"Green Day made zits cool!"
An innocuous comment made by Papa Roach vocalist Jacoby Shaddix during the opening scenes of an 'Ultimate Albums' documentary on Green Day's major label debut - Dookie. Oddly, a better summation of the record is yet to present itself. Yes, Dookie is the scribbled brainstorm of three kids from Northern California with a crooked smile and tendency to capture the mood of the teenage universe, including (but not limited to) writing about masturbating out of boredom.
Like most other records that transcend across the mainstream, not everyone who jumped in truly understood the message, or even wanted to. To be fair, with a four chord chorus as infectious as 'Basket Case', does it really matter what the band are trying to tell you? But for the overwhelming majority of its key demographic - Dookie was the perfect manuscript to young adult life. Vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool were looked at as a punk triumvirate: three slacker, stoner dudes putting riffs behind lyrics of youthful angst and rebellion - how can you not relate to that?
Leaving high school and piloting themselves head first towards San Francisco's East Bay, the trio would cut their collective punk teeth in the legendary 924 Gilman Street. It was a venue catered for the outcasts and the disenfranchised, major label bands were barred from playing, the promo flyers looked hand drawn with felt tip pens you found in last years Christmas cracker - it was about as DIY as it gets.
But, of course, that suited bands in California and its surrounding areas to the ground. Punk rock felt like something of a secret in late 80's-early 90's USA. Bad Religion guitarist, and owner of Epitaph Records Brett Gurewitz would tell people he owned a punk label, their response? "Punk? Isn't that dead?" Its British explosion in the 70's struggled to maintain stopping power across the Atlantic. The success of hair metal kept underground music in the location of its namesake.
So, unlike when Sex Pistols pretty much spent two minutes swearing at ITV's Bill Grundy in an interview that would sweep the entire English nation in 1976 - no one was about to break their backs to find out what three sometimes homeless kids had to say about, well, anything. Apart from the regulars that would fight tooth and nail to bear witness to Green Day's simplistic yet aggressive attacks on society in Gilman Street of course. Oh, and the 50,000 people who bought the trio's first two albums: 1039/Smoothed Out Sloppy Hours and Kerplunk - both released on the independent
With the success came an inevitable curiosity of what next? Though. Billie Joe admitted to, at one point, not being interested in signing with a major label, but the band would happily be taken to dinner by one for the free meal. Jovial overtones aside, Lookout was struggling to meet the distribution demands that Green Day's (still underground, remember) success was demanding of them. On VH1's Ultimate Albums documentary, Mike Dirnt described the situation as 'growing extra toes and trying to fit their foot in the same sneaker'. Something had to give.
Warner Bros/Reprise Records A&R representative Rob Cavallo would have the bands demos thrown on his lap one day - he listened out of courtesy on his drive home. His box ticking gesture would become life altering as soon as he heard what would become 'Longview'.
A looping drum fill from Tre cushioned by a carbon plucked bassline that Mike Dirnt wrote while tripping on acid: they would provide the structure for Billie Joe's prudent, truthful rhetoric of trying to fight boredom when you've got no money/job/partner. On the surface, the track was merely whitty chimes of a young man trying not to wank himself into oblivion. But taken aback by the bands song writing nous - Rob fought tooth and nail to sign and produce them, he got his wish.
The recording budget for Dookie was a whopping (for Green Day's then status) $100K. Billie Joe infamously signed his contract with the annotation "Did anybody read this?" Next to it. But the biggest opportunity of the trio's collective lives put them under fire. The 924 Gilman Street faithful did not see the bands signing to a major label as a chance for 'one of their own' to hit the big time. Viewed as committing punk rock heresy, they were the subject of aggressive fan mail, magazine pieces, and finger pointed jibes. Their spiritual home had banished them.
Fear not, Green Day had made a decision they believed in - they were hell bent on sticking with it (Isn't that what punk rock is supposed to be about, anyway?). Their youthful naivety didn't get the better of them, Dookie's recording budget wasn't spent on anything but the craft of the album. Rob Cavallo was, once again, stunned by the talents of the band, Billie Joe's vocal tracking took a meagre two days, with only a maximum of three takes required per track. Despite being in their early Twenties, the five years they spent chucking barely audible riffs out of cracked amps in basements had made them battle hardened.
February 1st 1994, in terms of punk invading the US mainstream - we can refer to this as D-Day. Dookie's immediate release was peaceful, selling 9,000 copies in its first week. By the summer of 1994, its infamous artwork was commonplace. The record carried with it a worldview that seemed to give a middle finger to pretty much anything it felt slightly grieved by, and did it with such an infectious hook - it could draw the rebellion out of a straight A bookworm.
