Top 20 Green Day Songs

Green Day
Green Day. Photo by Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

Green Day is one of the most celebrated American punk bands of all time. These are their twenty best songs. They came together as a group in 1986. The group's current membership and the classic lineup is the trio of Billie Joe Amstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool. The group's sales total exceeds 85 million records. They became members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

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"Basket Case" (1994)

Green Day Dookie
Green Day - Dookie. Courtesy Reprise

"Basket Case," the third single released from the album Dookie, is the song that turned Green Day into stars. Lyrically, it is a song about lead vocalist and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong's struggles with anxiety. It was one of the demo songs that convinced Reprise Records to sign the band. "Basket Case" spent five weeks at the top of the alternative radio chart. It crossed over to mainstream pop radio climbing to #16. "Basket Case" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance By a Duo or Group. The album Dookie ultimately reached #2 on the album chart and was certified ten times platinum.

Mark Kohr directed the accompanying music video. It frequently references the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It earned nine MTV Video Music Awards nominations but did not win any of the awards.

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"Longview" (1994)

Green Day Longview
Green Day - "Longview". Courtesy Reprise

"Longview" was released as the first major label single by Green Day. It was the first from their breakthrough album Dookie. The song is about intense boredom and loneliness it towns were you can't even dial in a decent radio station. It speaks of days spent doing nothing more important than masturbating and smoking marijuana. Billie Joe Armstrongs says that his inspiration was a personal experience. He lived about twenty minutes outside of Oakland, California where there was nothing to do.

The bass line is particularly memorable, and bass player Mike Dirnt says it first came to him on an LSD trip. The name "Longview" comes from the town of Longview, Washington where it the band first played the song live. The song earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance.

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"When I Come Around" (1995)

Green Day When I Come Around
Green Day - "When I Come Around". Courtesy Reprise

"When I Come Around" was the fourth single from Green Day's breakthrough album Dookie. The easily-singable chorus helped it become the group's biggest pop radio hit of the 1990s. Lead vocalist and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong considers it a highly personal song. It was written about the frustration both he and his then-girlfriend, later wife, Adrienne Nesser felt about how much time he had to spend on the road with the band. "When I Come Around" hit #1 at alternative radio and #2 at mainstream pop radio. 

Mark Kohr, who previously worked with the group on "Basket Case," directed the music video. It shows the band walking around locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. Green Day performed "When I Come Around" at the 1994 Woodstock Festival.

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"Geek Stink Breath" (1995)

Green Day Geek Stink Breath
Green Day - "Geek Stink Breath". Courtesy Reprise

This song was the first single from Green Day's fourth studio album Insomniac. The lyrics address the impact of methamphetamine use. "Geek" is slang for methamphetamine. Billie Joe Armstrong's own experiences at least partially influenced the song. "Geek Stink Breath" hit #3 at alternative radio. The album Insomniac did not sell as well as its predecessor Dookie, but it was ultimately certified double platinum.

Musically, the three-chord structure of "Geek Stink Breath" is a tribute to Green Day's punk predecessors the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. The song hit the top 10 at mainstream rock radio.

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"J.A.R." (1995)

Green Day J.A.R.
Green Day - "J.A.R.". Courtesy Reprise

The acronym "J.A.R." stands for Jason Andrew Relva, a childhood friend of the band's bass player Mike Dirnt. He died in 1992 at age 19 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The song was written in Jason's memory and went to #1 on the alternative radio chart. The band mentions Jason in the liner notes for the Green Day album Kerplunk. "J.A.R." is included on the soundtrack of the film Angus. "J.A.R." is also included on the Green Day compilation album International Superhits!

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"Brain Stew / Jaded" (1996)

Green Day Brain Stew Jaded
Green Day - "Brain Stew / Jaded". Courtesy Reprise

Although they are two different songs, "Brain Stew" segues into "Jaded" on the album Insomniac, and they appear together as one single. "Brain Stew" is specifically about insomnia and likely written during one of Bille Joe Armstrong's struggles with attempting to sleep. The screams of Armstrong's infant son contributed to his insomnia. The title is a reference to Armstrong's friend James Washburn who is nicknamed "Brain Stew." The single was a top 3 alternative radio hit, and ClearChannel radio placed it on their list of "inappropriate" songs after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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"Hitchin' a Ride" (1997)

Green Day Hitichin' a Ride
Green Day - "Hitchin' a Ride". Courtesy Reprise

"Hitchin' a Ride" is about stopping drinking and then failing to stay on that pathway and going back to alcohol. The harrowing song was the first single from the group's fifth studio album Nimrod. The project was noted for its spirit of exploration of a variety of styles. The album only reached #10 on the US album chart, but enduring sales helped push it into double platinum territory. "Hitchin' a Ride" reached #5 on the alternative radio chart.

