The A-Z of Green Day

Green Day
(Image: © Michael Caulfield\/AMA2009\/Getty)

One of the bands who shoved punk rock into the mainstream, Green Day are the godfathers of the modern pop-punk scene. Here’s our guide to Billie Joe Armstrong’s world-conquering band…

A IS FOR…. AMERICAN IDIOT

How could it be anything else? Green Day’s blockbusting seventh studio album arrived in 2004, at a time when the band’s profile was somewhat low, not to mention the point at which the international reputation of the United States rested somewhere between pariah and laughing stock. Angry, articulate and artful, American Idiot perfectly captured the tenor of the times and has to date sold more than 15 million copies.

B IS FOR… BIG EASY

When on September 25, 2005 New Orleans’ American football team the Saints returned to their home stadium, the Superdome, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina the previous month, Green Day, along with U2, were on hand to welcome them. Just weeks before the vast concrete bowl had housed thousands of people whose homes had been ravaged by the storms. The sight of two world-famous bands joining together for a storming cover of The Skids’ The Saints Are Coming showed to the world that although the Big Easy was bloodied, it remained unbowed.

C IS FOR… CAVALLO, ROB

Since signing with Warner Brothers prior to the recording of their breakthrough album Dookie, Rob Cavallo has produced all of but two of nine studio albums made by the band. Not just that, but Cavallo was also the A&R man that signed the group – a deal sealed by the promise of a new van in which to tour – and was subsequently the head of the label during the period that followed American Idiot.

D IS FOR… DOOKIE

When in February 1994 Green Day’s third album limped onto the US album chart well outside the top 100, Dookie looked like becoming yet another major label alternative flop. By the summer of 1994, however, as opening act on that summer’s Lollapalooza caravan, audiences were leaping turnstiles and sprinting to the stage in order to catch the group’s noon set. Propelled as if by rockets, Dookie would sell more than 15 million copies and remains a classic to this day.

E IS FOR… EVERLY BROTHERS

Billie Joe Armstrong’s most unlikely collaboration came in 2013 when along with Norah Jones he released Foreverley, a modern-day retelling of the Everly Brothers’ 1958 album Songs Our Father Taught Us. This fragile set comes packed with close harmonies galore and has not a single amplified power-chord to its name.

F IS FOR… FOXBORO HOT TUBS

During the exhausting recording session of 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown album, Green Day were so sick of the process that they took a busman’s holiday. Switching gears to quickly record the album Stop Drop And Roll!!! under the name Foxboro Hot Tubs, this new group of old faces also undertook a short US tour of drunken club performances. In the autumn of 2009, the Hot Tubs made their UK debut at the Garage in North London, a two hour performance that ended at 3am.

G IS FOR… GILMAN STREET

The all-ages club situated at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley was the place at which Green Day cut their musical teeth. Sadly for them, the group’s signing with a major label meant that they were no longer welcome to perform at this most militant of venues. Billie Joe Armstrong’s sadness and anger at this state of affairs can be heard on the 1995 track 86.

H IS FOR… HYBRID MOMENTS

In 2011 the members of Metallica celebrated their band’s 30th birthday, an occasion which itself was celebrated by Green Day in the form of a filmed performance of the Misfits’ track Hybrid Moments. With Billie Joe’s headwear appearing to have been fashioned by the stylists on Sesame Street, the frontman wishes his Bay Area brethren many happy returns with the words “you old ass heavy metal motherfuckers.”

I IS FOR… INSOMNIAC

Proof positive that it can be just as much of a shock to receive more than you expect as it is less, 1995’s Insomniac is Green Day’s response to the avalanche of success that descended upon them upon the release of Dookie. At a blush over half an hour, this taught and troubled set features the kind of agitation you might get from attempting to place a rattlesnake inside a charity collection tin. Essentially, this is the band’s In Utero.

J IS FOR… JADED

As its title suggests, at the time that Green Day recorded Jaded, in 1995, its members were precisely that. Only thing is, in what was at the time their fastest song, the trio sound anything but. Yet beneath the galloping tempo lies a union that was not wearing its happy face. “There is no progress, evolution killed it all, I found my place in nowhere,” sings Billie Joe in one of his darkest lyrics.

K IS FOR… KERPLUNK!

When Green Day released their second album in 1992, American punk rock was in declining health. But despite being released on the tiny Lookout! label, Kerplunk found itself the kind of audience that in some cities equated to 2000 people a night gathering to watch the group play. It would be their last album released on an independent label.

L IS FOR… THE LOOKOUTS

Revered on the Bay Area scene, Northern Californian group The Lookouts are today best remembered as being the band for which Tre Cool played drums before joining Green Day. An early starter, Tre – whose nickname was bestowed upon him by band leader Lawrence Livermore – joined the outfit when he was just 12 years old. Quite why this was never investigated by Child Services remains a mystery.

M IS FOR… MELTDOWN

Depending on your point of view, Green Day’s 2012 performance at the Las Vegas Heartradio Music Festival was either one of their most punk rock moments or else their frontman’s lowest ebb. Infuriated by what he (mistakenly) took to be the curtailing of his group’s set, the frontman unloaded a volley of expletives to the astonished crowd, before smashing his Gibson guitar and storming off the stage. Next stop: rehab. Billie Joe’s subsequent absence from Green Day’s ranks effectively holed the band’s forthcoming albums, !Uno!, !Dos and !Tre! below the waterline.

