Green Day History
Formation and Lookout years: 1987–1993
In 1987, friends Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, 15 years old at the time, formed a band called Sweet Children. The first Sweet Children show took place on October 17, 1987, at Rod’s Hickory Pit in Vallejo, California where Armstrong’s mother was working. In 1988, Armstrong and Dirnt began working with former Isocracy drummer, John Kiffmeyer (also known as Al Sobrante). Kiffmeyer served as both the band’s drummer and business manager, handling the booking of shows and helping the band establish a fan base.
Larry Livermore, owner of Lookout! Records, saw the band play an early show and signed them to his label. In 1989 they recorded their first EP, 1,000 Hours. Before 1,000 Hours was released, the band dropped the name Sweet Children, according to Livermore this was done to avoid confusion with another local band Sweet Baby. The band adopted the name Green Day, allegedly due to their fondness of marijuana.
Lookout! would release Green Day’s first LP, 39/Smooth in early 1990. Green Day would record two EPs later that year: Slappy and Sweet Children, the latter of which included some older songs they had recorded for Minneapolis indie label Skene! Records. In 1991, Lookout! Records released 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, a compilation of the 39/Smooth, Slappy, and 1,000 Hours EPs. In late 1990, shortly after the band’s first nationwide tour, Sobrante left the East Bay area to attend college. The Lookouts drummer Tré Cool began filling in as a temporary replacement, and when it became clear that Sobrante did not plan to commit to the band full time, Tré Cool’s position as Green Day’s drummer became permanent. The band went on tour for most of 1992 and 1993, and played a stretch of shows overseas in Europe. The band’s second full length album Kerplunk sold about 50,000 copies in the U.S.
Breakthrough success: 1994–1996
Kerplunk’s underground success led to a wave of interest coming from major record labels, and they eventually left Lookout! on friendly terms and signed with Reprise Records after attracting the attention of producer Rob Cavallo. Signing to Reprise caused many punk rock fans to regard Green Day as sellouts. Reflecting on the period, Armstrong told Spin magazine in 1999, “I couldn’t go back to the punk scene, whether we were the biggest success in the world or the biggest failure … The only thing I could do was get on my bike and go forward.” After signing with Reprise, the band went to work on recording its major label debut, Dookie.
Released in February 1994, and recorded in 3 weeks, Dookie became a commercial success, helped by extensive MTV airplay for the videos of the songs “Longview”, “Basket Case”, and “When I Come Around”, all of which reached the number one position on the Modern Rock Tracks charts. That year, Green Day embarked on a nationwide tour with queercore band Pansy Division as its opening act. At a September 9, 1994 concert at Boston Esplanade, mayhem broke-out during the band’s set (cut short to seven songs) and by the end of the rampage, 100 people were injured and 45 arrested. The band also joined the lineups of both the Lollapalooza festival and Woodstock 1994, where they started an infamous mud fight. During the concert, a security guard mistook bassist Mike Dirnt for a stage-invading fan and punched out some of his teeth. Viewed by millions by pay-per-view television, the Woodstock 1994 performance further aided Green Day’s growing publicity and recognition, and helped push its album to eventual diamond status. In 1995, Dookie won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and the band was nominated for 9 MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year.
In 1995, a new single for the Angus soundtrack was released, titled “J.A.R.”. The single went straight to number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song was followed by the band’s new album, Insomniac, which was released in the fall of 1995. Insomniac was a much darker and heavier response by the band, compared to the poppier, more melodic Dookie. Insomniac opened to a warm critical reception, earning 4 out of 5 stars from Rolling Stone, which said “In punk, the good stuff actually unfolds and gains meaning as you listen without sacrificing any of its electric, haywire immediacy. And Green Day are as good as this stuff gets.” Insomniac used a piece of art by Winston Smith entitled God Told Me to Skin You Alive for its album cover. The singles released from Insomniac were “Geek Stink Breath”, “Brain Stew/Jaded”, “Walking Contradiction”, and “Stuck With Me”. Though the album did not approach the success of Dookie, it still sold two million copies in the United States. Insomniac won the band award nominations for Favorite Artist, Favorite Hard Rock Artist, and Favorite Alternative Artist at the 1996 American Music Awards, and the video for “Walking Contradiction” got the band a Grammy nomination for Best Video, Short Form, in addition to a Best Special Effects nomination at the MTV Video Music Awards. After that, the band abruptly cancelled a European tour, citing exhaustion.