Matching the subject matter of the song, Mark Kohr directed the music video in a Prohibition-era setting. "Hitchin' a Ride" reached the top 10 on mainstream rock radio.

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"Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life" (1997)

Green Day Good Riddance
Green Day - "Good Riddance (The Time Of Your Life)". Courtesy Reprise

Billie Joe Armstrong says that "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" was recorded purposefully as an acoustic ballad to counter the heavily-produced rock music that was popular at the time. It was written in 1990, considered for inclusion on Dookie, but was considered too different from the rest of the album, and finally included on the album Nimrod. Over time, the song has become very popular as a graduation song. When first released, "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" went to #2 at alternative radio and reached #13 at mainstream pop radio. It also crossed over to adult pop and rock radio.

"Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" sold more than 2.5 million digital copies. Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song while he was angry at his girlfriend who was moving to Ecuador. "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" won the first MTV Video Music Award for Best Alternative Video in 1998.

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"Minority" (2000)

Green Day Minority
Green Day - "Minority". Courtesy Reprise

"Minority" was the lead single from Green Day's sixth studio album Warning. On the album, the band shifted away from their punk sound to incorporate more influences from pop and folk music. Critics lauded their work, but the album was a commercial disappointment. While "Minority" spent five weeks at the top of the alternative radio chart, the album only reached #4 on the album chart.

Billie Joe Armstrong says the song is about having to meander through dark periods before finding out what you will become. He said it also marked a point at which his songs became more political in content.

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"Warning" (2000)

Green Day Warning
Green Day - "Warning". Courtesy Reprise

The title track from Green Day's sixth studio Warning was explicitly written to incorporate a wide range of labels and warnings into a song. It also addresses the idea that rules are made to be broken. "Warning" reached #3 on the alternative radio chart. The album Warning was a commercial low point for Green Day, but it was the last studio album before their massive comeback with American Idiot. Francis Lawrence directed the accompanying music video. It shows the life of a man who does dangerous and socially unacceptable things. The album Warning peaked at #4 on the U.S. album chart. Critical analyses of the album grew more favorable over time.

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"American Idiot" (2004)

Green Day American Idiot
Green Day - "American Idiot". Courtesy Reprise

"American Idiot" was the first single and title song from Green Day's most successful album. It rails against the negative impact on the American public of corporate media. The group was specifically disenchanted with the glorification of the Iraq War by both the media and the George W. Bush administration. "American Idiot" soared to the top of the alternative radio chart, and it broke into the Billboard Hot 100. The record earned a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.

Samuel Bayer directed the accompanying music video. It showed the American flag dyed green to represent the band. During the song, the stripes melt to the floor. "American Idiot" hit the top 10 of the mainstream rock chart.

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"Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" (2004)

Green Day Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Green Day - "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Courtesy Reprise

Released as the second single from the album American Idiot, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" became the biggest hit of Green Day's career. The song is the only one in history to win both the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year. Billie Joe Armstrong says the song is about efforts to regain personal power when retreating from the world and being alone. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 while hitting #1 at alternative, adult pop, and mainstream pop radio.

Billie Joe Armstrong gained inspiration for the song's title from a poster depicting acting icon James Dean walking through New York wearing an overcoat. The Samuel Bayer-directed music video won the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year.

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"Holiday" (2005)

Green Day Holiday
Green Day - "Holiday". Courtesy Reprise

The music of Bob Dylan reportedly inspired "Holiday." It is the third single released from the American Idiot album. Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it out of a sense of rage against the Republican Party and the George W. Bush administration in particular. Green Day also considered it to be an anti-war song. The sound is muscular upbeat rock. "Holiday" peaked inside the top 20 on the pop chart and went to #1 at alternative radio. 

Billie Joe Armstrong made clear in interviews that the song "Holiday" is an "anti-war", not "anti-American" song. In the music video, Billie Joe Armstrong portrays multiple roles including the representative from California mentioned in the song, a punk rocker, and a nerd.

