A Look Back on Green Day’s Front-to-Back Classic “Dookie” — Its Tracks Ranked Worst to Best

In life, there comes a moment where you are ready to take that next huge step forward. It’s often terrifying, but a wise Canadian once said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”[1] Green Day’s terrifying leap forward came when the band signed a major record deal with big label hot shot Reprise Records. This move would irreparably undermine the band’s standing in the west coast underground punk scene[2], while at the same time, establish a musical brand and style that would lead to millions in album sales. Call it a “net positive.”

1994 saw the release of Green Day’s breakthrough album Dookie, which followed (among smaller EPs) 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours[3] and Kerplunk!, two records which gained traction in the west coast punk scene of the early 1990s. Looking back on these albums, you will find a rawness rarely since visited — some of the songs are great, many are solid, more than a few are objectively forgettable. I think most fans would agree that Dookie was the record which sparked a positive momentum for Green Day that continued through the rest of the ’90s. I would even argue it easily carried through 2000’s Warning, but I am aware of the mixed reaction that album received from fans and critics alike.

Green Day saw Dookie reach Number 2 on the Billboard charts by January 1995[4], and proceed to sell 20,000,000 copies worldwide.[5] Four of the album’s 14 tracks charted in the Top 20 of Billboard’s US Mainstream Charts, with “Welcome to Paradise” also finding commercial success.[6] Totaling 39 minutes and 38 seconds, Dookie punches you hard in the gut, takes the money, and runs. The record features guitarist/lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool at their respective bests. We review and recap this album because every damn song is so damn good.

The task of ranking a classic album’s songs from worst to best poses two key challenges — (1) A ranking inevitably shuffles up a record’s order, instantly wiping away the seamless cohesion which made said album a classic in the first place; (2) A ranking implies there exists a bundle of “worst songs,” which otherwise would sit among the upper echelons of said artist/band’s song catalogue (I’d argue that almost every song on this album is a top 50–60 Green Day track, probably half could be top 15–20).

So here goes nothing, Dookie’s 14 songs (well, actually 15 if you count the hidden track!) ranked from worst to best. If you see some shockers, keep in mind that every track is just fantastic. Songs towards the bottom of the list can easily be considered top tracks in Green Day’s massive discography. No hard feelings…

15) — All By Myself (hidden track)[7]

Nested in the silence of Dookie’s final track “F.O.D.”, “All By Myself” features the calm and nasal voice of band drummer Tre Cool, plucking the arpeggiated notes of an acoustic guitar. It’s bizarre, funny, quick, and rather gross if you choose to analyze the simple lyrics.[8] “All By Myself” shows shades of “Dominated Love Slave,” a country-inspired track off Kerplunk! that also features the drummer on vocals.

Because it’s not an “official” track, I don’t feel as badly putting this one at the bottom, as it’s clearly one not worth mentioning in a “best of Green Day” conversation. This song clearly wasn’t meant to be taken seriously at all, but for the sake of this ranking, I’m taking it very seriously.

Best lyric — You and me had such wonderful times, when I’m all by myself, all by myself [repeat several times]…

14) — Chump (track 3)

“Chump” is all about hate and jealousy. “I don’t know you but I think I hate you.

What set Green Day in its earlier days apart from the rest of the punk scene was the band’s willingness to embrace a style which featured drum and bass at the forefront, rather than the sole focus being on guitar and vocals.

The instrumental breakdown making up the second half of this track proves this style can work to perfection, and would be carried on through the band’s still-reigning life. Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, on bass and drums respectively, thrive on this track. The instrumental breakdown eventually segues into “Longview,” sequentially Dookie’s first charting hit.

Best lyric — I don’t know you but I think I hate you. You’re the reason for my misery.

13) — Emenius Sleepus (track 12)

Mike Dirnt penned the lyrics, and greatly impressed. Expressing the themes of teenage angst and fury, this song illustrates an interaction between two long-time friends, with the narrator growing dismayed at what his peer has become. Sandwiched between two below-two-minute tracks, “Emenius Sleepus” lasts a whopping one minute, 44 seconds. Perhaps these three consecutive tracks[9] serve as homage to Green Day’s earlier repertoire, which featured EPs and records abundant in short tracks.

Best lyric — Anybody ever say no? Ever tell you that you weren’t right? Where did all the little kids go? Did you lose it in a hateful fight?

12) — F.O.D. (track 14)

‘F.O.D.’ stands for “f**k off and die!” This track is comprised of two sections — the “soft part” and the “loud part.” The former features a lone Billie Joe on his acoustic guitar, singing about making amends with someone, while his angst bubbles up as his patience wanes. This angst boils over into fiery rage in the full-band “loud part,” aptly reflecting Billie Joe’s feelings.