Middle era and fall in popularity: 1997–2002
After taking a break in 1996, Green Day began to work on a new album in 1997. From the outset, both the band and Cavallo agreed that the album had to be different from its previous records. The result was Nimrod, an experimental deviation from the band’s standard pop-punk brand of music. The new album was released in October 1997. It provided a variety of music, from pop-punk, surf rock, and ska, to an acoustic ballad. Nimrod entered the charts at number 10. The success of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” won the band an MTV Video Award for Best Alternative Video for the song’s video, which depicted people undergoing major changes in their lives while Billie Joe Armstrong strummed his acoustic guitar. The song was also used in the second “clip show” episode of Seinfeld and on two episodes of ER. The other singles released from Nimrod were “Nice Guys Finish Last”, “Hitchin’ a Ride” and “Redundant”. The band made a guest appearance in an episode of King of the Hill entitled “The Man Who Shot Cane Skretteberg”, which aired in 1997.
In 2000, Green Day released Warning, a step further in the style that they had hinted at with Nimrod. Critics’ reviews of the album were varied. Allmusic gave it 4.5/5 saying “Warning may not be an innovative record per se, but it’s tremendously satisfying.” Rolling Stone was more critical, giving it 3/5, and saying “Warning… invites the question: Who wants to listen to songs of faith, hope and social commentary from what used to be snot-core’s biggest-selling band?” Though it produced the hit “Minority” and a smaller hit with “Warning”, some observers were coming to the conclusion that the band was losing relevance, and a decline in popularity followed. While all of Green Day’s past albums had reached a status of at least double platinum, Warning was only certified gold.
At the 2001 California Music Awards, Green Day won all eight awards that they were nominated for. They won the awards for Outstanding Album (Warning), Outstanding Punk Rock/Ska Album (Warning), Outstanding Group, Outstanding Male Vocalist, Outstanding Bassist, Outstanding Drummer, Outstanding Songwriter and Outstanding Artist.
The release of a Greatest Hits compilation, International Superhits!, and an assemblage of B-sides, Shenanigans, followed Warning. International Superhits and its companion collection of music videos, International Supervideos!, sold reasonably well, going platinum in the U.S. Shenanigans contained some of the band’s B-sides, including “Espionage” which was featured in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In the spring of 2002, Green Day co-headlined the Pop Disaster Tour with Blink-182. Despite the co-headlining title, Green Day would play each show before Blink-182, who at the time were experiencing more success. The tour was documented on the DVD Riding In Vans With Boys.
American Idiot and renewed success: 2003–2006
In the summer of 2003 the band went into a studio to write and record new material for a new album, tentatively titled Cigarettes and Valentines. After completing 20 tracks, the master tapes were stolen from the studio. The band chose not to try to re-create the stolen album, but instead started over. By the end of 2003, Green Day collaborated with Iggy Pop on two tracks for his album Skull Ring. On February 1, 2004 a new song, a cover of “I Fought the Law” made its debut on a commercial for iTunes during NFL Super Bowl XXXVIII. The band underwent serious “band therapy,” engaging in several long talks to work out the members’ differences after accusations from Dirnt and Cool that Armstrong was “the band’s Nazi” and a show-off bent on taking the limelight from the other band members.
The resulting 2004 album, American Idiot, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, the band’s first ever album to top the chart, backed by the success of the album’s first single, “American Idiot.” The album was billed as a “punk rock opera” which follows the journey of the fictitious “Jesus of Suburbia”. American Idiot won the 2005 Grammy for “Best Rock Album” and the band swept the 2005 MTV music awards, winning a total of seven of the eight awards they were nominated for, including the coveted Viewer’s Choice Award.
