Green Day Albums Worst To Best

Jo Hale/Getty Images

Green Day Albums Worst To Best

Jo Hale/Getty Images

It does feel silly in 2024 to try to introduce a reader to Green Day, of all bands. You clicked on the headline, you know who Green Day are. My mom knows who Green Day are. I told my mom about this article and she said “Oh yeah, I know Green Day,” but not in the way that your parents lie to you when they want to relate to you or pretend to understand. Everyone knows Green Day. You tell people you listen to anything resembling punk rock and they say, “Oh cool, I like Green Day.”

Green Day have been a big band for almost as long as I’ve been alive. I do not have any memories of my youth that Green Day weren’t around for. I knew almost every song on Dookie before I ever got the album on CD. The band was everywhere and you could gain a quick understanding of their music by sheer cultural osmosis. It’s childish to compare bands like this, but the big battle in my elementary school was between liking Green Day and liking Blink-182. To me, Green Day was the one that was actually punk. Green Day had songs about jerking off, smoking weed, and telling the world to get bent. Blink-182 had songs about jerking off, sometimes about how work sucks. By 2004, the preppy kids at my school liked Blink-182. The jocks liked Blink. That wasn’t punk!

Of course, I know now that the most explosive thing these bands did was give censored middle fingers on MTV right before Carson Daly cut to commercial break. At the time, to kids across America, music like “American Idiot” seemed transgressive, and so to kids with no frame of reference on protest art, it was transgressive. Nobody else on national TV or the radio at the time was saying “Fuck America.” When the single for “American Idiot” dropped, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool were considered as punk as it gets. That song pulled the pin on the heart-shaped hand grenade that was American Idiot, the album, and the band blew up to more massive proportions than ever before.

Who Green Day are now isn’t who they’ve always been. If you’re over 20, that name doesn’t mean the same thing that it once did. They play punk rock (sometimes), but they’re not a punk band. They’re too big for that. The music isn’t what it once was. It’s more polished and less bratty. Complaints about girls and the punk scene on old albums are replaced by complaints about aging and whoever’s president. For listeners who have aged alongside the band, it’s trite. To new listeners branching out for the first time, Green Day are the only band who sings music like this. They are the entry point for all of the punk rock I love.

And so, 20 years after the release of American Idiot, 30 years after the release of Dookie, Green Day are coming out with a new album. The last two decades for the band have been kind to them from a monetary standpoint but perhaps a little less kind from a critical view. They still play American Idiot songs when performing on New Year’s Eve for the whole world to see, even if they have a brand new album to promote (and are playing both Dookie and American Idiot in full on the tour that’s ostensibly supporting that new album). On the topic of the new record, they’ve released a few singles and one of them is in a constantly-running Taco Bell commercial. That song is called “Look Ma, No Brains!,” which is the kind of title you’d make up if you were faking a Green Day album drop. Ahead of this Friday’s release of Saviors, I listened to every Green Day record and ranked them from worst to best.


Father Of All Motherfuckers (2020)

I knew Father Of All Motherfuckers wasn’t going to be the easiest/most pleasant listen on the list, but woof. This is a mess. From the album art, to the billboards proclaiming “No features, no Swedish songwriters, no trap beats,” to the music on the album itself, Green Day’s 2020 LP is wholly objectionable. Interviews from this era mention that the band wrote 16 songs for the record but could only find 10 songs that fit together, which is surprising considering the 10 songs here do not fit together. Nothing here makes sense. The songs are incongruous and incoherent. A couple of tracks are bad but at least sound like they could have been salvaged without messy, half-written lyrics. Maybe just one Swedish songwriter in the mix wouldn’t hurt. And perhaps they could have avoided the Gary Glitter sample. At 26 minutes, this is the shortest Green Day album, and it’s not over soon enough.


