If you’re just joining us, check out the About This Project link for details. Basically, I make playlists of all the singles by certain musical artists and then try to order them using the guiding principle “do I like each song more than the last song.” I define “single” in a broad enough way to include any song that was released as a purchasable single in any format in any country; as a promotional single in any country; as a video; or generally any song that I know charted anywhere. My main sources are Wikipedia (mostly reliable) and Discogs (reasonably reliable). I welcome editing feedback since sometimes I favor speed over spelling.
I didn’t care much for Green Day for their first three or so albums (including their breakthrough, Dookie). I started to like them as of their fourth album – Insomniac – and then a few years later read all the hype about American Idiot, bought it with a “how good could this be” sneer, and became a super-fan. This is important context to know – I lean more into the latter Green Day work.
Ranking Green Days songs has proved to be the biggest ranking challenge I’ve faced because principal songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong really knows his way around a three-minute pop-rock song. Almost every original song by the band is filled with hooks and very easy to like. I’ve had to go through this list dozens of times and split every hair on my head (good news: I have twice as much hair now) in order to get a ranking that I’m even marginally comfortable with. Which is to say, I’m only marginally comfortable with this list.
I’ve included songs by Green Day spin-offs The Network and The Foxboro Hot Tubs because all three core members (Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool) of the band were involved in both of those projects. Conversely, I’ve excluded some other side projects (Pinhead Gunpower) because they didn’t involve all three members.
And we’re off…
EDIT February 19, 2019 – While working on the second chunk of this list, I realized I’d left four songs that were released as videos off my list, so this section went from “61-66” to “61-70.” I updated the numbers of the tracks I’ve written about thus far and will update this again to fill out the list soon.
70. I Fought the Law
Stand alone single released in 2004
Cover of a song originally released by The Crickets (1960)
If I were to take every song I ranked and rank all of them, the bottom part of the Green Day list probably wouldn’t start until 50-100 other songs had appeared. Even the bottom two songs here (both covers) aren’t so lousy as they are inessential. Some history of “I Fought The Law:” after Buddy Holly died, The Crickets wanted to try to continue on without him, so they brought in Sonny Curtis – an old friend of the bands that had played with Holly in his early days. Curtis became the new lead singer and guitarist. One of his songwriting contributions to the band was a b-side titled “I Fought The Law.” This later became a hit for The Bobby Fuller Four and later still was adopted by The Clash. Green Day’s cover was recorded for an iTunes/Pepsi commercial and the best thing I can write about it is that drummer Tré Cool absolutely owns the turn around in the “robbing people with a (bam bam bam) six gun” verses. Otherwise, this version is a fairly inessential cover of a great song.
69. The Simpsons Theme
Single from The Simpsons Movie: The Soundtrack (2007)
Cover of the theme song to the TV Show The Simpsons
Another cover that is less bad than inessential, this was recorded for The Simpsons Movie. It’s kind of fun that Armstrong sings along with the last repetition of the main musical theme, but otherwise you only really need this track if you’re a completist. Obviously, I paid to download a copy.
68. Back In the USA
Single from Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band (2017), released as a single in 2017
This is Green Day’s most recent single (though they’re apparently working on new music now, so I’d best finish this list before the new record comes out). Long-time readers are aware that I’ve railed a bit against the practice of including new songs on Greatest Hits packages. In the days of physical media, this was a plot to get people to buy a bunch of songs they already had in order to get the new song. In this century, it’s probably more so that there’s something a fan can download from a new release. I think most bands see this as giving a gift to their fans, so let’s ignore that music is a business for the moment and assume good intentions. Anyhow, true to music tradition, when Green Day released Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band in 2017, they included a new song titled “Back in the U.S.A.” I dig the lyrics, am down with the message, but just find the song itself to feel a little dull. I’d still scream my fool head off to hear them play it in concert.
67. Joe Robot
(Artist: The Network)
From the 2003 album Money Money 2020 by The Network, released as a single in 2003
The Network were a short-lived side Green Day side project that opened for their parent band (in disguise) a few times in 2003-04. One recalls Love and Rockets’ side project, The Bubblemen, as well as how the gents from Spinal Tap opened for themselves as The Folksmen. I love this idea. Furthermore, I love that The Network aimed to be an 80’s style new wave act in the mold of Devo. The three main members of Green Day and their fabulous touring guitarist Jason White were 2/3 of the band and there were rumors that the two other members might have been from Devo. I have no evidence, just hearsay. Anyhow, there were many things to love about The Network, but unfortunately I don’t especially love their songs. “Joe Robot” for example is both a little dull and a little lyrically weak. Vocals on this song are provided by Van Gogh aka Mike Dirnt and he really has a rather good voice. I imagine if it weren’t for the fact that Billie Joe Armstrong has one of the best voices in rock, Dirnt could easily front the band.
