The year was 1986 in East Bay, California USA. Two 14-year-old boys decided to start a band. Of course, this is not major music news. Around the world young boys and girls decide to form bands. They rarely stay together for thirty years. However, that’s exactly what happened to this week’s featured group Green Day. Not only have they stayed together, but they also gained fans around the world. How did this group of young punk rock musicians become the powerhouse in the music industry? Let’s look at their start and find out why Green Day is a household name.
The band was not always known as Green Day. In the beginning, they went by the name Sweet Children. Before settling in as a trio, in 1988, Billy Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt began working with former Isocracy drummer John Kiffmeyer, also known as “Al Sobrante”. Sean Hughes left the band in 1988, and Dirnt took over on bass duties. Larry Livermore, owner of Lookout! Records, saw the band play an early show and signed the group to his label. In 1989, the band recorded its début extended play, 1,000 Hours. Before 1,000 Hours was released, the group dropped the name Sweet Children; according to Livermore, this was done to avoid confusion with another local band Sweet Baby. The band adopted the name Green Day, due to the members’ fondness for cannabis. That’s how it all began.
When I hear that word “punk” used to describe the Green Day music genre, I am somewhat confused. “Punk” is a description that normally has a negative connotation. Punk music, however, is an art form that has grown throughout several decades of music making. Green Day was not a founder of the punk music genre, but they arguably are one of the most successful punk bands of music history.
The term “punk” was first used in relation to rock music by some American critics in the early 1970s, to describe garage bands and their devotees. By late 1976, bands such as Television and the Ramones in New York City, and the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned in London were recognized as the vanguard of a new musical movement. The following year saw punk rock spreading around the world, and it became a major cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom. For the most part, punk took root in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment (ranging from deliberately offensive T-shirts, leather jackets, spike bands and other studded or spiked jewelry to bondage and S&M clothes) and a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies.
By the beginning of the 1980s, faster, more aggressive styles such as hardcore and street punk had become the main mode of punk rock. Musicians identifying with or inspired by punk also pursued a broad range of other variations, giving rise to post-punk and the alternative rock movement. At the end of the 20th century, punk rock had been adopted by the mainstream, and bands like Green Day found widespread popularity.
Therefore, in music it feels like Green Day gave way to a musical revolution. That might be true in some ways, but some disagree with Green Day being labeled a punk rock band. In reaction to both the style of music and the background of the band, John Lydon, former front man of the 1970s punk band the Sex Pistols commented: “So there we are fending off all that and it pisses me off that years later a wank outfit like Green Day hop in and nick all that and attach it to themselves. They didn’t earn their wings to do that and if they were true punk they wouldn’t look anything like they do.”
Armstrong himself has discussed the group’s status of being a punk band on a major record label, saying “Sometimes I think we’ve become totally redundant because we’re this big band now; we’ve made a lot of money – we’re not punk rock any more. But then I think about it and just say, ‘You can take us out of a punk rock environment, but you can’t take the punk rock out of us.'”
The one defining moment in Green Day’s musical career had to be their seventh studio album American Idiot. A concept album and “punk rock opera,” the album was released September 20, 2004. American Idiot was well received critically and won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2005. Its success inspired a Broadway musical and an incomplete feature film adaption. It has been praised in the years following its début, with several appearances on lists such as “greatest rock albums. Through 2005, the band toured in support of the album with nearly 150 dates, which was the longest tour in the band’s career, visiting Japan, Australia, South America and the United Kingdom. While touring for American Idiot, the group filmed and recorded the two concerts at the Milton Keynes National Bowl in England, which was voted “The Best Show On Earth” in a Kerrang! Magazine Poll.
I remember early last year, I came very close to featuring Green Day. The band has really enjoyed so much success, but last year the group reached another major plateau. On April 18, 2015, Green Day were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Fall Out Boy. Time passed by and I missed the opportunity. However, Green Day continued recording and performing music.
Last month, October 7, 2016, Green Day released studio album number twelve, Revolution Radio. Aaron Burgess at Alternative Press observed “It’s the first time in years Green Day haven’t had all the answers. But as a statement on how it really feels to fight, it’s the closest to the truth they’ve ever gotten.” Gwilym Mumford of The Guardian stated “[after their last few albums] the band have decided to get back to basics: Revolution Radio is their most focused work in years. Lead single Bang Bang sets the tone, with a caustic consideration of the fame-hungry psychosis of a mass shooter.”
The title of this post is quite deceptive. After twelve studio albums, it’s inconceivable that Green Day recently started a revolution. Perhaps after thirty years of performing together, music fans and critics now realize the Green Day revolution occurred some time ago. The good thing is I don’t think it’s over. There is more Green Day music to come.