Much to the dismay of many in the East Bay punk scene, Dookie was released by Green Day on February 1st, 1994. It was Green Day’s first release with a major label, which the more cynical of their former fans found unforgivable. They were even banned from playing at infamous 924 Gilman Street in West Berkeley (officially known as the Alternative Music Foundation), where they initially met much of their early success, as a result.
Conversely, the release of Dookie is also largely credited with the revival of punk in mainstream music in the ‘90s, or, perhaps more accurately, the ascent of pop punk. Though initially slow to take off, Dookie soon was selling in the millions. And, whether you consider them hardcore punks or just hardcore sellouts, they were causing riots wherever they went, like Woodstock ’94 in New York and at the Esplanade in Boston.
Dookie Album Review
Right from the opening fill of Burnout, Dookie is a high octane attack. Immediately recognizable are Billie Joe Armstrong’s snotty vocals, a feature which for many defines the Californian pop punk explosion of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Armstrong himself describes his sound as “an American guy faking an English accent faking an American accent.” Perfectly in line with this are the lyrics, which mostly revolve around insecurity and feelings of being directionless, often associated with late adolescence. It’s hard to find a lyric that isn’t centred around this, but particularly succinct is: “I’m not growing up, I’m just burning out.”
The album doesn’t slow down at all until the first single and fourth track (though even then, not much), Longview. Featuring Mike Dirnt’s infectious bass line (which he claims to have written on acid), the song has a unique vibe. While there is often a close association between punk and ska, Green Day doesn’t really play ska. Dirnt’s twangy jazz bass adds a funky twist to many songs throughout Dookie, though it stands front and centre on Longview. The lyrical theme continues with depictions of apathetically hanging around an apartment with no aspirations, “I sit around and watch the tube, but nothing’s on.”
Up next is Basket Case, which produced Green Day’s most iconic video…
Basket Case begins with just Armstrong for the first verse, until Dirnt and Tre Cool come crashing in. Most appreciable on this track are the drum fills, with Tre Cool all over the set, as can be seen in its full glory in the video. Following logically from the subjects of the previous songs, Basket Case explores the soul-searching malaise and paranoia brought about by spending too much time alone doing drugs. Armstrong also briefly touches upon his personal struggles with his own sexuality, “I went to a whore, he said my life’s a bore.” In the lyrics of the CD the word ‘he’ is emphasized in bold, as Armstrong wanted “to challenge [himself] and whoever the listener might be. It’s also looking at the world and saying, ‘It’s not as black and white as you think. This isn’t your grandfather’s prostitute – or maybe it was.”
Dookie’s most radio-friendly song was also its fourth single, When I Come Around.
By the time of its release, Green Day and Dookie were already reasonably well-known, but When I Come Around gave them the final push into mainstream consciousness. While all of Dookie’s five singles were in the top ten on Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart (and most reached number one), When I Come Around managed to hit number two on the Mainstream Rock Chart as well, and it’s easy to see why. It’s amongst the slowest songs on the album and sports a catchy guitar riff with a fun bass line. It also cashes in on the then-popular alternative sound and, like any good chart-topper, is about a tumultuous relationship (though Achy Breaky Heart this is not).
My favourite track, however, was not a single at all. It’s the last song on the album (not counting Tre Cool’s hidden ditty, All by Myself), F.O.D., and it’s always nice to have a great song finish things off. The song is essentially an angry letter written to some unknown antagonist that Armstrong ultimately discovered to be a total fake. From the line “A side of you well hid” it’s suggested that this was probably someone he knew well and considered close at one point but who ended up betraying him. I don’t think that this was a romantic relationship, though there’s nothing really indicating either way; it’s just an impression. In any case, this is a great song, and in particular the way it bursts out half way through, into the bridge, is the high point of the record.
All in all, Dookie changed the face of popular music in the mid ‘90s. While in some ways it built upon the grunge movement of just a few years prior, reacting to the over-the-top glam of the ‘80s, it was a distinct sound from both alternative as well as the poppier punk of bands like Blink 182 which would follow in years to come. My only real criticism of Dookie is that its songs tend to sound alike, with a many which open on guitar and have the bass and drums bust in after the first verse or so. Still, it was one of the first CDs I ever bought and it will always stay with me.