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Green Day's Top 10 Greatest Songs: Critic's Picks

Green Day in 1994
Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Green Day photographed backstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1994.

Green Day’s 12th studio album Revolution Radio is out today (Oct. 7). Do they still have it? Have they made a comeback from not one, but three disappointing albums (which they’re already avoiding across entire concerts)? It’s too soon to tell, so let’s debate some more familiar territory -- the band’s legendary back catalog.

“Bang Bang” was a fine opening salvo for Revolution Radio, but it’s a little soon for any of its songs to crack a canon like this. We’ve gone heavy on Dookie as anyone would, we believe a good deal of American Idiot holds up to the '90s classics, and -- despite some awesome deep cuts -- have found that almost all of Green Day’s top-tier songs got their due as singles. Maybe another day we'll go deep on the greatness of "One For the Razorbacks" and "Church on Sunday," but for now, here is the hit-packed countdown of the best Green Day songs.

10. Green Day - “Hitchin’ a Ride”

There’s a lot of filler on Nimrod, but its first few tracks, its last few tracks (more on that later on) and even some in the middle could come together to form one extremely solid Green Day album. We could’ve included opener “Nice Guys Finish Last,” but track two comes in just ahead. Billie Joe Armstrong’s spent his past few years reversing years of alcohol abuse, so we’re not sure how a rocker about relapsing has aged with him, but it still sounds great -- the way the rhythm section shuffles through the verses, exploding into a chorus that chugs like of Queens of the Stone Age.


9. Green Day - “Armatage Shanks”

Dig into their album tracks and sure, you’ll find a lot of Green Day songs that sound a lot alike, but clearly, a band with their acumen is going to have some hidden gems. A cut that leads off an album -- like this one did with Insomniac -- isn’t all that deep, but it nails the angry, infectious two-minute punk song model so well. It’s all hooks at breakneck speed, with bassist Mike Dirnt (who might’ve done his best playing on Insomniac) guiding it along with rubbery precision. It also takes its name from an English toilet brand.


8. Green Day - “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Green Day’s sound has shape-shifted plenty of times, and the rock operas, the ballads -- even the underrated experimentation on Warning -- probably don’t happen if not for this very important career pivot. Billie Joe wrote “Good Riddance” in 1990 and didn’t show it to his bandmates until the Dookie sessions; for 1997’s Nimrod, they finally got the courage to go ahead with it. To make the ballad even less punk, producer Rob Cavallo added a violin section, and the band took yet another (necessary) step away from its days in the Berkeley punk scene. None of this would’ve mattered if the song wasn’t poignant and striking, which countless proms, graduations and assorted farewells have proved it to be.


7. Green Day - “Welcome to Paradise”

It’s not easy to get punk bands to polish up and re-record old songs for a major label debut; big record deals have fallen apart over this sort of give and take. But Geffen Records and Cavallo sensed the greatness when they heard this one on Kerplunk, Green Day’s final independent release. There’s Dirnt providing spot-on background vocals to sell the hook; there’s Tré Cool with some trademark jitterbug drum fills; and there's subtle wordplay from Billie Joe -- the “cracked streets / broken homes” pairing is one for the top of the résumé.


6. Green Day - “Brain Stew”

The bitter simplicity of Insomniac was very much a response to the mainstream success of Dookie, released just a year earlier. On “Brain Stew” -- arguably Insomniac’s biggest single -- Green Day doubled down on the minimalism of “Longview” and wrote a song that opened like a beginner’s guide to playing electric guitar. But the trio hammers it home in bludgeoning fashion, with one last “On my own, here we go” from Billie Joe leading into a thunderous final minute. 

5. Green Day - “Jesus of Suburbia” 

Imagine the skepticism of someone -- fresh off the lukewarm reception of Warning -- hearing that Green Day was returning with a rock opera. Then you hear this nine-minute concoction, following up the classic Green Day sound of “American Idiot,” and realize these guys actually might’ve reinvented themselves succesfully. On that album 12 years ago, they absolutely did, and more than any, this Green Day song (which is basically four different anthems sewn together) unlocked a new dimension in their songwriting, and sent the American Idiot protagonist off on his journey. 


4. Green Day - "Basket Case"

These days simply #TalkingAboutIt is seen as an important step in improving mental health and back in 1994, Billie Joe did a lot to get the conversation going with a song about it that was all over the radio. His confessions of chronic anxiety alongside weed smoking (he can’t tell if it’s helping or making it worse) go down easily with exuberant guitar hooks, and that second verse is one for the ages. A psychologist tells Billie Joe sex will lift his spirits, and we hear he’s gone to a prostitute…  only to pay another person just to listen to his problems.


3. Green Day - “Holiday”

Green Day spends a lot of time on American Idiot’s first half calling out the Bush administration, and never are they more scathingly powerful than on “Holiday.” “American Idiot” still slaps, but there’s a desperation underneath the driving guitars here, a sense of decay that powers this one home, all the way to how Billie Joe holds out the last “HOLIDAYYY!” It goes without saying that he’s already applied it to Donald Trump


2. Green Day - “When I Come Around”

There comes a time in every punk band’s life when it's got to write a Lynyrd Skynyrd riff… okay, maybe not, but this reckless guitar lead was an early taste of the magic that let Green Day break the punk-rock mold. They weren’t afraid to think big, but (at least here) never got in over their heads. On Dookie, the trio sounds just as at home goofing through “Longview” as it does dressing up as arena rockers on this fourth single, which became a massive rock radio hit in 1995. 


1. Green Day - “Longview”

This was Green Day’s lead single off Dookie, and when you’re introducing yourself to a mainstream audience as a power trio, you gotta let each member do their thing. “Longview” proclaims the presence of each of its members one at a time -- Cool opening with those shuffling, popcorn drumbeats, Dirnt strutting in with the instantly recognizable walking bass line and Billie Joe's guitar and vocal sneer rising out of the minimalism into slacker catharsis. It’s a template for how the most basic rock band setup can use its simple parts to create a powerful whole, and it’s cool enough to hide its big-time aspirations. Green Day has inspired waves and eras of haters crying “Sellout!,” but anyone who disses this song is probably just trying too hard. 

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