Happy 25th Anniversary to Green Day’s third studio album Dookie, originally released February 1, 1994.
There’s a manic energy lifting you off the couch when Green Day’s Dookie starts. “I declare I don’t care no more,” Billie Joe Armstrong proclaims, and we’re off like a snot rocket. “I’m burning up and out and / Growing bored.”
He elongates that connection “and growing bored” like a rallying cry. Behind him the sound is so thick—tight snare, clear electric guitar, and smooth bass—his whine sounds bushy. Armstrong is practiced at bitching enough for the chorus to become a singalong on album opener “Burnout” if only because it repeats four times. And suddenly two minutes have passed and it’s over. Turn it up and let it wash away every bad feeling you have about burning out because you’re in good company.
February 1st marks the 25th anniversary of Dookie, the band’s major label debut with Reprise and third album overall. And what a name to give your first major LP: Dookie. As in, “I just took a big dookie.”
Green Day sure knew what they were up to, those little punks. After gaining steam from their previous indie label release Kerplunk! (1991) on Lookout! Records (it sold 10,000 copies on its first day), Rob Cavallo found and signed them. Known as a producer for everyone from Jawbreaker to Phil Collins, Cavallo’s work on Dookie is what made all four of them famous. (He would go on to produce the group’s next ten studio albums and their side singles.)
The trio started as a local band in Oakland playing 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages DIY punk space in Berkeley started by Tim Yohannan, founder of Maximum Rocknroll. So as soon as Green Day signed to Reprise, they were labeled as sellouts and forbidden from returning to 924 Gilman unless members voted them back “allowed”—which they have, twice.
“Selling out” is a complicated phenomenon for any band plucked from obscurity. Fans of early, indie Green Day might've turned their backs just because of the major label deal. However, I suspect there were plenty of loyalists who stuck with the band through it all, as it's hard to ignore validation for something so deserving.
Armstrong (guitar, lead vocals), Mike Dirnt (bass, backing vocals), and Tré Cool (on drums) recorded Dookie in just over three weeks. Armstrong reportedly did all the vocals in two days. The record itself is hectic, just under forty minutes. And while the songs are full of lazy dudes who sit around, watch TV, and smoke weed, the LP is animated and busy.
Armstrong wrote the LP’s fifth single, “She,” after a former girlfriend showed him her feminist poem with the same name. Now he’s known to perform the song nude. As for the feminist lens on that, there’s a lot to unpack.
The history of men using women as a muse, inspiration, or quite frankly ripping them off is long and tired. Upon its release critics called the song “sensitive without being soft,” which is male cover-up for “emotional.” The song itself is as tender as Dookie gets, which is barely. Armstrong nearly croons before breaking into that pop-punk scream we know: a melodic cry in tune just before he actually screams. Only three of the fourteen tracks clock in over three minutes, and “She” isn’t one of them.
“Longview” topped the Modern Rock charts and Dirnt supposedly dreamt up the bass line while tripping on acid. It suits the song because it’s about scraping yourself off the floor from boredom, even when you’re stoned and still bored. “I’ve got no motivation / Where is my motivation / no time for motivation” Armstrong chants. Green Day made music for themselves and it turns out their audience is much larger than three. There’s a whole world of us who want to do nothing all day long. But in the end, you gotta get up and write another song.
“Welcome To Paradise” originally appeared on Kerplunk! The original version is almost exactly the same but without the gloss. The drums are tighter and Tré Cool is more impressive. There’s an echo on Armstrong’s original vocals and the bridge is faster and fuller due to his guitar on the dirty channel. But on Dookie, his vocals are closer and sharper, and Dirnt’s bass is raw.
Dookie’s second single “Basket Case” sums up the LP’s thesis: “do you have the time? / to listen to me whine / about nothing and everything / all at once!” At this point you’re being told. You’re along for the ride and you didn’t have a choice because now the record is half over. You’re in a Green Day stupor: it’s quick, to the point, and loud. There’s anger in it too, but its directed inward: “sometimes I give myself the creeps / sometimes my mind plays tricks on me / it all keeps adding up / I think I’m cracking up! / am I just paranoid / or just stoned??”
It’s easy to connect to these tracks as an early twenty-something, which is when most of us found it, because that’s when Armstrong, Dirnt, and Tré Cool wrote it. And it’s not because of the speedy sounds and pulsing choruses. The lyrics are full of anxiety, self-loathing, exes, and having no expectations from the start. Armstrong wrote all the lyrics except for “Emenius Sleepus,” which is credited to Dirnt, and knew better than to project an ideal life because life is full of dookie. He’s the youngest of six and his dad, a jazz musician, died of cancer when he was just ten.
Even though Green Day became the pop-punk archetype, every genre has forefathers for a reason. The record peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 and ushered punk rock into a mainstream that, strangely, hadn’t quite accepted it yet. Dookie won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album that year, and the band was hardly up against sonic peers: Crash Test Dummies, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Nine Inch Nails.
“When I Come Around” was their highest charting single (#6) on the Billboard Hot 100 until 2004’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” reached No. 2. The video is a tour of neighbors spying on each other in curious intimacy. Watch it now and it’s a weird collection clearly strung together for the sake of television.
On “F.O.D” (“Fuck Off and Die”) Armstrong sings close and his—GASP—acoustic guitar is distant. With just a minute remaining, his roots return and the song plugs in. The original release contained a hidden song (“All By Myself”) written by Tré Cool, which follows “F.O.D.” but in the age of streaming, it now appears as its own track.
“Basket Case” is easy to name as Dookie’s thesis, but truly it’s everywhere. On “Sassafras Roots,” Armstrong asks in the chorus so politely, “May I waste your time too?” He slows down each word, pretending like he’s asking for permission. Never mind that he knows he’s wasting his own. And by the time he declares “I’m a chump!” on breakup track “Chump,” you yell it with him. The bass pattern Dirnt lays down runs through to the crowded end and bleeds effortlessly with Tré Cool’s tom beat into “Longview.”
As far as magnum opuses go, Dookie is high up there for its genre and its era. The whole record flies by and sticks like gum. Rob Cavallo found what he was looking for: a band who knew who they were and what they wanted to do. Dookie is proof of that. Yes it made a lot of money for the band and label, but it also busted Green Day out of Oakland toward worldwide stardom. They would go on to make one of my generation’s greatest protest LPs, American Idiot (which they dubbed a “concept rock opera”), ten years later.
Dookie offered inspiration for many listeners to spawn new sounds of punk, bending the genre. And in the end, Dookie remains a time capsule record, reminding the world what mainstream music was up to 25 years ago and where it was heading. Pop music reigns, even if the title is shit.