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"Wake Me Up When September Ends" (2005)

Green Day Wake Me Up When September Ends
Green Day - "Wake Me Up When September Ends". Courtesy Reprise

Billie Joe Armstrong wrote "Wake Me Up When September Ends" about the death of his father in September 1982. Billie Joe Armstrong was only ten years old at the time. It is the fourth single released from the American Idiot album. The song became closely tied to the Hurricane Katrina disaster which came ashore on August 29, 2005. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was a top 10 pop hit.

Samuel Bayer directed the accompanying music video and turned it into a mini-movie about soldiers serving in the Iraq War. The couple in the clip is played by Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Wood. The music video drew complaints from conservative commentators who insisted that it was exploiting the war for commercial gain. Samuel Bayer stated that it was his best work yet.

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"Jesus of Suburbia" (2005)

Green Day Jesus of Suburbia
Green Day - "Jesus of Suburbia". Courtesy Reprise

Jesus of Suburbia is the lead character in the loose story that runs through the album American Idiot that became a Broadway musical. The song was the fifth and final single released from American Idiot. The album version stretches for nine minutes across five movements. It was edited down to six and a half minutes for radio promotion. The song received substantial critical acclaim as an epic effort. It reached the top 30 at alternative radio.

The music video directed by Samuel Bayer exists in two forms. One is twelve minutes long and includes more plot and dialog. A six-and-a-half-minute version focuses solely on the length of the song. 

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"Know Your Enemy" (2009)

Green Day Know Your Enemy
Green Day - "Know Your Enemy". Courtesy Reprise

Billie Joe Armstrong stated that "Know Your Enemy" was about liberating yourself from the garbage shown on TV. As the first single after the huge international success of American Idiot, the song faced high expectations. Many observers complained that it was lackluster compared with the band's previous work. It was the first single from the album 21st Century Breakdown. "Know Your Enemy" soared to the top of the alternative radio chart as well as the mainstream rock chart and reached the top 30 on the pop chart. The album was a #1 hit and earned a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album.

Director Matthew Cullen, who worked with Weezer on their "Pork and Beans" clip, shot the video for "Know Your Enemy" in downtown Los Angeles. 

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"21 Guns" (2009)

Green Day 21 Guns
Green Day - "21 Guns". Courtesy Reprise

Green Day released "21 Guns" as the second single from their album 21st Century Breakdown. The song addresses the concept of patriotism and references the 21-gun salute given to a soldier who has died. Commentators referred to it as an arena rock power ballad. The song received two Grammy Award nominations including for Best Rock Song. "21 Guns" peaked at #22 on the pop chart while reaching the top 10 at both adult pop and alternative radio. It was the group's best chart showing in four years.

Marc Webb directed the accompanying music video. It features the Green Day touring guitarist Jason White. Actors Josh Boswell and Lisa Stelly appear as the couple depicted in the album 21st Century Breakdown.

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"Oh Love" (2012)

Green Day Oh Love
Green Day - "Oh Love". Courtesy Reprise

"Oh Love" was released as the first single from the album Uno! It is the first single after leaving the stories of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown behind. Some observers considered the song to be a little safe after the aggressive political content of their most recent work, but most still praised the classic punk rock sound of the band. "Oh Love" went to #3 at alternative radio but it failed to rise any higher than #97 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album turned out to be a commercial disappointment as well debuting at #2 but quickly fading from the album chart.

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"Bang Bang" (2016)

Green Day Bang Bang
Green Day - "Bang Bang". Courtesy Reprise

"Bang Bang" addresses the very sensitive topic of mass shootings in the US. It unfolds from the point of view of a shooter. Observers saw the song as combining the group's early punk rock sound with the political content of their later music. Critics strongly praised the song. "Bang Bang" was released as the first single from the album Revolution Radio. The song climbed to the top of the alternative radio chart but failed to experience any significant pop crossover. Revolution Radio returned Green Day to the top of the album chart for the first time in seven years.

Tim Armstrong, the leader of punk group Rancid, directed the "Bang Bang" music video. It addresses the topic of gun violence. Three criminals wear masks of the Green Day members and rob a bank in the clip.

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"Still Breathing" (2016)

Green Day Still Breathing
Green Day - "Still Breathing". Courtesy Reprise

A dark and emotional song about living through tough times, "Still Breathing" was released as the second single from the album Revolution Radio. It addresses people addicted to drugs and gambling as well as soldiers returning from war and others experiencing difficulty. "Still Breathing" was a #1 hit at alternative radio becoming the group's 11th #1 on that chart overall. It also reached #1 on the mainstream rock radio chart. Critics praised "Still Breathing" as one of Green Day's best songs.

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