21st Century Breakdown (2009)

I’m not rich, but I assume there’s a figure of wealth that makes people stop saying “No” or “This needs a revision.” Wherever that figure lies, Green Day hit it between American Idiot and 21CB. While AI ends up as the rock opera, this album is clearly written to be the Broadway venture. “This could be the record that legitimizes punk as something that fits alongside the music of classic rock radio we all grew up with,” I can hear some press release writer saying. There are characters and a loose theme that goes through the entire record, but it’s all such a mess. This album is 70 painful minutes long. “Know Your Enemy” was annoying from the first listen, and it’s still annoying years later. It’s not a memorable album outside of “American Eulogy,” which only stands out in my mind because it’s one of the worst songs in the discography.

To be realistic, I don’t know exactly where a band who already plays arenas goes from that point. That feels like the zenith for punk rock, but Broadway is at least in line with their ambitions. A half-attempt at a rock opera got little ol’ Green Day playing stadiums. By that logic, a fully written rock opera would be a triumph of mankind’s achievement, winning the war over the fascist regime in the White House AND heralding Green Day as saviors of the world along with punk rock. This is not what happened. 21CB is the punk rock version of Jason Segel’s vampire musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.


Revolution Radio (2016)

At least it’s shorter than 21st Century Breakdown. Something happened to major-label rock around 2013 where everyone with a guitar decided it was time to do some sort of neo-glam thing. Everything sounds arena-ready in an uncanny way. It’s unnatural, forced. It’s the rise of Drama Kid Music. Everything feels built for a big sports moment or ad campaign reveal. It’s all music written for products rather than people. “Bang Bang” is grasping at the heels of “American Idiot” in search of another big, vaguely political arena-rock hit. Instead, it’s a prime example of the album’s scattered protests against social media, the radio, celebrities, mom, dad, aging, and the whole damn system, all of which sound like gripes instead of rallying cries. There’s nothing that sounds more washed than an old guy trying to sound young.


¡Uno! (2012)

On ¡Uno!, Green Day try to put their old leather jacket on only to find out that it doesn’t fit. The first in a trilogy of albums released across the end of 2012, it sets the tone that the band is trying to “kick it old school” with their influences and sound like “rockers,” but it comes off like a midlife crisis. If the biggest sin in punk rock is getting old, they’ve damned themselves with this record. I know they want to get back to the three-chords-and-a-middle-finger feeling of the punk rock they started with, but by telling people they’re doing it, they effectively stop it before it can start.


¡Dos! (2012)

The band considers this “the second Foxboro Hot Tubs record.” If you’re not familiar with the Foxboro Hot Tubs, they’re the “garage rock” band that Green Day put together between American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. (Surprise: They sound like Green Day.) Playing a pastiche of garage rock allows you a little more leniency to be goofy in ways that Green Day usually are not. There is no amount of goofiness that should allow a song like “Fuck Time” to appear on any album. It’s a joke, but nobody’s laughing. After that, the record gets somewhat decent! I was genuinely surprised they had it in them to write songs I didn’t wince through. It ranges from good (“Lazy Bones,” “Baby Eyes,” “Stray Heart”) to fine (“Lady Cobra,” which sounds REALLY close to the White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl”) to the oddest song in the catalog, “Nightlife.” Almost as befuddling is “Amy,” a song about Amy Winehouse that feels uncomfortable, to put it lightly.


¡Tré! (2012)

Easily the best of the trilogy. Sonically, exactly what I’d want and expect from a band of their size. It rocks, it has flair, and there’s a little bit of swagger. The record meets its downfall and its clear designation as Bad Green Day from Armstrong’s lyrics. Words have never been the band’s strong suit, but they become the band’s Achilles’ heel when you sit down with their albums to compare them. The problem isn’t that they’re not poetic, because that’s not what you come to a Green Day record for. The problem on later-era Green Day records is that the lyrics lack any sort of feeling, good or bad. I liked what I was listening to when I listened, but there’s nothing to grasp.

The trilogy is a strange idea, in part because no one asked for it, and also because these albums came out two months apart from each other. Armstrong references “Van Halen’s trilogy of albums,” as an inspiration without mentioning that Van Halen and Van Halen II came out a year apart from each other, and Van Halen III came out 14 years later to very sparse applause. Green Day say they recorded 37 songs for these albums, which means they gave us all 37 songs. How generous, you guys! You shouldn’t have! Really!


