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.
We’re nearing a place on this list where I can’t play the song without immediately listening to it again. My top 30 Green Day song picks all have sections that I sing along with loudly – typically in the car but also anywhere I think I can get away with it.
30. Last of the American Girls
Fifth single from 21st Century Breakdown (2009), released as a single in 2010
Are the hand claps back? Yes, yes. They are back. “Last of the American Girls” is one of Green Day’s most upbeat love songs, dedicated to the titular girl. In context of the 21st Century Breakdown concept album, this girl is one of the protagonists, Gloria. In a broader context, Billie Joe was writing about his wife Adrienne and the song was influenced by his experience building houses for people post-Hurricane Katrina (see the sidebar notes at Genius). She became sort of a generic left wing protester who is willing to stand up for her beliefs. The fact that Green Days’ politics are similar to mine is not the only reason I like their music – after all, most artists share my politics. Anyhow, the song is completely, utterly catchy.
29. Ha Ha You’re Dead
Promo single from Shenanigans (2002), released as a single in 2002
Shenanigans was a compilation album of b-sides and rarities including this song, a previously unreleased track. Whereas I’m on the record of objecting to greatest hits packages with new songs on them, I am fervently in favor of rarity and b-side compilations which include new songs. Thus, I fully endorse Shenanigans. I especially endorse Mike Dirnt’s bratty, catty lyrics for “Ha Ha You’re Dead,” a song that is entirely immature, hilarious and glorious. Dirnt’s bass is also particularly prominent in this piece, which always makes me happy. The song is exactly what it sounds like – the celebration of an enemy’s eventual demise. The pre-chorus into the chorus are totally irredeemable and also among the catchiest pieces of music Green Day has ever played. I hate myself, but there are times that I feel this song with every ounce of my being. I don’t wish harm on anybody, but wow it sometimes feels good to sing this loudly after a particularly noisome encounter. And speaking of noisome…
28. Geek Stink Breath
First single from Insomniac (1995), released as a single in 1995
For the longest time, I had this song placed in my top ten, but ultimately that was because it was a favorite when it first came out 24 years ago (how can I even be this old?). It’s still a favorite, but there’s been a bunch of songs that Green Day recorded in the past two decades that have pushed their way ahead of it in line. I did not realize that “Geek Stink Breath” was about Methamphetamine use back in 1995 but, of course, somebody had to point out to me that “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind was about the same even though that guy literally sings “Doing crystal myth/ Will lift you up until you break.” What I’m saying is I can’t be counted on to pick up drug references even when the singer is literally shouting “this is a song about drugs,” so how much harder must it be for me when the lyrics are more oblique? Of course, the lyrics for “Geek Stink Breath” are not oblique and Billie Joe literally sings “methamphetamine.” I just never heard it until I did a little research these past few months. Apparently, when you do meth, your breath gets stinky. The more you know. The song is crazy catchy and I love how it keeps chugging along like a train that is not on meth.
27. Macy’s Day Parade
Promo single and video from Warning (2001), released as a single in 2001
Warning is Green Day’s most underappreciated album. I am showing my appreciation by including 4 of the 5 singles from that album in my top 30. I think one of the benefits of being a superfan of a band is that you get to discover some of the music that didn’t quite connect with the music buying public. Chart success isn’t necessarily a mark of quality – I’ll point to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” which went nowhere on the U.S. charts but is now correctly considered a stone cold classic. I’ll also point to “Macy’s Day Parade,” one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s most effective political ballads. The Macy’s Day Parade is of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Billie Joe removes the holiday from the title of the event to draw focus on the consumerism inherent in this four day American weekend. The “night of the living dead” he refers to in the second line is, of course, Black Friday. Armstrong makes the lyrics more personal by delving in to how alienated he’s left feeling by the rampant consumerism of these days. The song is a great precursor of Green Day’s work on American Idiot but is a fantastic song in it’s own context, too.
26. East Jesus Nowhere
Third single from 21st Century Breakdown (2009), released as a single in 2009
An absolutely killer guitar riff, one of their best sing-a-long choruses and a strong anti-religious hypocrisy message make “East Jesus Nowhere” one of the best tracks on 21st Century Breakdown. I especially like the moment where the bombast drops off and the chorus is momentarily simple and quiet – and then that riff kicks in again to blow that away. While I don’t think 21st Century Breakdown is consistently as strong as American Idiot, I’m blown away by the sheer number of high quality songs that Billie Joe Armstrong was creating during the 00’s. What must it be like to have access to an endless supply of high quality pop compositions in your head?
