It is difficult to believe that Green Day have been around for nearly thirty years. Considering that today, Green Day are one of the world’s best selling bands of all time, it is even more difficult to believe that the punk rock trio did not achieve mainstream popularity until Dookie’s release in 1994, seven years after their formation in 1987.
But Green Day had formed when the grunge era was just beginning. Whilst the trio were busy trying to make a name for themselves, grunge continued to rise in popularity, exploding in the early 90s with the release of Nirvana’s legendary Nevermind. During these years, record labels weren’t interested in punk rock. They were looking for another Nirvana, a Soundgarden, a Pearl Jam – not for a boisterous, adrenaline-fuelled punk band like Green Day.
However, by 1994, it was clear that the grunge scene was waning. Early in that year, rumours began to circulate that Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, had overdosed, and that the kings of the genre were calling it a day. As grunge shifted into post-grunge, and many second-rate Nirvanas started to fade into insignificance, there became a need for something new, something to revive the apathetic, withering music scene.
That revival came in the form of Green Day’s Dookie. The album was released on Reprise Records, who had signed the band in 1992, after the release of their second studio album, Kerplunk!. Despite the still dominating grunge scene, Kerplunk! was an underground success, and attracted the attention of Rob Cavallo, an A&R scout for Reprise Records, who agreed to produce what would become 1994’s Dookie.
With its relentless energy and devil-may-care attitude, Dookie was the album that grabbed a declining, struggling music scene firmly by the shoulders and shook the life back into it. From dynamic opener ‘Burnout’, the album is energetic and punchy, with brilliantly sarcastic lyrics delivered confidently over manic drumming and raucous guitars. ‘Welcome To Paradise’ is a particularly strong example of the album’s tirelessness and fervour, with an intricate and melodic interlude that builds to a hectic, fast-paced crescendo. Even the slightly slower-paced ‘When I Come Around’, with its unmistakable riff and driving bass groove, retains the intensity and stamina of the rest of the album, establishing itself as one of the highlights of the record.
Dookie was the perfect antidote to the pessimism and apathy of the deteriorating grunge scene – it took these qualities, and subverted them, creating songs that were somehow catchy and wonderfully carefree, but in no way superficial. ‘Basket Case’, for instance, is lyrically rather bleak, exploring frontman Billie-Joe Armstrong’s rocky mental health condition, yet with its irresistible sing-along quality, the track has become one of Green Day’s biggest hits. ‘Longview’ speaks to the apathetic teenager, whining about a lack of motivation, but the song itself is anything but unmotivated. Starting furtively with a captivating, hypnotic bassline, the track builds to a chorus that begs to be yelled passionately by the same apathetic youths it speaks to.
Upon its release, Dookie charted in seven countries, peaking at number two on the US Billboard 200. The year after its release, in 1995, it received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. The album was a critical success, too, praised for bringing punk rock back into mainstream culture. Some critics, however, commented that the album’s distinctive pop sound only remotely resembled punk rock – but this was not a concern for Green Day. After all, it was largely due to this infectious, catchy pop sound, that Dookie was able to bring punk back into mainstream music, but in a new and refreshing form.
Green Day’s Dookie is as energetic, as pithy, and as zealous now, as it was 20 years ago, in 1994. Today, the album is still cited by countless young pop punk bands as one of their most important influences, proving that even in 2014, two decades after its release, Dookie has not lost its relevance; it continues to shape and inspire new music. Dookie is a modern classic; one of the defining albums of pop punk, if not the defining album, and it is impossible to imagine pop punk, and indeed alternative music as a whole, without it.
Dookie was released on Reprise Records on 1st February 1994.