Green Day is likely the most successful punk band of all-time, which is an inherently troublesome statement when you consider that punk rock, by definition, isn’t really supposed to be successful. How can one credibly sneer at the establishment while the millions keep piling up? It’s a question Green Day has struggled with ever since they broke through with Dookie in 1994, especially now, when Green Day is part of the establishment. But that doesn’t mean that the 2015 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees can’t still rock out, as is evidenced by the surprise release of their new single, “Bang Bang.” And to celebrate the band, we ranked their proper studio albums.
11. 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
One album in and I can already feel the onslaught coming in the comments. Hear me out: this album, while not without its moments, just seems so unnecessary. It was as though, after the massive success of American Idiot, Green Day said “Welp, I guess we’re the band that writes rock operas now!” So many songs here feel like lesser versions of their AI counterparts. “Know Your Enemy” is a lesser “American Idiot.” “21 Guns” is an inferior “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” “Last Of The American Girls” is an off-brand “She’s A Rebel.” After taking nearly five years to release the follow-up to American Idiot, Green Day made an album that sounded far too similar to its predecessor.
10. ¡Dos! (2012)
It’s difficult to judge the three albums Green Day gave us in 2012 as individual statements because they seem so tied to one another, but the second installment feels like the weakest. It’s certainly not terrible, and “Stop When The Red Lights Flash” could even rank among their best songs. There’s just too much filler to really enjoy this one, though, and “F*ck Time” might be the dumbest song they’ve ever written.
9. 39/Smooth (1990)
8. Kerplunk (1992)
I’m putting Green Day’s two “pre-fame” albums together because they represent the era when Green Day was straight-up punk, before adding power-pop elements to their sound and writing ballads. How much you enjoy these records, and where you would put them on this list, will likely depend on how much you prefer a rawer sound over the stuff that’s a bit more polished. There’s some enjoyable moments here, but Billie Joe became a much better songwriter as the band evolved.
7. ¡Uno! (2012)
The pure punk brilliance of “Let Yourself Go” is enough push this ahead of ¡Dos!, and “Stay The Night” is the stuff high school crushes are made of. Still, this isn’t Green day’s most consistent effort. “Kill The DJ” can only be taken so seriously when The Smiths executed that idea so much better 26 years earlier. Likewise, “Oh Love” was an odd choice for a lead single, as it doesn’t totally justify its five-minute running time. Some good stuff here, but as we often find when bands release a bunch of material at once, not all of it holds up.
6. Insomniac (1995)
Dookie had turned Green Day into the one thing no punk band is ever supposed to be: pop stars. As a result, its followup Insomniac feels a bit like a self-conscious attempt to make it clear to the world that they hadn’t sold out. There are certainly some good songs here, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that in order to “stay true” to his punk roots, Billie Joe deliberately wrote the punkest stuff he can think of, neglecting his natural ability to craft great pop songs. Still, this album gave us “Geek Stink Breath,” so one can only complain about it so much.
5. ¡Tre! (2012)
Of the three albums Green Day released in 2012, this one was easily the most consistent and enjoyable. Opening track “Brutal Love” is a beautiful ballad that would make even the Everly Brothers proud. “8th Avenue Serenade” continues the old-school rock’n roll vibes that Green Day wanted to return to with these albums. Of this three-album set, the final entry proved to be the masterpiece.
4. Nimrod (1997)
This was the album where we began to see Billie Joe’s songwriting mature a little bit. Rather than the straightforward blasts of pop-punk that defined Dookie and Insomniac, this was a bit more diverse, most notably in the wistful ballad “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” Thanks to epic over-saturation (seriously, you couldn’t go five minutes without hearing that song in 1998), that song is hard to appreciate, but it’s still a classic. Elsewhere, there’s the power-poppy “Redundant,” which actually wouldn’t feel out of place on a Cheap Trick album. An intriguing, introspective album that was sadly overshadowed by the monster hit it spawned.
3. Warning (2000)
The relative commercial disappointment of this album set Green Day up for the “comeback” of American Idiot, but this is actually a fantastic record even if it didn’t move a ton of copies. “Minority” and the title track were well-deserved hits, while the dark-but-super-catchy “Blood, Sex & Booze” adds a mandolin to proceedings and somehow manages to make it sound fairly punk rock. This tends to be the “oh, by the way….” album in the Green Day catalog, but it’s actually one of the best things they’ve ever done.
2. American Idiot (2004)
This album was overplayed so much upon its release that it’s a bit difficult to judge fairly. There are a few moments that don’t hold up well, like the Bush-as-Hitler comparison on “Holiday,” but overall this is a strong, ambitious effort. There’s an equal mix of old-school punk blasts (“St. Jimmy,” “She’s A Rebel”) along with some of the band’s best ballads (“Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends”). Despite massive overexposure, when given a fair chance, this reveals itself as a consistent and diverse album, with the mini-operas (“Jesus Of Suburbia,” “Homecoming”) serving as particular stand-outs.
1. Dookie (1994)
This is obviously the album that made Green Day huge, and as with American Idiot, its massive radio presence makes it hard to look at fairly. Unless you’re in the 99th percentile of Green Day fans, you’ve heard “Basket Case” and “Longview” more than enough times for one lifetime, but that doesn’t make them bad songs. Really, this is a stunningly consistent effort of pop-punk songwriting, and a well-deserved commercial success. It’s easy to blame this album for how overplayed its singles were, or how many lesser pop-punk acts emerged in its wake, but taken as an individual work, it’s just a really great album.
Originally published on June 1, 2015