Through 2005, the band toured in support of the album with about 150 dates — the longest tour in its career — visiting Japan, Australia, South America and the United Kingdom, where they drew a crowd of 130,000 people over a span of two days. While touring for American Idiot, they filmed and recorded the two concerts at the Milton Keynes National Bowl in England, which was voted ‘The Best Show On Earth’ in a Kerrang! Magazine Poll.
These recordings were released as a live CD and DVD called Bullet in a Bible on November 15, 2005. This CD/DVD featured hits from American Idiot as well as a few songs from all its previous albums, except “Kerplunk” and “1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours”. The DVD featured behind-the-scenes footage of the band, and showed how the band prepared to put on the show. The final shows of its 2005 world tour were in Sydney, Australia, and Melbourne, Australia, on December 14 and 17 respectively. On January 10, 2006 the band was awarded with a People’s Choice Award for favorite group.
On August 1, 2005, Green Day announced that that it had rescinded the master rights to its pre-Dookie material from Lookout! Records, citing a continuing breach of contract regarding unpaid royalties, a complaint shared with other Lookout! bands. The pre-Dookie material, which remained out of print for about a year, was reissued by the band’s current label, Reprise, on January 9, 2007.
In 2006, Green Day won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” which spent 16 weeks at the number one position of Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks, a record it shared along with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Scar Tissue” and Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile,” (the record has been since been beaten by Foo Fighters’ 2007 hit “The Pretender” which reigned at the top spot for 18 weeks).
Brandon Flowers of The Killers went on record in 2007 claiming that Green Day’s politically driven concept album American Idiot displays “calculated Anti-Americanism.” He explained that he has problems with the album content itself and the fact that the band’s live DVD, Bullet in a Bible, was filmed in England. The taping of the concert, featured on Bullet in a Bible, shows thousands of Europeans singing along to “American Idiot.” Stating that he felt Green Day’s DVD is a bit of a stunt, he said, “I just thought it was really cheap. To go to a place like England or Germany and sing that song – those kids aren’t taking it the same way that he meant it. And he (Billie Joe Armstrong) knew it.”
Foxboro Hot Tubs and 21st Century Breakdown: 2007–present
Green Day engaged in several other smaller projects in the time following the hype of American Idiot. Green Day released a new album under the band name Foxboro Hot Tubs entitled Stop Drop and Roll!!!. In 2008, the Foxboro Hot Tubs went on a mini-tour to promote the record, hitting tiny Bay Area venues including the Stork Club in Oakland and Toot’s Tavern in Crockett, CA. One song, “Ruby Room,” even gives a shout-out to the Oakland dive bar where “the Pabst Blue Ribbon unravels.”
In an interview with Kerrang!, Armstrong revealed that 2008 would “be a fair estimate of the release date of their new untitled eighth studio album for Green Day.” In an interview with Carson Daly, Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson revealed that Butch Vig would
be producing Green Day’s forthcoming album. The span of nearly five years between American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown was the longest gap between studio albums in Green Day’s career. The band had been working on new material since January 2006. By October 2007, Armstrong had 45 songs written, but the band showed no further signs of progress until October 2008, when a video of the group recording with producer Butch Vig in the studio was posted on YouTube. Two videos showing the band in the studio were posted on YouTube. In the tour section of the band’s official website, the message “World Tour coming soon!” is shown. The writing and recording process, spanning three years and four recording studios, was finally finished in April 2009.
The new album is titled 21st Century Breakdown and was released worldwide on May 15, 2009. It has received rave reviews from the likes of Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic. The album had mainly positive reception from critics, getting an average rating between 4 and 5 stars. After the release, the album hit #1 in fourteen different countries, hitting Gold or Platinum in each. 21st Century Breakdown achieved Green Day’s best chart performance to date. The band started playing shows in California in April and early May. It was their first live show in about 3 years. Green Day is currently on a world tour that started in North America in July, 2009 and continuing around the world throughout the rest of 2009 and early 2010.