So in 2024, what’s the expectation for Green Day? How high or low is the bar? Dearest reader, I’m here to tell you that Green Day made a record that is, well, it’s not that bad. It’s better than ¡Tré! There are some weird moments like the showtunes-esque breakdown on the lead single, “The American Dream Is Killing Me,” but then you remember they’ve written two pop-punk musicals. Saviors is a reminder that the bright lights gave the band a flair for the dramatic but channels that into big, show-stopping moments on songs instead of the full album. For 15 years, Green Day have portrayed reluctant rockstars. They’ve promised to “return to their punk roots” in ways that don’t land on their last several records. On Saviors, they make good on those promises by making some punk songs but mostly by being themselves.

Saviors is a return to form for the band. This is their first album with Rob Cavallo in 12 years and he might know Green Day better than the band does. At the very least, he knows what Green Day should sound like. There are songs on here that, no lie, sound like modern pop-punk. “Dilemma” sounds like PUP or the Menzingers. “Strange Days Are Here To Stay” sounds like an Alkaline Trio B-side from 2005, and that’s a compliment around these parts. I will say that it’s definitely not Dookie #2. This record’s biggest drawback is its lack of memorable choruses, but it’s better than what they’ve been doing. Much better.

Like a pitcher after Tommy John surgery or a basketball player after an ACL tear, one must temper their expectations when listening to new Green Day. But I would actually tell someone to give this a spin if they like old Green Day. Sonically straddling the line between Warning: and American Idiot, it lands just short of legacy Green Day records on this ranking. It’s not far behind, though! Saviors is the record you’d expect from one of the biggest punk bands of all-time, 20 years after their last good record.


American Idiot (2004)

There’s a clear change in Green Day’s sound before and after this record. After the critical success but relative commercial failure that was Warning:, Green Day felt like they needed a hit. Well, they got it. I will be generous here, mostly because while the record’s language may not have aged well, the sentiment should be somewhat appreciated. They’re not playing Crass across Viacom and Clear Channel stations. If you want punk rock and its ethics in the spotlight, it has to get there somehow. As I said in the intro, this was the only record doing what it’s doing at a grand enough scale to get the attention of everyone it needed to reach. Punk concept albums have a track record of going over like a lead balloon, and this one doesn’t fly very far for me, but the world at large eats it up. “Holiday” and “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” are good alt-rock singles, but some of this record is straight-up evil. The nine-minute songs and loose storyline are the work of Lucifer himself. That this record was such a hit that it produced a successful Broadway musical makes *me* feel like the titular Idiot.

The band succeeds here by making the urgency palpable on the political songs. Cool’s marching band snare drum and Dirnt’s steady bass lines straighten this album out where Armstrong’s lyrics get a little wacky. I believe this record thrives when they aren’t making it obvious that they want to sound like the band you loved on Dookie. They just do it. They have a platform, they use it for what they want to talk about, and there’s no hemming and hawing or desperate pleas for people to pay attention because “We’re punk rock again!” American Idiot is by no means a great record, especially in 2024, but given its context in the catalog, it stands with the older, better albums.


39/Smooth (1990)

Clearly the work of a 924 Gilman band, Green Day’s debut (later reissued as 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours) isn’t anything to write home about. They sound like Crimpshrine and the Lookouts, but they’re very clearly younger than the other bands. There’s a flyer from one of their first shows on their Wikipedia entry that lists them lower than Neurosis, the Mr. T Experience, and Samiam. Obviously, they go on to sell millions of more records than the other bands on the bill combined, but extrapolating from 39/Smooth, they were easily the worst band at Gilman that night. The record itself is middling, disposable pop-punk until you get to “Going To Pasalacqua,” which gives the best glimpse of what Green Day had to come. “Road To Acceptance” is also pretty good, but “Pasalacqua” is the most memorable song on the record by far.