From singing about a willingness to put up with his foe’s “head trip,” Billie Joe eventually gives up and heaves insult after insult towards his new-found adversary, suggesting he “f**k off and die.” Perhaps the line “let’s nuke the bridge we’ve torched 2,000 times before” was the inspiration for Dookie’s legendary album cover, which features nukes being dropped over a chaotic scene of people, amongst them Ozzy Osbourne, a dog with a slingshot, and a caveman clubbing a frat bro over the back of the head. It’s like the cover to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, except if those posing for the picture were beating one another to death.

Best lyric — Let’s nuke the bridge we’ve torched 2,000 times before. This time we’ll blast it all to Hell.

11) — When I Come Around (track 10)

Somewhere on planet Earth, I can hear Stephen A. Smith mumbling “blasphemous!” under his breath.

How could I take a perennial top-three all-time Green Day song, and not even put in the TOP TEN OF ONE ALBUM? I almost feel like there’s no reason to attempt explaining my case, because it’s just going to fall on deaf ears. Can we at least agree that “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, while rivaling Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as the most misinterpreted song of all time[10], is one of the more overrated hits in Green Day’s catalogue, serving as a horrible representation of the band’s style and sound? Still say no to that? Agh, whatever.

Lyrically, “When I Come Around” illustrates a relationship that is headed towards either a slow but imminent conclusion, or rapid destruction. The narrator expresses to a significant other that perhaps distance from one another is in their best interests, and that they will eventually return to each other and live happily ever after — a much more positive outlook than in the friendship/relationship narrated in “F.O.D.” After 23 years, “When I Come Around” it is still one of Green Day’s most recognizable songs.

Best lyric — You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right.

10) — In The End (track 13)

Not to be confused for the Linkin Park hit of the same name[11], “In The End” chronicles Billie Joe’s dismay with his mother’s love interest. Not only does Billie Joe despise the guy, but he also fumes at the fact that his mother seems to have a complete disregard for showing BJ any sort of attention.

It’s a quick song that’s been too easily forgotten, but it is nonetheless a testament to Green Day’s ability to express a powerful message in mere minutes.

Best lyric — I figured out what you’re all about and I don’t think I like what I see, so I hope you won’t be there in the end if you come around.

9) — Having A Blast (track 2)

This one felt odd being towards the bottom of this list because it’s seriously one of my all-time favorite Green Day songs, and (objectively) one of the band’s most underrated. Perhaps another nod to the album’s “explosive” cover art, “Having A Blast” is about someone who is quite fed up with everything going on around him — no matter how miniscule or insignificant. A literal interpretation of this song may reveal the tragic tale of an enraged maniac who shows no regard for himself, and would willingly hurt anybody around him.

However, the last verse, perhaps the most powerful verse on the album, asks some deep questions for our character to ponder:

Do you ever think back to another time? Does it bring you so down that you thought you lost your mind?” Have you ever recalled a past occurrence or relationship and felt like crap after doing so?

“Do you ever want to lead a long trail of destruction and mow down any bullsh*t that confronts you?” Does this past thing make you want to go in a blind rage and hurt innocent people around you?

“Do you ever build up all the small things in your head?” Are you bottling up minor and insignificant things?

“…to make one problem that adds up to nothing. To me it’s nothing…” These minor and insignificant things are so irrelevant, that they literally are nothing.

Best lyric — The above-mentioned entire last verse

8) — Pulling Teeth (track 6)

One of Green Day’s most compelling tracks, “Pulling Teeth” rests directly in the center of four super hits, immediately succeeding “Longview” and “Welcome to Paradise,” and directly preceding “Basket Case” and “She.” Not bad company at all. The peppy instrumental style of this song blends flawlessly with the seriously dark subject matter, an abusive relationship.

The song structure screams “hit!” but perhaps the lyrics prevented it from becoming such. Nevertheless, I’d easily put it on a list of “10 Must-Listen Tracks If You’re Trying to Get Into Green Day” (that list is perhaps for another day).

Best lyric — Is she ultra-violent? Is she disturbed? I better tell her that I love her before she does it all over again, oh god, she’s killing me!

7) — Welcome To Paradise (track 5)

A re-recording of the Kerplunk! track of the same name, “Welcome To Paradise” is perhaps the best demonstration of Mike Dirnt’s impressive ability to hold a groovy bassline for an extended period of time. Doubt me? Just listen to the instrumental breakdown after the song’s second chorus.

