Green Day - Dookie

In May 1994, the former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra walked into the DIY Berkeley punk venue 924 Gilman Street, and he didn’t walk out again. While Biafra was watching whatever band he was watching, he got into an argument with a gang of miscreants. That argument ended in an all-out beatdown, five or six guys stomping out Biafra, seriously injuring him and sending him to the hospital. Nobody at Gilman would talk to cops, and the case remains unsolved. The reasons for the beatdown were probably standard drunk-logic things, but during the attack, those guys kept calling Biafra one thing, and that thing was “sellout.” That is a goofy-as-hell epithet for a guy who helped build American DIY punk up in the early ’80s and who devoted years to fighting Tipper Gore’s PMRC, who never signed on with any corporate concerns. But this must’ve been a raw time at Gilman. A few months earlier, one band who came up at the venue had signed with Reprise and released their first major-label album, and they were well on their way toward becoming one of the most popular rock bands on the planet. The minute Green Day signed their major-label deal, the operators of Gilman Street banned them for life. This was just the way culture wars looked back then.

Honestly, by 1994, Green Day were probably too big for Gilman Street anyway. Kerplunk, the 1992 debut they released on Lookout!, had sold crazy numbers for an independent punk album and catapulted the band way past its immediate inspirations and contemporaries, the Operation Ivys and Crimpshrines and J Churches of the world. The band was always a product of its environment — snotty dirty kids from poor, broken homes who felt most at home when they found that tiny pocket society comprised entirely of snotty, dirty kids. But they also wrote catchy songs, and you can’t hold down a band who writes catchy songs. There was a Beatley tightness to Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt’s harmonies, and the sugar-rush propulsion in the band’s speed was friendlier than what most of their peers could pull off. It’s not that Green Day were a better punk band than their Gilman peers; that was a ridiculously fertile scene, and those early Jawbreaker records, for instance, still resonate as classics of their form. But Green Day projected in a way that those other bands didn’t. And one of the remarkable things about Dookie is the way the band’s sound meshed with that cleaner, more compressed major-label production style. They could make that leap, and a band like Jawbreaker, who signed and released the strong but knotty Dear You album a year later, couldn’t.

Dookie is an early-’90s California punk record, but it’s a great one, and it’s also better-recorded than pretty much any other early-’90s California punk record. (Credit producer Rob Cavallo, who’d worked on the Purple Rain soundtrack but who found his first big-leagues production job on Dookie. He went on to work with the Goo Goo Dolls and Kid Rock and Phil Collins, and who’s now the chairman of Warner Bros. During that major-label courting period, he was the only person who could talk to the members of Green Day and make them feel like human beings.) The party line, among rock critics and radio-station personalities, was that Green Day sounded like the Buzzcocks, but that wasn’t right at all. (In fact, it might’ve just been a way for modern rock radio DJs to announce that they knew who the Buzzcocks were, something you don’t often get to do when you’re playing World Party and Soul Asylum records.) Green Day didn’t have the Buzzcocks’ all-out tinny urgency; their sound was full and warm and open and friendly; Dirnt’s basslines were downright lush. The lyrics were about anxiety and boredom and sexual frustration, and they were full of sly little touches like the whore on “Basket Case” being a “he.” But all that angst was delivered with vigor and humor and a sense of fun, which is what immediately set them apart when Green Day finally showed up on the radio.

The real reason Green Day had a chance at being famous might be the most unpunk thing they’d ever done musically at that point: Dirnt’s wandering-village-idiot bassline on “Longview,” reportedly written and half-forgotten during an acid binge. The day after I heard that on the radio for the first time, all my eighth-grade friends spent the recess yelling bur-dur-ding-ding-ding at each other while we played handball. It certainly helped that this bassline came attached to a deeply catchy pop song with a confident build and lyrics about jerking off and smelling shit shit. Green Day’s toilet-humor side, most of which came from incorrigible ADD-brat drummer Tre Cool, was dumb as fuck, but it made sense to children in a way that Eddie Vedder’s high-school poetry didn’t always. That’s another massively important part of Green Day’s success: They arrived at the exact moment when grunge started to feel oppressive. They were too busy lobbing melodic spitballs at everyone to sink into their own depression. If I’m remembering this right, “Longview” took off at radio at almost the same time that Kurt Cobain killed himself. And if the eighth-graders of the world needed a break from fuzzed-up klonopin-rock, maybe that was why. With their short songs and Pixie Stix melodies and cartoon cover art and poop-joke album title, Green Day felt like the opposite of all that. I don’t know how much play they were getting on college campuses, but they were kings of my middle school.

