Quick histories of punk rock often highlight the immortal class of 1977 (Pistols, Clash, Ramones) and then jump to the crossover success of Nirvana and Green Day in the 90s. That’s entirely misleading, overlooking an multitude of amazing punk and post-punk albums in between, but there’s a reason “Dookie” remains such a landmark. For those well-versed in Fugazi, the Replacements and everything in between, punk never went anywhere. But for major labels and the music biz at large, “Dookie” forced the powers that be to once again pay attention to punk rock.
After forming in 1987, Green Day found a home in the tight-knit East Bay, CA punk scene, though they didn’t plan on stopping there — especially frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who wrote sugary, almost bubblegum choruses and ditched punk’s heavier subjects (at least until an album called “American Idiot”) in favor of crowd-pleasing takes on girls, boredom, drug use and masturbation. In 2009 “American Idiot” was adapted into a Broadway musical. Just last December, Armstrong released a collaborative album of Everly Brothers covers with Norah Jones. These days, it’s no secret that Armstrong is a big-time poptimist. In 1994, “Dookie” first proclaimed this to the world outside the East Bay punk scene.
In 1992, Green Day released “Kerplunk,” their second studio album via the independent Lookout! Records. Its tightly-wound pop-punk hooks (including one on an early version called “Welcome to Paradise”) caught the ear of Rob Cavallo, then a junior A&R scout at Reprise Records. Cavallo signed the band and agreed to produce “Dookie,” along with mixing from Jerry Finn, who provided it with just enough radio-friendly gloss.
While the punk scene back home disowned them, the rest of America embraced Green Day. “Dookie” produced five hit singles, won them a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, and to date, has sold over 8 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen Soundscan. With Feb. 1, 2014 marking the 20th anniversary of its release, join Billboard in this track-by-track re-examination of one of punk’s greatest chart successes.
“I declare I don’t care no more” sings Billie Joe Armstrong to open the album. It’s the perfect opening line for a major label debut of post-Nirvana alt-rockers more concerned with smoking weed than worrying about their former punk friends calling them sellouts. Musically, it’s a two-minute burst of buzzsaw guitar and snotty hooks from Armstrong that sets the perfect tone for “Dookie.”
2. Having a Blast
Green Day keeps the early album energy going here with the angsty “Having a Blast.” Slinging hooks over choppy guitars, Armstrong sings about tying explosives to himself and pleas, “Think about the times we’ve spent and what they’ve meant” in an apparent breakup rant. Slinging hooks over choppy guitars, he continues to up the ante, with the album’s best songs around the corner.
With so many albums front-loaded with their best tracks, “Dookie” always earns brownie points for setting the stage with the buildup of a few promising non-singles. “Chump” is the final such song in this sequence, and although it’s punchy and likable in its own right, its most memorable moment is probably its closing guitar swells and drum groove, essentially laying out the red carpet for “Dookie’s” first big hit.
“Longview” is best known for Mike Dirnt’s irresistible walking bass line, and rightfully so, for it inspired countless suburban kids to pick up a bass guitar. But in a song where the three Green Day instruments are used in such isolation (beginning with Tré Cool’s drum intro) all the players deserve a nod for selling their parts so distinctively. It’s when Armstrong’s driving power chords kick in the chorus that the song reaches the stratosphere of adolescent RAWK catchiness, making the buildup all the more satisfying.
5. Welcome to Paradise
This was the lone “Kerplunk” track to be re-recorded for the major label debut. While punks and indie rockers are often guilt-tripped for succumbing to “the man” so openly, can anyone blame Green Day here? Similar to the three opening tracks but with a more nuanced hook, this tongue-in-cheek ode to the band’s humble surroundings caught on as “Dookie’s” second single and further cemented their status as hitmakers.
6. Pulling Teeth
Though it never achieved the status of “Dookie’s” classic singles, “Pulling Teeth” shows off Armstrong’s songwriting acumen, with soothing Beatles-like melody in the verses. Lyrically, he’s in one of his usual distressed states, pledging his allegiance to the girl by his side.
7. Basket Case
Speaking of distress, “Basket Case” takes a dive into Armstrong’s stormy mental torment, covering his anxiety attacks and panic disorder diagnosis. It’s bleak, sure, but it became one of “Dookie’s” biggest hits, with Green Day’s slacker fans relating and singing along.
Closing out the impressive string of singles down the middle of “Dookie’s” tracklist is “She,” the fifth and final single from the album. The band refuse to take their feet off the gas, whipping out more rapid-fire punk riffs and sneering hooks. Armstrong wrote the song in response to a feminist poem (also titled “She”) an ex-girlfriend showed him; she dumped him and moved to Ecuador, assuring its placement on “Dookie.”
9. Sassafras Roots
What do you know, a Green Day song about wasting time! With the pop-punk parade hardly slowing down, Armstrong sings what sounds like an inner monologue of getting ready to call a crush on the landline (this is 1994 after all): “I’m always like you with nothing else to do; can I waste your time, too?” In reality, it was written about the same ex-girlfriend that inspired “Chump” and “She.”
10. When I Come Around
If there’s one track that pushes “Dookie” from punk rock to straight-up RAWK, it’s “When I Come Around.” By channeling a Warped Tour strain of Lynyrd Skynyrd in the opening guitar run, Green Day proved themselves to the classic rock fans (it’s no surprise this song is still heard aplenty on rock radio) and showed their arena rock aspirations for the first time.
11. Coming Clean
In one of the record’s more forgotten songs, Armstrong offers some of his most confessional lyrics, opening up about his bisexuality: “I’ve found out what it takes to be a man; now mom and dad will never understand what’s happening to me.”
12. Emenius Sleepus
This cut continues the trend of brief, less-than-two-minute tracks to close out “Dookie.” The hook is there, of course, even if this tale about an old friend comes off a tad underwritten compared to other cuts. If nothing else, it’s a solid trivia question, as the only “Dookie” song with lyrics written by bassist Mike Dirnt.
13. In the End
With another brief, hook-laden song, “Dookie” reverts to a more familiar flow for a punk album — think the Stiff Little Fingers or Operation Ivy records that inspired Green Day in the first place. But even when operating with less than to minutes, the band preserves the classic verse/chorus/bridge pop structure.
No, it’s not quite “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” If nothing else, Billie Joe gets points for at least trying to close an album of charged-up punk songs with strumming of the ol’ acoustic guitar. Well, until the electric guitars decide they just couldn’t resist, and come in around the minute-and-a-half mark. The title stands for “fuck off and die” (as the lyrics reveal) with Armstrong sending a literal lyrical good riddance.
15. All By Myself (hidden track)
If you made it through the silence after “F.O.D.” you stumbled upon this hidden track, written and sung by Tré Cool. It was unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your take on novelty songs by drummers about masturbation) his last major vocal contribution to Green Day.