Kerplunk (1991)

An expansion on what started from 39/Smooth, Green Day’s final release for Lookout! Records is their last independent album and their last album before including Rob Cavallo, who would go on to produce every record of theirs from Dookie to 21CB. It’s still raw and juvenile, but it’s much better with the addition of Tré Cool on drums. Cool’s father drove the band around in a converted bookmobile and says they were incredibly professional from the outset, which shows that they’ve always been dedicated to the eventual stardom they’d find on Dookie and future albums. Like cheap beer, Kerplunk is not great, but it gets you where you need to be — on a major label and touring nationwide, in Green Day’s case. If we never heard from them again, we’d never hear suburban classic “Welcome To Paradise” the way we deserve to hear it, as big as it sounds on Dookie.


I assume that every young punk has heard the refrain from someone older: “At some point, you’re gonna give up all of that punk stuff and grow up.” For Green Day, the growing up is done on Nimrod, where the band went full alt-rock with 924 Gilman St. in the rearview mirror. Nimrod is perfectly fine. It’s a ’90s alt-rock record that goes on for about 20 minutes too long.

“Hitchin’ A Ride” is a great song, but I probably like it more than the others because it sounds almost exactly like “No One Knows” by Queens Of The Stone Age despite coming out six years earlier. “Platypus (I Hate You)” is a vicious rip on Maximum Rocknroll founder Tim Yohannon, and while I could dig deep into the psychology of Armstrong and his feud with Yo, I’d like to admit it’s a pretty funny trick to make the only track on this record that could open up a mosh pit be the one about hating punk rockers. I don’t believe much of this record is essential to knowing and understanding Green Day, but “Haushinka” and a few others stand up to repeated listenings. Oh, and I guess there’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life),” the only song people in the ‘90s were comfortable with using to convey sentimental feelings. It had a chokehold on proms and graduation ceremonies for years. Green Day’s big acoustic ballad reads as schmaltzy at this point, but it’s crazy to not admit it’s a good song. I’d rather hear it than Vitamin C or “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen.”

Listening to Nimrod feels like reading a resume, going through all of the songs and seeing what the band thinks they do best. It’s scattered, but it’s a sampler. Congrats, you got the job. Now put that tie on and get to work.


Dookie is the platonic ideal of a pop-punk record. It’s juvenile, it’s basic, it’s dumb, it rocks. Before I knew what pop-punk was, I had heard Dookie a million times, and I’ve probably heard each song 10 million times since then. Dookie served its purpose as a classic introduction to the world. Thirty years on, though? It’s a little worn. It’s 40 minutes long and each one of the 14 songs launched a thousand copycat bands who also ended up on the radio. As a child of the MTV age, not only did I hear each song on Dookie 10 million times, I heard every radio-ready pop-punk band who ripped off every one of those songs at least 15 times. Dookie may have been a breath of fresh air in 1994, but 30 years on, it’s a little stale. It’s one-note, and it’s a good note, but it does feel repetitive after 40 minutes and even more monotonous after three decades.

The problem isn’t that the songs aren’t timeless. They’re all timeless, and that’s the biggest strike against Dookie. Every song on this record could have been a pop hit, which is exhausting. I know it sounds like I’m punishing them for doing too well, but for the big major label punk experiment, it follows the rubric for success too closely. Every great song can reach the point of oversaturation, and by playing the same song nine times in a row, Green Day almost get to that point by themselves. At first listen, “When I Come Around” is a nice reprieve near the end of the album because it doesn’t sound like the rest of the previous 27 minutes. After the 5000th time you’ve heard it, it stops sounding like an aberration from the rest of the songs on the album. It sounds like another Green Day song.

The songs on Dookie are as good as they are ubiquitous, and neither listeners nor the band can escape them. They’ll always be this band to a lot of people. Is that truly bad? No. The record still comes away as a victory for plaid-trousered punks and kids with freshly-shaved mohawks in the mud pit at Woodstock ‘94. Green Day went global and became an iconic band off the back of Dookie. No punk band after 1994 got big without Dookie’s success. It overshadows the rest of the band’s output by being a consensus pick for the favorite record of posers, punks, and your Gen-X dad.