N IS FOR… NATIVITY PLAY

Long before the band’s music wowed audiences on Broadway and in London’s Theatreland, Green Day were already practicing their love of theatre. Onstage at The Den in Wigan in 1991, the trio re-enacted the tale of the nativity with Billie Joe as all three wise men, Mike Dirnt as narrator and Tre Cool as the Virgin Mary. Oddly enough, the group were not invited to restage their play at Westminster Cathedral on the following Christmas Eve.

O IS FOR… OPERATION IVY

An influential Bay Area punk rock group featuring soon-to-be Rancid men Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman, for more than two decades now Green Day have often featured a cover of the Operation Ivy song Knowledge as part of their live set. From 2000 on, the song has been played by musicians plucked from the crowd, with Billie Joe as the pop-up band’s frontman. This neat manoeuvre is one of the finest sights in all of rock’n’roll.

P IS FOR… POP DISASTER TOUR

A 2002 caravan, the US Pop Disaster Tour was a co-headline summer jaunt of arenas and amphitheaters that paired together an ascendant Blink 182 and seemingly declining Green Day. It was the former band that closed the show, a task made almost impossible by the nightly energy of Billie Joe Armstrong and crew. A profile-improving smash, the tour set the band up nicely for the release of American Idiot just two years later.

Q IS FOR… QUEEN

Come the release of American Idiot, Green Day’s knowingly over-the-top live performances were of such a scale as to stand comparison with Queen. Fully aware of this, the group took to performing the English band’s camp classic We Are The Champions toward the end of each night’s set.

R IS FOR… RODEO

The hometown of both Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, the Northern Californian oil-producing locale was described by Armstrong in the song 21st Century Breakdown as a “town [that was] blind from refinery sun.” So true was this that Rodeo’s school children often complained of headaches brought on by the nearby refineries. Sounds idyllic.

S IS FOR… SOBRANTE, AL

The group’s first drummer, Al Sobrante – known to his mum as John Kiffmeyer – played with Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt back when their union were known as Sweet Children, as well as with Green Day prior to the recording of Kerplunk. Succeeded by Tre Cool, Mr Sobrante joined his former bandmates onstage at their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland just last year.

T IS FOR… TEENAGERS FROM MARS

Yet another of Green Day’s nom de plumes, in 2003 The Network released their first and last studio album, Money Money 2020. Re-issued a year later, the collection had been extended to include a cover version of the Misfits’ classic Teenagers From Mars. And pretty good it was, too. To this day, Billie Joe Armstrong refuses to acknowledge any involvement in The Network project.

U IS FOR… UNITED KINGDOM

While on tour in support of the 21st Century Breakdown album, inside Green Day’s dressing room there were four framed photographs, pictures of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols and The Clash. Along with Billie Joe Armstrong’s love of The Kinks and Generation X, the group’s love affair with the UK appears to know no bounds. In fact, the singer claims that only when he is aboard a plane bound for Britain does he feel that promotional work for a forthcoming album has sprung to life.

V IS FOR… VAN HALEN

As a spectator at a Van Halen concert at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Billie Joe Armstrong was dismayed by the lifeless nature of the band’s audience. The reason for this, he deduced, was the fact that the tickets were so expensive that the only people who could afford to attend were white collar office workers and their dates. “Rock’n’roll is a blue collar art-form,” he would later say on his own group’s decision to price their tickets at much more affordable rates.

W IS FOR… WEMBLEY

The band’s home away from home, Green Day have played in this charmless London borough on no fewer than five occasions. Four of these concerts were staged at that grandest old lady of barns, Wembley Arena, while the largest gathering took place in the summer of 2010 at the stadium next door.

X IS FOR… X

One of trickier letters of the alphabet, in this case X is for the Los Angelino punk rock band, er, X. While recording American Idiot, Billie Joe Armstrong popped across the road from the studio to pick up from Amoeba Records a copy of that group’s More Fun In The New World album. A friend of the singer also designed the cover for X’s live album Unclogged.

Y IS FOR… YOUNG

Which is exactly what Billie Joe Armstrong was the first time he ever stepped into a recording studio. In fact, he was very young indeed – just five years old. Propelled by a local music shop owner, the infant entered the studio in 1977 to record the track Look For Love. Eight hundred copies of the single were pressed, the B-side of which features an interview with the precocious little br… er, the young Billie Joe. A snippet of this exchange precedes the song Maria on the group’s 2002 compilation album, International Superhits!

Z IS FOR… ZEITGEIST

For a band to capture the public mood just once is impressive, but to do it twice is truly remarkable. Following the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994, with Dookie Green Day exquisitely catered to the Alternative Nation’s hankering for something a little less dark than the brooding nature of grunge. A decade on, the band repeated the trick by distilling the anger directed toward president George W Bush and articulating it in the form of American Idiot. As for what the group makes of Donald Trump, God only knows.

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