66. Cigarettes and Valentines (live)
Promo single from Awesome as Fuck (2011), released as a single in 2011
Like many great bands, Green Day has a lost album. In 2002, the band was close to finishing the album Cigarettes and Valentines when the master tapes were stolen from the studio. The band ultimately decided this was not a disaster because even though they liked the album, it wasn’t quite what they actually wanted to be creating. What they did actually want to create was American Idiot and they did, so, you know, sometimes tragedy breeds triumph. They released some of the recovered Cigarettes and Valentines songs as b-sides (here’s a video album of everything that was released) but they didn’t release the title track as a single until they recorded it for their 2011 live album, Awesome as Fuck. I am predisposed to dislike most live recordings of songs. While I can hear that this is a classic Green Day tune, I believe I would like it much more as a studio track than as this live single. It sounds promising.
Second single from International Superhits! (2001), released as a single in 2002
Another song that was first included in a greatest hits package. “Maria” was originally the b-side of “Waiting” (coming up) and they re-recorded it for International Superhits! I don’t think “Maria” got any significant airplay anywhere, which isn’t a huge surprise. I first heard it while working on this list because (as you may have guessed) I tend to avoid the new songs on greatest hits albums. “Maria” makes for a fine b-side (indeed, I’d be thrilled if every b-side I heard was at least as good as “Maria”) but it is also a little meh as an a-side single. I do like the interview with “Billie Joe” that kicks off the song.
64. Let Yourself Go
Third single from ¡Uno! (2012), released as a single in 2012
In 2012, Green Day released three albums in four months. Titled ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, the albums were later released as a triple album using all three titles. For various reasons, the albums were, well, not exactly ignored, but perhaps not promoted as fully as they could have been. Four singles were released from the first album but only one each were released from the second or third. Furthermore, I have issues with the singles that were selected. They’re not bad per se, but in some cases there’s other songs on the three albums that I liked a lot more. Take, for example, this single, “Let Yourself Go.” It’s all right I guess, but there’s at least three songs on ¡Dos! that are so much better (“Lazy Bones,” “Wild Life,” and especially “Night Life” – even “F*ck Time”) that got no attention. There were theories at the time about why the second and third album received less promotion, but I suspect it was just a matter of the record company not quite knowing how to handle three records coming out back to back like that. Anyhow, all three albums are worth your time.
63. Nice Guys Finish Last
Fourth single from Nimrod (1997), released as a single in 1999
“Nice Guys Finish Last” was featured in the movie Varsity Blues two years after it’s parent album was released. It fit pretty well into that film, but it still strikes me more as an average album track than a stand alone song. The lyrics are clever but are also sort of exactly what you’d imagine they would be.
62. I Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely
Stand-alone single released in 2011
Cover of a song by Hüsker Dü (1986)
This single was sort of a double A-side single with the original version of the song released on record store day in 2011. I say “sort of” because it was side B, but the reason you’d buy this single is presumably because you were curious about the Green Day version (because if you love this song, surely you already have heard – and possibly own a copy of – the Hüsker Dü original). This was one of the first songs I ever heard by Hüsker Dü (in 1986, which was late into their career already) and at the time, I remember feeling like it was one of the loudest and fastest songs I’d ever heard of a song with a discernible melody. I also remember thinking it was one of the angriest songs I’d ever heard. I loved it instantly at age 18. Green Day – who have a genuine affinity for the same kind of perfect pop song played loud and fast style of Hüsker Dü – acquit themselves nicely here. While they don’t sound quite as vicious as Hüsker Dü did, they clearly love this song. I’d rank it higher but this seems like the right place on the list for this song.
61. Last Ride In
Music video from Nimrod (1997), released as a video in 1999
This is a fun surf-rock instrumental from Nimrod – an album that featured some fun stylistic experimentation on many tracks. It barely sounds like Green Day it’s a great deal of fun and worth a few minutes of your time. Then you only need to listen to it again if your really want to. Sometimes, I do.
Coming Soon: More covers, a few minor hits and some promo singles