It would be ridiculous to call Dookie the most important punk rock album of all time, but it pulled off a trick that no previous punk album had managed. It hit that level, like Journey’s Infinity or Def Leppard’s Hysteria or Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Van Halen II, where it felt like every other song was in radio rotation at some point. It became omnipresent, a part of the air. (For the sake of argument, we’re proceeding here under the assumption that Nevermind isn’t a punk album, which is arguable, and that Tragic Kingdom and American Idiot also aren’t, which, come on, they aren’t.) It took a while for the band to sink in. Like Rage Against The Machine the year before, Green Day played first on the Lollapalooza tour main stage that summer, hitting the stage before L7 and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and everyone else, though it was obvious enough by the end of the summer that they were one of the biggest draws on the tour. (Fascinating trivial note: Green Day only played the second half of the tour that year. Their first-half equivalent was the motherfucking Boredoms.) And soon enough, they were absolutely entrenched. It must’ve been weird for the band members to hear “Welcome To Paradise,” a repurposed Kerplunk song about finding a home at Gilman Street, on the radio next to Toad The Wet Sprocket, but that song, and others like it, worked as a gateway drug for kids like me to find our own Gilman Streets.

Because that’s another thing. Punk rock, especially of the California popcore variety, blew the fuck up in the wake of Dookie. First up were the Offspring, whose Smash was almost as big a deal as Dookie. Those two albums led to radio love for Rancid and a resurgent Bad Religion and eventually every ska-punk band of the late ’90s. They led to the Warped Tour and Mountain Dew commercials and the Tony Hawk Boom Boom HuckJam. Almost as much as the one-two punch of Nevermind and Ten, they changed things on a macro-cultural level, though maybe not for the best. But they also led to something else: To kids like me digging deeper, learning about Operation Ivy and Agent Orange and NOFX, and maybe sort of saving our lives in the process. That’s something I’ll get to more when I write about Let’s Go and albums like that, but it ended up being huge for me and for thousands like me, and it all starts with Dookie.

Anyway. Let’s watch some videos and then take this nostalgia party to the comments section.

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Comments (57)
  1. thanks Dookie for being the alarm clock to my musical awakening

  2. Worth noting: 924 Gilman is still around, and now it has a “conscious hip hop night,” which yee. If you guys are in town, you should go see Loma Prieta there tonight.

    • Yeah and let’s not forget that …Spandau Ballet’s Parade turns 30.

    • As a hardcore Green Day fan, I made a pilgrimage to 924 last year and just loitered in the doorway in awe. I was a little late to the game, but Green Day became one of my all-time favorite bands. I can’t begin to describe the resilience and excitement I feel when I crank their records. It’s joy incarnate.

  3. still a great record. I really how there is a write up on “Smash” for it’s 20th anniversary.

  4. Best memories of the Dookie days are of requesting “Basketcase” at D.A.R.E. dances in 6th grade and figuring out which girls were “skaters” based on their ability to agree with the decision to do so, alongside driving to basketball practice in the cold of winter with my mom as “When I Came Around” climbed up the 96.5 TIC FM top 10 countdown, probably sandwiched between R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” and Zhane’s “Hey Mr. DJ.”

    • 96.5! Did you grow up in CT? Cause basically you just described was my freshman year of high school…

      • ignore “was”

      • Nope, but just across the state line in MA! As I type, I’m watching “When I Come Around” and am brainstorming my head, think of about the 20 songs that comprised its top 10 countdown between ’94 – ’95. And then when it was done, you’d go watch My So-Called Life.