"I de-clare I don't care no more" the first lyrics from opening track 'Burnout' summarised the mood of a whole age group in three seconds. Bille Joe's snide melody made him the perfect spokesman for the rallying cry. And by the time his chorus lines of "I'm not growin' up, I'm just bur-nin-out, and I stepped in line to walk amongst the dead" hit, it felt like you were in adolescent therapy.
Lethargic indifference not doing it for you? Then what about Chump's "I don't know you, but I think I hate you, you're the reason for me misery" Proclamation? That you could either aim at the random Sophomore kid that keeps laughing at you, or the new love interest your ex left you for. Dookie's simplicity was wrapped around four chord structures that could soundtrack your summer, teens, or even your whole life.
It wasn't just the gripes of every day life that Green Day took aim at, though. In fact, Dookie isn't always given the right amount of credit for its ability to hop from stoner laughs to introspective epiphanies. 'Coming Clean' puts Billie Joe's confusion over his bisexuality under the microscope, and in one minute and 34 seconds, undeniably did more to help you feel at home navigating your sexuality spectrum than any teen weekly mag could.
Green Day's refusal to placate the demands of the Gilman Street army was a calculated success in every single metric available to you. 'Welcome To Paradise' backed up their endeavour sonically, too. A track that was also on Kerplunk, compare the two - the jump in quality is florescent. An undisputedly good song on Dookie's predecessor though it was: Billie Joe's tales of living near crack den's and gun violence deserved the audible excellence that Rob Cavallo could provide.
Those 9,000 copies sold in the first week of its release manifested into a frankly, quite astonishing three million by the time the year was out. It bought together meetings of masses: teenage punk obsessives were complaining about the popular kids in school suddenly wearing Green Day merchandise. They were a phenomenon in every sense of the word, and as such - sub sectors of society wanted to take ownership of them - but they couldn't. The messages of Dookie were so universally relatable: the band were open to be adored by anyone.
The album's impact didn't just affect Green Day. It kickstarted an interest in punk that simply, had not been there prior. All of a sudden - Bad Religion were going gold, Rancid and The Offspring had legions of new eyes on them, and Lookout Records were still making a killing. That was because, the trio specifically manufactured their contract with Warner Bros so that their former label retained ownership of 1039/Smoothed Out Sloppy Hours and Kerplunk. The latter went on to sell over one million copies - one of the greatest selling independent records of all time. Green Day took the high road, and never turned their backs on where they came from, regardless of how they were shunned.
Perhaps the greatest tangible way to discuss Dookie's impact is what followed years after its release. Green Day were absolutely not the originators of pop punk. And in fairness, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where the genre began - but generally, all roads lead back to bands such as The Descendants and Husker Du: mid to late 80's punk bands that specifically set out the build around pop hooks.
Instead, Green Day were the band that took pop punk into a spotlight. Go back and watch their performance at Woodstock 1994, Billie Joe starts a mud fight with the crowd, Mike Dirnt gets tackled by a security guard, the audience were enamoured. These three stoners from California had taken their pop laced punk and made it sound like the most exciting musical explosion since Nevermind.
Would Blink 182, New Found Glory, Sum 41, Simple Plan, and so, so many others existed in the late 90's without Dookie? Quite possibly, yes. But would they have had the pre-built platform and audience to make such a splash in the industry? It's impossible to know for certain, but the smart money says: absolutely not. How could Blink's 'Everytime I Look For You' be chosen to soundtrack a movie as widely successful as American Pie 2 without 'Basket Case' being played at every Spring break party for 6 years prior?
As we approach modern day territory - its influence is yet to weaken. Green Day sit atop a pyramid of which modern day pop punk acts can only be thankful for. And despite its near 30 year existence, its thematic blueprint holds strong, and its lyrical themes continue to dominate the lives of youths. In 100 years, adolescents will remain worried about their sexuality, bullies, being single, having no hope - Dookie could still be the arm around the shoulder they're craving.
As we speak, Dookie has sold in its millions worldwide. Green Day went on to become one of the most successful bands of our generation. But the sometimes immeasurable impact of their third album has been there to see for three decades, and will continue to be so. Billie Joe feels like a fortune teller now when you hear him beckon "Do you ever want to lead a long trail of destruction and mow down any bullshit that confronts you?" on 'Having A Blast', but crystal ball or not - these three pimple faced nobodies did alright for themselves.