The three verses of “Paradise” describe feelings of fear, content, and ecstasy, in that order. Written about Oakland, CA (the birthplace of Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt[12]), “Paradise” first centers on a character who has been away for three weeks but yearns to return home. The character then becomes accustomed to this new environment, eventually growing numb to the crime and murder to the goings on around him. Finally, now six months removed from the start of the story, the character fully embraces this environment. It’s a really neat song, especially instrumentally, and has earned its rightful place among Green Day’s many hits.

Best lyric — It makes me wonder why I’m still here. For some strange reason, it’s now feeling like my home, and I’m never gonna go.

6) — Coming Clean (track 11)

At one minute and 35 seconds, “Coming Clean” is the shortest song on Dookie. Yet, its impact is infinite.

The track is a reflection on Billie Joe’s coming out as bisexual. “I think I’ve always been bisexual,” Armstrong said in an interview with The Advocate[13], “I mean, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I think everybody kind of fantasizes about the same sex…They say it’s taboo. It’s ingrained in our heads that it’s bad, when it’s not bad at all. It’s a very beautiful thing.”

As we will see with the next song on this list, Green Day was never afraid to tackle taboo subjects.

Best lyric — Seventeen and coming clean for the first time. I finally figured out myself for the first time.

5) — Basket Case (track 7)

Putting Green Day’s (arguably) most recognizable song at number five on the list is nothing more than a testament to how incredible this album is. I fully acknowledge that “Basket Case” is one of the band’s greatest creations, and in general an absolutely brilliant piece of music. It’s stood the test of time, and will continue to do so for decades to come, undoubtedly.

A live staple, a radio staple, a musical staple, and a cultural staple, “Basket Case” shows Billie Joe coming to terms with his struggles with anxiety. It peaked at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts, where it maintained that position for five weeks.

I probably don’t need to say much else about this song. You already know it.

Best lyric — I went to a shrink to analyze my dreams. She says it’s lack of sex that’s bringing me down. I went to a whore, he said my life’s a bore. So quit my whining cause it’s bringing her down.

4) — Sassafras Roots (track 9)

Another exemplary track of Mike Dirnt’s excellent bass work, Dookie’s ninth installment is about a girl named Amanda, who was also the inspiration for “She” and American Idiot’s “Whatsername.”[14] The track’s subject matter is quite obvious, as Billie Joe mentions wasting time a total of thirteen times, and calls himself a waste three times. It’s the perfect “I-don’t-care-about-anything-in-the-world-so-let’s-get-together-and-not-care” track, a direct contrast to themes found in songs like “Having a Blast,” “Chump,” and “In the End,” where characters obsess over the flaws and failings of other people.

That’s all it is — no hidden meanings or illusions in the lyrics of this one, and I think we can all appreciate that. In the case of “Sassafras Roots,” simplicity is good.

Best lyric — May I waste your time, too?

3) — She (track 8)

The fifth and final single off an album full of hits, “She” is the only single off Green Day’s International Superhits![15] to not have a music video.

In the context of Dookie, this two minute track was actually one of the hardest for me to analyze. I’ve come to believe that it is quite possible the piece, which was inspired by a feminist poem of the same name shown to Billie Joe by his then-girlfriend, is about a female character suffering from the same symptoms of the male character in “Basket Case.” By each track’s end, the main character has been able to find a positive path forward, although at different paces. The character in “Basket Case” knows the road is rocky ahead (grasping to control, so I better hold on), and shows signs of regressing back into states of anxiety.

The character in “She” figure[s] out that all her insecurities and doubts were someone else’s point of view. No regressions here — actually some positive progress. Placing “She” right after “Basket Case” was genius, as it shows how two people face similar problems in drastically different ways. Furthermore, it’s the perfect transition piece between “Basket Case” and “Sassafras Roots.”

Best lyric — …Waking up this time to smash the silence with the brick of self-control.

2) — Burnout (track 1)

Imagine it’s 1994. Along with the rest of the public, you had just heard of Green Day for the very first time. Sure, the band already had two very solid albums and a couple EPs under its belt, and built a loyal following within the Bay Area Punk scene, but up until this point, the trio was still unknown. Imagine living in New York, Boston, or Atlanta and popping in the CD. “Burnout” would have been the first song you heard.

Dookie’s opening track is about a teenager who locks himself in his room to smoke weed all day. It’s actually an excellent album opener, because every succeeding track takes a “choose-your-own-adventure” route — he leaves his room and flees to a different world in “Welcome to Paradise,” he stays inside and develops severe anxiety in “Basket Case,” and so forth…

Furthermore, it’s safe to say that “Burnout” is Tre Cool’s crowning achievement with the band. Those drum solos are just perfect.

Best lyric — I’ll live inside this mental cave. Throw my emotions in the grave. Hell, who needs them anyway?