  5. I hate this a lot less than I did 20 years ago.

  6. You didn’t mention much of the visual aspect of Green Day at the time, but I particularly remember seeing the “Longview” video and thinking Billie looked like a dirtbag. I thought that was so cool as a 12 year old. Compared to everything else on MTV at the time, seeing that video with all the zits, sweat and pot marks really made it seem genuine

  7. This was my first experience (I was a 6th grader in my defense) of everyone that was cool in school loving the absolute shit out of this album when it came out, then 4 months later when everyone that was uncool in school as well loving this album, that it became extremely uncool to like it any longer or admit that you ever liked/owned it. It’s like, but this is ‘edgy’ and ‘punk’ (to a middle schooler), but then it became apparent that the only bands worth listening to if you were cool or trying to be cool were local bands or bands a lot more obscure than Green Day (even if way shittier, which was nearly always the case). That said, I loved it when it came out, jumped on the hater bandwagon when everyone else did, and had some nostalgia for it when I grew up a little bit. Other than the nostalgia though, can’t say I think too much of it at this point. That ‘hidden track’ was so stupid and ridiculous, but I will likely never forget it. It was definitely an important and era-defining album though, there’s no denying that.

    • i was always also in the 6th grade and my school probably like many more had the same love and near instant backlash. i was one of the lone stalwarts. i loved it and didnt give a shit if it wasnt cool to like them anymore, it wasnt why i liked them in the first place. they blew my hair back.

      i probably drew the explosion from the album cover with ‘DOOKIE’ written int he mushroom cloud 1,000 times: on binders, bookcovers, notebook paper, the walls of my house when my parents were changing the wallpaper.

      my parents also would take the cd away from me when they heard ‘masturbation’ and ‘shit’ and ‘fuckin’ on longview. i’d borrow friends’ copies and listen to it at low volume late at night. absolutely obsessed.

      • Gotta respect a man that sticks to his guns. Although I would’ve called you a poser 20 years ago to be fair, even though I was obviously the real poser. The wisdom teeth are out, dog.

  8. I was in my 2nd year of college when this came out. I remember it being all over MTV but nobody was listening to privately in their dorms/cars/apartments. For whatever reason it seemed cooler to be into the 1st Weezer album and the Smashing Pumpkins than to listen to Dookie. I’ve never been a fan.

  9. I’d never heard of World Party before your offhand mention of them in this article, so I looked them up. Catchy!

    My brother got me the Green Day Rock Band game for the Wii and that was always good for when the whole family was over. If had the whole Dookie album on it.

  10. As I kid, I used to get really disappointed when I’d buy a cassette or cd and it didn’t have a hidden track. Needless to say, Dookie did not disappoint.

    • Oh the 90s, when it just wasn’t cool if you didn’t have a hidden track of some sort. It was like the album was incomplete. Best hidden tracks?

      • The one on Beck’s Mutations might be the best song on the album.

      • I’ll the second the point about the hidden track on Around the Fur. And I will always have a soft spot for my first hidden track experience, “Endless Nameless” on Nevermind. Beck hidden tracks were pretty hit and miss –– the ones on Mellow Gold and Odelay kind of pissed me off. Same goes with the one on SY’s Experimental Jet Set. It kind of ruins “Sweet Shine,” which is the best song on that album.

  11. Brings me right back to the back of the schoolbus in grade 8. I must have played that cassette tape about 400 times on my Walkman.

    No matter how shitty of a day I had, (and I had alot of them at that age when I was a foot short and had terrible glasses), i could always look forward to getting lost in music and lyrics that really had meaning for me at that awkward age.

  12. It’s funny, when this came out it seemed like it was EVERYWHERE and everyone else had a copy so I never needed to get it – it was only about a year ago that I realised I didn’t actually have a copy of Dookie. I just always assumed it was in there somewhere. So I got one.