If Nimrod plays like reading a resume, Warning: is the first day the band came to that job with a T-shirt on. They’re comfortable enough in their seniority to do some mild experimentation, but it’s not too dangerous. This is the actual mature record from Green Day, as much as their music can be called mature. It’s a very pleasant listen, with a second (often acoustic) guitar adding a lot of depth to the sound. Sure, I’ve got a soft spot for it because it’s the first Green Day album I fully dove into, but it’s also the sound of a band doing their own thing without much expectations.

Warning: spawned a couple of mild hits, but it’s not celebrated or appreciated the way it should be. Especially years out, it’s the Green Day record I hear about the least, and it’s got some of the best songs of the band’s career. “Waiting” is a perfect radio-ready punk song that doesn’t fall into “teen comedy soundtrack” territory, “Jackass” has a surprise sax solo that crushes, and the title track is a cheeky, sneakily political song about continuing to flip the bird at any and all authority. Songs like “Deadbeat Holiday” and “Hold On” sound like messages to younger versions of the band, giving Warning: a heart that doesn’t show up on any other Green Day record. The one misstep is “Misery,” which gets Billie Joe Armstrong to experiment with storytelling for the first time. The song isn’t bad, but I can’t say the same for everything it wrought. Still, Warning: ends up being one of the best Green Day records out of them all when the dust settles almost 25 years later.


Plagued by accusations of selling out, Green Day told the punks they didn’t need them by… writing a punk record. The band included radio-unfriendly swears on every track, the lead single’s video depicted a meth addict getting a tooth pulled, and there aren’t any songs that I’d call obvious singles. The sole song that endures in the public consciousness from this record is known for its big, crunchy riff. “Brain Stew” is the band’s first flirtation with genuine alt-rock, and you know what? It rocks. It’s heavier than anything they’ve done before or since.

Insomniac holds up the best of any Green Day record, in part because it’s more polished and more adult than Dookie, but also because it can’t be worn out in the way that Dookie can. You’re not going to hear “Armatage Shanks” or “Bab’s Uvula Who?” on commercials or played in hockey stadiums. The choruses are big and worthy of a group sing-along, but they’re not iconic. They’re not the platonic ideal of pop-punk. They’re not the genre’s defining work for the entire world. They’re just really great songs. Being solid and consistent can really work out in your favor in the long run.

It’d be a disservice to not mention “86,” a brutal kiss-off to 924 Gilman. Gilman officially banned Green Day in 1993 for not living up to the “independent spirit” the venue prides itself on. This was their home, their scene, their friends, telling them they weren’t allowed back. Other bands signed major label contracts and “graduated,” but they weren’t banned. Green Day had all eyes on them, worldwide now, and used their huge platform to issue a “fuck you” to the place where fans literally turned their back on bands like Jawbreaker that signed with major labels. And yet, it’s hard to not see the humanity in a song like “86,” where Armstrong’s lyrics are clearly from a man who’s been hurt by this excommunication more than by any romantic breakup. The “sellout” accusations hurt Armstrong deeply, and in true punk fashion, he flipped the bird and tried to get the last word in.

The label struggled with how to market this record. Critics at the time pointed out that nothing on the record is as immediate as Dookie. Making a punk record means that Insomniac isn’t as sticky-sweet as its pop-punk-defining predecessor. That’s ultimately not a strike against the album; if anything, that’s what makes it worth revisiting over and over as a full piece of work. There aren’t any low points on Insomniac. It’s a record that you can’t get tired of, and that’s what makes it the best Green Day album. This isn’t a band whose music rewards the listener by repeated listens, usually. I know every song front-to-back on Dookie, inside and out, whether I want to or not. It all blends into one big mass that is Dookie. Insomniac holds up better over time and comes out on top because every song is distinct while making a cohesive punk album. The end result is a brisk and more mature record that shows Green Day’s strengths without sacrificing anything to be liked by the masses. Insomniac has songs about getting older, getting married, and living with yourself as that happens, but it’s mostly about doing speed, having anxiety, and fucking everything up for everyone. That’s what we want from Green Day, isn’t it? That’s punk rock.

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