The 20 Best Green Day Songs
Mark C. Austin
If you believe that history repeats, then we're likely on the cusp of another round of Green Day greatness. Lots of bands go through ups and downs over the course of their careers, but Green Day's peaks and valleys seem more dramatic than most. From the high of Dookie being followed up by the dark, less successful Insomniac, from releasing the huge single “Good Riddance” but not following up that success on Warning, from reigniting their career with American Idiot to the mess that was Uno/Dos/Tre, Green Day have always put out great music, even when it wasn't connecting with the masses.
The interesting thing about all of this, however, is how these peaks have created all these different entry points for fans of the band, and how Dookie fans view their catalog versus how people who knew them before they were famous view it versus people who only discovered them around American Idiot view it leads to some debate about what their best material is.
So let's solve all of that once and for all.
While there are very few bad Green Day songs, picking their very best isn't easy, and it meant many of their singles and fan favorites didn't make the list, even at 20 songs. That doesn't mean “American Idiot” or “Minority” are bad; it just means that Green Day's catalog is fierce.
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Had they never had another major single, Green Day would still be out on the road doing shows because “Longview” is the type of song you can build a career on. That bassline remains a classic and will take you back to exactly where you were and how you felt the first time you heard it. And really, who doesn't like to sing about masturbation from time to time? Fun fact: “Longview” is the song they've played the most live.
19. “2000 Light Years Away”
Kerplunk has not exactly aged gracefully, but there will always be a spot at the table for “2000 Light Years Away.” Perhaps the last great love song the band wrote before they embraced their more bratty nature and yet another song where Billie Joe writes about being alone in his bedroom, which might explain why it's being paired with “Longview” in sets this year. If you've ever been in a long-distance relationship, you probably get this pick more than most.
Green Day have always known how to close out a record on a high note, and if this were a top 30 or 40 list, every single one of their album closers might have found a home on it. It's not easy to follow up a song like “Homecoming” and give American Idiot a satisfying conclusion, but Billie Joe is far too good a songwriter to fumble the ball ahead of the end zone. It might not have the epic length or bombast of other latter-era Green Day songs, but it's exactly what it needs to be.
Remember when Warning was supposed to be Green Day's big adult record? It makes sense that as an album it's a bit tighter, coming off what feels very much like a cleaning of the vaults with Nimrod. Warning is a bit of an afterthought these days since American Idiot came along next and changed everything for the band, but “Warning” is one of the catchiest songs in the Green Day canon thanks to its silly, memorable lyrics.
16. “Hitchin' a Ride”
As mentioned previously, Nimrod feels like the record where the band just tried out everything they had wanted to try previously. The result is a disjointed record that has a lot of diamonds in the rough, like “Hitchin' a Ride.” It's always fun to hear Green Day really rock out, and the way the song really explodes is one of their more shocking moments musically. Sure, it starts off as a Stray Cats throwaway, but when the energy kicks up, it's something special.
“Burnout” is the perfect song to start the album that introduced a good chunk of people to Green Day. Gone is the focus on love that dominated so much of their earlier material, replaced with a confident punk sneer that sets the stage for the rest of the album to come. If you've owned the album, you probably have all of the fills in “Burnout” committed to memory. Easily the best side one, track one in their history.
14. “See the Light”
To date, Green Day haven't exactly recaptured the magic that made American Idiot what it is, but that hasn't stopped them from taking swings at it. “See the Light” is one time where they connect and really knock things out of the park. Listen, and it's obvious why there was a period when they really felt like the biggest rock band in the world. Unfortunately it wasn't part of their musical, so it doesn't get its proper credit.
13. “Geek Stink Breath”
Hard to believe there was a time when you could film someone getting dental surgery, set it to a decidedly unpunk song and get it played on MTV. “Geek Stink Breath” was probably not the best way to sell Insomniac to the masses, as it feels so far removed from Dookie, but it does prove that not all songs about meth have to be deceptively happy. The song jams, though, and is catchier than it probably has any right to be.
“Homecoming” is, in a way, the underappreciated little brother of “Jesus of Suburbia.” Its transitions aren't as smooth, it doesn't feel as thematically satisfying, “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” comes out of left field, and yet for all of that, it's still a really great song. “The Death of St. Jimmy” is probably a top 10 Green Day song on its own, but maybe not; all the pieces of “Homecoming” are great, and were it not for its cooler older brother, feelings on it might be very different.
11. “Only of You”
There are about two albums' worth of “hopeless romantic” Billie Joe Armstrong, and while those songs might be a little rough around the edges, they all have a charm that is missing anytime he writes about love after 1994. Before they were playing arenas, they were playing clubs and wearing their hearts on their sleeves lyrically. “Only of You” is an early standout because of its über-catchy hook.
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