  13. That was one of my fave Gum pieces ever. Definitely agree that the Longview bassline was the most crucial thing in their career and thus the resurgence of punk. The lack of guitars in the verse and that quiet bass were ripped straight from the playbook of Nirvana/Pixies, which made Green Day work as the gateway drug from grunge to pop-punk. Yet the bassline was different than anything Nirvana or Pixies would have done. The music gods were very cruel to take away Kurt/Pixies/etc. but they sure lined up the right scene of replacements for us at the right time. (I was in 7th grade.)

    P.S. Surely you meant Van Halen I, right? II sucked.

  14. I always loved Dookie but I am so, so sick of Green Day. I hate them so much that it kind of cancels out how much I loved Dookie as a kid. They’re just about the biggest sellouts I can imagine.

  15. This was the first album I ever bought, like REALLY bought with my own money. I also had one of the little Ernie dolls like in the album art and hung it in my locker in 6th grade. Needless to say I ruled.

  16. Green Day was the first band that I obsessed over and Dookie was the album that started it all. Plus it was the staple of turning 13. I remember watching Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes in hope that I can record their performances and music video premieres. I remember being sick and staying home from school. I flipped to MTV in the mid afternoon and caught the premiere of Basket Case. I don’t know why, but I felt special that I was one of the first people to experience such a rare moment. Whenever I hear their signature songs on the radio, it takes me back to those endearing years of childhood and how I was considered one of the cool kids for listening to such a band even though my appearance at the time would suggest otherwise. Now we need a 20th anniversary reissue with unreleased material.

  17. Seeing a whole bunch of these nostalgic articles about great albums released in 1994 is going to be heavy man. The entire landscape is different now. Everyone had a copy of Dookie, even lame people that didn’t otherwise listen to music. Those songs were all over the place. Rock is a blip now, a tweet your eyes scan past and ignore. But then, the rock meant so much to so many, and whole subcultures could explode around that music.

    These songs all got burned into my subconscious, to the extent that I can still sing them and play them on guitar today on automatic. I’d like to think I would have found the Sex Pistols, NOFX, Black Flag and God knows how many of my other favorite teenage obsessions without the help of Green Day pointing me in the right direction, but for me and millions like me they arrived at just the right time.

    Out of curiosity, are there new bands like this that 12 year olds listen to these days, or do kids just snapchat each other and watch viral videos all the time?

  18. man, green day was the biggest fucking deal to me. after a summer of watching music videos at my cousin’s house all summer, i picked up the cassette (which was blue) at nj’s us 1 flea market, needing to walk out of there with something in my hands and remembering the longview video. that market, incidentally, was bulldozed to become a lowes theater, the first i’d ever been to with stadium seating and so i guess the loss of a cassette market was no big deal to me.

    i popped it into my reference-book sized walkman in my mom’s car and turned it up. every song was killer to an offbeat kid just entering sixth grade. the nasally all by myself that is perfect for pre-pubescent sing-along. the weird hidden, scandalous pleasure of listening to a song about blowing people up on headphones while my mom drove me around having no idea about the weird shit that amused wayward kids. and none of it was what being a so-called real punk was. but i’d discover the casualties, and degenerics that year, and a place called the palace – all so much more so. and it’s because of green day.

    but sitting around a karaoke machine with blue haired friends singing ‘when i come around’ was nowhere near as badass as we felt it was. i spent a year listening to dookie (and nirvana’s unplugged). i replaced my nirvana t-shirts with green day ones, ordered from various mail order catalogs to avoid having the shitty ones of album covers that more popular kids would find at hot topic. my basket case shirt (http://i.ebayimg.com/t/VINTAGE-GREEN-DAY-BASKET-CASE-94-T-SHIRT-1990S-1994-L-ORIGINAL-/00/s/MTYwMFgxMjc0/$(KGrHqVHJEIE88cr4tFRBPU9gpsHH!~~60_57.JPG) , a gift from my baby sitter, suspended me from a neighbor’s fence i tried to jump playing manhunt and was more or less unwearable after that.

