hits like the title track, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Holiday,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Jesus of Suburbia.” Meanwhile, album tracks like “St. Jimmy,” “She’s A Rebel,” “Letterbomb” and “Homecoming” are absolutely electric. There is not a clunker on this record. It was a bold album that reinvigorated Green Day’s career. American Idiot made sure that the group would not go down simply as a “'90s band” and paved the way for its HOF induction in its first year of eligibility.
3. Nimrod – 1997
Nimrod has Green Day’s first explorations beyond the simple three-chord alternative-punk sound of their previous albums. Of Nimrod’s 18 songs, plenty of them fall into the aforementioned category, but the band experiments with other genres like ska (“King For A Day”), 1960s surf (“The Last Ride”) and, of course, they gave us the folksy ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Yes, “Good Riddance” was overplayed on TV and radio, but, at its core, it is a great song. Nimrod was an excellent balance of punk fierceness, artistic exploration and commerciality.
4. Insomniac – 1995
Green Day was clearly feeling self-conscious about the commercial success of Dookie when they recorded Insomniac. It is the band’s harshest and darkest record, but its intensity makes it one of the band’s best. Emotional conflicts drive this album. “86” captures the band’s feeling of not being able to return to their underground roots after being deemed “sell outs” by the punk crowd. “Walking Contradiction” expresses a similar feeling, and, although not a huge hit, is one of the band’s finest songs. Ironically, once made outcasts by the underground scene, Green Day fired back with one of the greatest punk albums ever.
5. Kerplunk – 1992
Kerplunk is Green Day at their underground punk best. Looking back now, the album foreshadows so much. It showcases lead singer and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong’s ability to blend punk brashness with pop sensibility and shows why the band would start a major label bidding war before making their next album, Dookie. The album flows from start to finish, but the real stand-outs are “2000 Light Years Away,” “Christie Road” and “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”
6. 21st Century Breakdown – 2009
Five years after American Idiot, the world waited to see what Green Day would do next. In some ways, 21st Century Breakdown can be accused of rehashing the political themes from American Idiot. It is a rock opera divided into three acts. However, it further grandly combines the punk spirit of what makes Green Day into Green Day, with elements of Who-infused classic rock. The album has a number of hit singles like “21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy,” but there are some exceptionally great album cuts like the ferocious “Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” “Murder City” and “Before the Lobotomy.”
7. ¡Uno! – 2012
2012 was filled with highs and lows for Green Day. Musically, it was one of their most ambitious years. The band released three albums in three months. However, a lot more press went to Billie Joe Armstrong’s meltdown at the iHeartRadio Festival and the alcohol rehab stint that followed. In the midst of this chaos, Green Day released ¡Uno! The record is a lot of fun. In many respects, it’s a salute to their earlier albums, but it also shows the band being influenced by lo-fi rockers like Cloud Nothings and Best Coast. The band steps away from the political material and instead fixates on themes of youthful rebellion, love and partying. ¡Uno! is a strong album, featuring the singles “Oh Love!” and the excellent “Kill the DJ.” Don’t miss out on adrenaline-pumping jams like “Fell For You” and “Stay The Night.” Also, the song “Loss of Control” finds the band channeling the bratty wit of Dookie and Insomniac with lines like “I’d rather go to a funeral than to this high school reunion.”
8. Warning – 2000
Warning found Green Day in a state of transition. The album was a musical shift from the band’s preceding works as acoustic guitars and folk elements were brought into the arrangements with greater frequency. The record was not as commercially successful as Green Day’s previous three albums, but it should not be ignored. Hits like “Waiting” and “Minority” as well as under-rated gems like “Macy’s Day Parade,” “Cast Away” and “Deadbeat Holiday” anchor Warning. However, it lacks the fire of many of the other releases in the Green Day canon.
9. ¡Dos! – 2012
¡Dos! is easy to overlook because it was released so shortly after ¡Uno! The album is both a continuation of its predecessor as well as its own distinctive sonic entity. The lyrical themes of ¡Uno! are present, but musically this record stays more garage-rock driven. ¡Dos! flows nicely, but it is guilty of staying mostly in the same gear. “Stray Heart”, the album’s only single, is a fun rock song with a swinging beat, but it is not as exceptional as the band’s previous singles. “Fuck Time” is a highlight as is the dance-flavored “Nightlife,” but the album’s hands down stand-out is “Amy,” Billie Joe’s mellow bossa nova-infused tribute to Amy Winehouse. Its subdued vulnerability makes it shine.
10. 39/Smooth – 1990
You can’t be too critical of Green Day’s debut. It marks the start of something great. There is plenty to appreciate; “Disappearing Boy” and “Going to Pasalacqua” are definitely worth checking out. 39/Smooth has a lot of punk spirit and energy, but when compared to the other albums, it’s just not as good. The production is more low-fi and papery sounding. Also, this was recorded before Tré Cool joined the band. His distinctive drumming is essential to Green Day’s sound, so 39/Smooth lacks in that department.
11. ¡Tré! – 2012
Green Day’s final album of their 2012 trilogy is the most inconsistent of the three. There are cool moments like the Sam Cooke-flavored “Brutal Love,” “Walk Away,” “99 Revolutions” and the Beatle-y “The Forgotten.” Yet, songs like “A Little Boy Named Train” and “Missing You” simply fall flat. On a harsher note, the puberty-themed “Drama Queen” is downright cringe-worthy and is probably the worst song the band ever released. That being said, there are a decent number of compelling songs on this record, but ¡Tré! is a mixed bag. In 2012, Green Day’s choosing to release three albums in three months was an ambitious move. They just ran out of gas on parts of ¡Tré!.