On this week 15 years ago, East Bay punk stalwarts Green Day released their career-defining album, Dookie. Yeah, I said career-defining. Say what you will about American Idiot and what it did for the band (skyrocketing them into mega-stardom), but Green Day wouldn't even have had a chance to record that album without first unleashing Dookie onto the masses. The album, Green Day's third, sold 15 million copies worldwide and officially transformed the band into "sellouts" in the eyes of many smelly, dreadlocked, leather-wearing punk kids. While that may be true, the band can't be at fault for wanting to work with producer Rob Cavallo, the man responsible for launching Green Day into America's conscience. Dookie was, and still is, an amazingly tight, cohesive album. After recently giving it a listen, all those fuzzy memories still remain, and I still know all the lyrics to "Longview," "When I Come Around," and "Basket Case." Come, relive the glory with me as I explain why Dookie is one of, if not the best, punk/alternative rock albums of the '90s.
Let me start by divulging the fact that I was just about to turn 10 years old when Dookie was released. I don't remember the exact date when I heard the album, but it had to be not long after it was released and I saw that mind-blowing (especially to a 10-year-old) video for the lead single "Longview." I hadn't heard Green Day before Dookie, but it turned me into a huge fan, forcing me to go out and buy Kerplunk and 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, Green Day's first two albums (well, one album and another compilation of early LP's and EP's). At that point in my life, I needed any and all Green Day I could get my grubby little hands on. Dookie flipped my world inside out and gave me that first real album that I could play over and over again -- an album by which I could define my awkward, 10-year-old self.
Green Day quickly became my favorite band and stayed that way for a few years. I know when a punk band sets out to record a album, it doesn't stop to think, "Hey, let's really nail this one so 10-year-olds in Oregon will buy our old albums and put our posters on their walls."
I don't know what Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool really thought going into recording Dookie, and I honestly don't care. They gave me what I, as well as 15 million others, really needed.
In my opinion, Dookie is more an alternative album than it is punk. The songs are over 1:30 long, they don't have tons of profanity and their lyrical content is inspired -- not to mention intelligible. As it stands, however, Dookie was released in 1994, when alternative music was still in its formative years, at least as far as '90s alternative rock is concerned. While Nirvana was steadily defining the genre, Green Day was flipping it on its ear, giving listeners a refreshing take on it all, proving that music can be fun yet inspiring. That's not to say Nirvana's music wasn't fun, but Dookie and In Utero have a distinctly different sounds and appeal. The pace throughout Dookie is frenetic, proving that Green Day embraced their punk roots, with 14 songs clocking in at just under 40 minutes.
I suppose what always resonated with me from Dookie were the lyrics. "Basket Case" will always be my favorite song from the album, simply because I had never heard mental instability described in such a way. Hell, I hadn't heard much of anything described in song at that point in my life, but whatever Billie Joe Armstrong wrote and performed is what I wanted. This attitude that Green Day embodied in Dookie was just the ultimate feeling, splayed out over their songs and infused with a sensibility that made it okay to be less than perfect.
Insomniac, Nimrod, and Warning followed, all to less acclaim than Dookie. Then George W. Bush was elected president, American Idiot was born and Green Day cemented their legacy as American music juggernauts. However, it all started for the boys from Berkeley on a sleepy, cold week in early February 1994. Who knew an album with a scatological name and a lead single about masturbation would define alternative music, all while selling 15 million copies along the way?
Useless Information: The author of this entry, for his grade-school music class, played the bridge of the song "Basket Case" on the recorder. He named this piece "Grasp Into Control."