  19. Was in middle school when this came out……

    ….wow, I’m getting old :-\

  20. True story: One morning in eighth grade, while the whole student body was piled into the bleachers before school got going for the day, I got into a fight with a kid over whether Green Day (my band) or Pearl Jam (his band) were better. Along the way, I’m pretty sure I called him white trash because he said his parents were going to vote against an upcoming school property tax hike.

    It got busted up pretty quickly, but I got away with just an “indoor recess” because I mentioned the property tax thing to the principal, who liked me anyway because I was a nerd.

    Also, I’d still take Dookie over PJ’s entire discography.

  21. Here’s a story from Sweden: I listened to that album every day for a couple of months that spring/early summer of -94. I loved it. I remember being at a small festival in June (I was 23, yeah I’m old, get over it) and one of the bands (think they were called Wagon) played a part of “Basket Case” during their soundcheck and, yeah, that’s pretty much the only thing I remember about that festival. Fast forward a couple of months and I hated that album and still can’t listen to it, nor anything Green Day, today. Since I already had listened to it that much before it went the 90′s version of viral it just got too much I guess. The funny thing is that with The Blue Album it was pretty much the same thing and I still adore it to this day. Guess I never really was a punk rocker after all?

  22. Nice article. One thing that really made the band blow up was their mud throwing performance at Woodstock. After that, I think they really became iconic. For a little while anyway. One thing that happened that is kind of funny is I saw them play Lollapalooza the week before and they killed. They went on second or third that day. I remember when they hit the stage kids were feverishly jumping over walls and racing to their seats to fill a half empty amphitheatre. What stood out was how much fun they were having and also their musicianship. In comparison, the Beasties hit the stage a couple of hours later and actually tried to make jokes about how Green Day sucked. What was even more pathetic was how they could barely play their instruments during “Sabotage”. After that day you knew the band were going to be huge.

  23. This was one of the very first albums that I actually bought for myself after I got a CD player. I was only 11 at the time and my mom (who worked in SoHo) would take me to Disc-o-Rama whenever I went to work with her. I always looked forward to taking that trip on her lunch break and picking something out. I also remember Vitalogy, the Blue Album, Pisces Iscariot, and Smash being in my first stack of albums at that time. It’s interesting because I see other people saying this made them cool. I was definitely NOT a cool kid in school (I grew up in Ozone Park/Howard Beach, which was more Jersey Shore type culture), but there was a totally different crowd at my summer camp where I always felt a lot more comfortable wearing Airwalks and being alternative (LOL Airwalks). Green Day was such a huge huge HUGE part of that, probably for everyone in our age bracket.

    Damn. All of the 20 year old throw-back posts in the next few years are really going to be a f*cking trip.

  24. I was in 3rd grade for this album.

    Singing about masturbation on the way home from school..my mom in the driver’s seat.

    I hope I never understand how uncomfortable she was during those moments,

  25. I’m not quite the superfan #1 that I was in ’94/’95 (I was the perfect age — 14) but I believe 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (which was a combo of their actual debut LP 39/smooth and some EP tracks) was their debut on Lookout, not Kerplunk. Either way, thanks for writing this, brings back some good (and bad) memories. It’s interesting how you can still love an album 20 years later but for entirely different reasons. Now I appreciate the effortless sense of melody and song structure. Obviously back then it was the lyrics and energy that hooked me. This album, plus Rancid’s Let’s Go, plus In Utero, are what inspired me to start a band. We probably played When I Come Around a couple hundred times.

  26. i guess every two days we’ll be doing another “blah blah came out 20 years ago”, because 1994 was pretty jam packed. i wonder if you’ll do a mellow gold 20 year or are you going to skip over that and wait til odelay’s anniversary in 2016.

  27. 1994. Wow. What a year.

  28. God, yes. This was the soundtrack to every sixth-grade mixer. Green Day, Offspring, and POGS; those were the days.

  29. Funny. When Dookie came out I was going through a bit of a punk phase. And I really liked Dookie. But when I heard Rancid that Green Day stuff came to a screeching halt. Truth be told.

  30. Ahhh, the bowling shirt.

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