Equal parts pop phenomenon and defiant pioneering punk juggernaut, Green Day is a band that defies category. But with millions of fans scattered across the world and an almost unbelievable career that’s been reinvented multiple times over the span of decades, the California band has proven it doesn’t need to be labelled to be successful. Alongside other intrepid bands like Bad Religion, Rancid and The Offspring, Green Day is credited for ushering punk music into the mainstream in the 1990’s.
With over 85 million albums sold and a spot in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Green Day’s story becomes nothing short of miraculous when you consider the band’s origins. When Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt were just 14 years old, they formed a band called Sweet Children in 1986 working with a drummer named John Kiffmeyer. The band inked a deal with Lookout! Records two years later, releasing an EP called 1,000 Hours and changing their name to Green Day, a nod to the musicians’ love for marijuana. Kiffmeyer left the band soon after in 1990 and was replaced by drummer Tré Cool, a drummer who previously played in another California band The Lookouts. Cool has been an integral part of Green Day ever since.
In 1991, Kerplunk was released, which sold an incredible 50,000 copies initially in the U.S. Now considered one of the best-selling independent albums of all time, Kerplunk has sold almost 2 million copies internationally. The album’s success brought Green Day opportunities to tour across the United States and Europe and attention from major labels. After signing with Reprise Records, the band started working with Rob Cavallo, who’d go on to produce Dookie, Insomniac, Nimrod, American Idiot and Uno/Dos/Tre. The band admired the work Cavallo did with pop-punk band The Muffs, and claimed to have formed a tight bond and musical repour from the very beginning of the relationship. It was around this time when Green Day began to feel alienated by the northern California punk scene.
Not punk enough for traditional punk fans and not accessible enough to be considered a conventional rock band, Green Day’s success was built by forging a unique musical path on their own terms. The landmark album Dookie was released in 1994, a record Fuse Magazine called “the most important pop-punk album of all time.” With the massive popularity of singles like “Longview”, “Basket Case”, and “When I Come Around,” the album sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S., making Green Day became a bona fide musical phenomenon. Spots at festivals like Lollapalooza and Woodstock ‘94 and a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album followed soon after. A year later in 1995, the band’s fourth studio album Insomniac was released, which was received warmly by critics.
The band took a couple of years off to regroup after the unexpected success they’d experienced and released Nimrod in 1997, which represented a major musical departure for the group. The acoustic folk single “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” became a major international success, appearing in many TV shows, films and countless high school proms and graduations. In 2000, Green Day released Warning and performed a free concert on the steps of San Francisco city hall to protest the practice of artists being evicted from their homes in the city. Three years later, the band recorded an entire album of 20 tracks, only to have the masters stolen from the studio upon completion. Rather than re-record the album, Green Day scrapped the album, deciding that it wasn’t their best work. The punk rock opera American Idiot was released in 2004 instead, stunning fans and critics alike not only by the album’s ambitious concept but also with its remarkable success. Selling over 6 million copies in the U.S., the album won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album and is considered one of the most influential pieces of protest art from the Bush era.
21st Century Breakdown was released in 2009 after Green Day’s longest hiatus between albums. The album was a hit with critics and represented the group’s best chart performance ever. A stage creation of American Idiot debuted on Broadway a year later. A series of albums called ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! were released in 2012, and in June 2013, the band broke a record by selling 60,000 tickets for a show at the Emirates Stadium in the U.K. Green Day’s 12th studio album Revolution Radio was released in 2016 followed by a massive international tour.