1) — Longview (track 4)

“Longview” is about boredom, but listening to this track would make you think anything but. Featuring perhaps the greatest bassline of the 1990s (it’s indisputably Dirnt’s best work[16]), “Longview” is Green Day’s single greatest song. Describing a scenario we’ve all (yes all) become far too comfortable with during at least one point in our lives, the song shows life at home when you lack any sort of motivation to do anything.

The first[17] of five singles off Dookie, “Longview” is perhaps the very first song to launch Green Day into the mainstream. Its title was inspired by the small town the once unnamed track was first performed in — Longview, Washington.[18] While Green Day did not become a household name until early 1995 following the releases of “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” as singles, “Longview” certainly helped to pave the way.

The fading bassline, guitar lick, and rumbling drumbeat in the song’s final 45 seconds are bone-rattling. The lyrics make you want to throw up, but you hold it in, because you know this song was written about you. It’s just another reason why Dookie is Green Day’s greatest work, and why Green Day is one of rock-and-roll’s greatest offerings.

Best lyric — I’m feeling like a dog in heat, barred indoors from the summer street. I locked the door to my own cell, and I lost the key.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Wayne Gretsky

[2] Grabbing the attention of mainstream labels, Green Day eventually settled on signing with big shots Reprise, much to the dismay of a loyal fan base deriving from the Alternative Music Foundation (a.k.a. 924 Gilman Street), the legendary music club in West Berkeley, CA. Many of these fans felt betrayed by Green Day’s signing to a major label, and the band would only return to the venue for two performances over the following two decades (one unofficial show in 2001, and another in 2015 after the band had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).

[3] Released in 1991, 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours is widely considered to be Green Day’s debut album, but it is actually a compilation record — comprised of 39/Smooth (1990), Slappy (1990), and 1,000 Hours (1989). Respectively, these three EPs comprised the track list of 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours in that exact order, with the only need addition being the album’s final song “I Want to Be Alone.”

[4] http://www.billboard.com/artist/303108/green-day/chart?f=305

[5] https://www.yahoo.com/news/green-day-39-album-dookie-20-years-old-182200607.html

[6] These four hits, in addition to “Welcome to Paradise,” were “Longview,” “Basket Case,” “When I Come Around,” and “She.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dookie

[7] “All By Myself” begins at the 4:08 mark of the album’s last official track “F.O.D.” It is considered a hidden track because it comes after more than a full minute of silence after the fading drone of “F.O.D.”’s final chord.

[8] Song meaning of “All By Myself” — http://www.geekstinkbreath.net/greenday/song-meanings/all-by-myself/

[9] Track 11 — “Coming Clean,” track 12 — “Emenius Sleepus,” track 13 — “In The End”

[10] “Born in the U.S.A.,” one of Bruce Springsteen’s most popular songs, and the opening track off the mega-hit 1984 album of the same name, is consistently blasted at July Fourth BBQs, and was even used on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential campaign trail, because many view the song as one of patriotism and love for America. However, the song actually discusses the mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans who returned home in the mid-1970s — rather a harsh criticism of America than a blind celebration. “Time of Your Life” is similar in that, besides it being of Green Day’s most popular song, is viewed as a positive track about nostalgia and good times. On the contrary, it’s actually a harsh break up song. Maybe people should take a look at the track’s official (and more pessimistic) title? — “Good Riddance.”

[11] Track eight of Linkin Park’s classic debut album Hybrid Theory, “In the End” is likely LP’s most popular song, and quite possibly one of the most recognizable songs of the 2000s.

[12] Technically, Dirnt was born in Berkeley, CA.

[13]https://web.archive.org/web/20050309020312/http://www.advocate.com/html/stories/822/822_greenday672_3.asp

[14]https://twitter.com/BJAofficial/status/35365988027338752?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fgenius.com%2FGreen-day-sassafras-roots-lyrics

[15] This does not count the three tracks “Maria,” “Poprocks & Coke,” and “J.A.R. (Jason Andrew Relva” which were not previously released on any Green Day studio album. Figured I had to mention that for all you sticklers out there!

[16] Mike Dirnt said this in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1995: “When Billie gave me a shuffle beat for Longview, I was frying on acid so hard. I was laying up against the wall with my bass lying on my lap. It just came to me. I said, “Billie, check this out. Isn’t this the wackiest thing you’ve ever heard?” Later, it took me a long time to be able to play it, but it made sense when I was on drugs.” Rolling Stone ranked “Longview” as the #3 best single of 1994.

[17] “Longview” was released as a single on February 1, 1994, the very same day Dookie hit shelves everywhere.

[18] https://twitter.com/BJAofficial/status/35415649631223808