25. Stop Drop and Roll
Third single from the Foxboro Hot Tub’s Stop Drop and Roll!!! (2008), released as a single in 2008
I downloaded Green Day side-project The Foxboro Hot Tub’s tracks a few years back but didn’t immediately listen to them. The first time the title track to Stop Drop and Roll!!! I thought I was listening to some Hives deep cuts that I’d somehow missed. Obviously, this is not the case. I do appreciate how the band has sort of disguised themselves just a little in the video – not so much as to really look like different people, but enough that you might not notice if you didn’t know. “Stop Drop and Roll” is a song about a teenage girl who wants to get high and party. You know, typical rock song topics. Green Day transformed themselves into this garage band in the middle of their more political period and it must have been great fun to just cut loose and play songs that were fun. And, whoa, this is the kind of fun garage rock that I can listen to endlessly
24. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Second single from Nimrod (1997), released as a single in 1997
Wait, what, #24? Truth be told, I’d ranked this song like in the bottom 20 initially but, upon multiple listens with an open mind, realized I’d long ago stopped being sick of hearing it and could once again enjoy “Good Riddance.” I mean, this is one of those songs that I feel I’ve heard on the radio since I was a small child (I was 29 when it was released). For the better part of the late 90’s, this song was everywhere. It became a regular part of high school culture for me – every couple of years, it becomes one of those songs all the students sing during their senior year because students misunderstood the lyrics. But, you know, when you release a song into the wild, you lose control over what it means, so “Every Breath You Take” (#13) becomes a song of romance and “Good Riddance” become a song about saying goodbye to your high school friends. Even Billie Joe is cool with that interpretation, but the song is about a break-up he had in 1990. Technically.
23. American Idiot
First single from American Idiot (2004), released as a single in 2004
Is this the first single from American Idiot on my list? Really? All six of them are in the top 30? Gosh, I must like this album even more than Warning. It’s true, I do. I had cooled a bit on Green Day by the 00’s and picked up American Idiot more because of the rave reviews than because I’d actually heard any songs from the album. From start to finish, I was blown away. This would be a strong contender for my desert island album choice. You know what else would be? London Calling by The Clash. You know what else those two albums have in common? Amazing title tracks that are somehow overshadowed by even better songs on the same albums.
“American Idiot” was written and recorded in the middle of George W. Bush’s terms but it was not specifically about Bush (though Billie Joe often performed the song in a Bush mask), but rather about the media situation in America at the time that was changing from coverage of events to a reality TV spectacle. Little did they know, right? The titular American Idiot is somebody who absorbs information without analyzing it, does what they’re told and essentially conforms to the role of a follower. Now more than ever, I guess. I took exception to Mark Knopfler’s use of the other f-bomb in “Money For Nothing.” (#19) Billie Joe uses the word here but since he is bisexual, he can reclaim that word all he wants as far as I’m concerned.
First single from ¡Tré! (2012), released as a single in 2013
“X-Kid” breaks my heart a little every time I hear it. The lyrics are about a friend of the band’s who committed suicide in part because he never quite accepted adulthood. That’s not quite why I respond to it, though. Something about their description of this character (Billie Joe sings to the titular character) hits a little close to home for me. The “X” in the title is apparently a reference to Generation X and I can’t help but suspect that many people in my generation have a similar reaction when they listen to this song. Bombs away, here goes nothing. Musically, the song is extremely catchy pop-punk with a meaty little guitar riff and some great rhythm support from Dirnt and Cool.
21. Bang Bang
First single from Revolution Radio (2016), released as a single in 2016
The three official singles from Revolution Radio (as opposed to the five “also charted” songs from that album) all made my top 30). While musically Revolution Radio is there most consistently punk rock album this century, the songs are frequently reflective and socially pointed in a very different way than their earlier work. For example, the lyrics of “Bang Bang” contrast America’s culture of regular gun massacres with our narcissistic need to share our whole lives on social media (essentially placing ourselves under our own surveillance). This is set to one of the band’s most hardcore sounding tunes since their early days. It was a pleasant return to something I didn’t even realize I’d missed in 2016 and an excellent harbinger (one hopes) of future Green Day projects.
Coming Soon: It’s all just so good