It’s nearly impossible to overstate the influence Green Day have on the rock scene these days. Ever since breaking into the mainstream in the mid-‘90s, everyone from blink-182 to Lady Gaga have cited their music as an inspiration at some point in their career. If you’re newer to the group, the band’s collection of 13 albums can be a bit intimidating. Instead of just going in at random, here’s a road map to help you find your way through the band’s catalog.
When aliens finally make first contact with Earth and demand to know what pop punk is all about, Dookie should be the prime candidate for what the genre represents. In just over a half-hour, Green Day blazed the trail for what punk would become in the early ‘00s, from the tuneful vocals to the snotty attitude. You can go for the big singles, but it doesn’t really matter where you land on this album. Every track is an absolute treasure.
Essential Tracks: “Basket Case,” “Welcome To Paradise,” “Burnout,” “Longview”
American Idiot (2004)
After a decade in the spotlight, it wasn’t necessarily fun to be Green Day. Once they got back from touring with blink-182, Billie Joe Armstrong hunkered down and stepped into the leagues of classic rock with American Idiot. Constructing a concept album through each song, the project channeled the frustration and anger that so many kids felt as the Iraq War was kicking into high gear. When many pop-punk bands were finding their feet, Green Day managed to blow away their competition and hit the reset button on their career.
Essential Tracks: “American Idiot,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Homecoming”
Although most Green Day die-hards would consider the two previous albums the only mandatory listening, Nimrod is where you see the band really starting to play around with their sound. Outside of the eternal graduation anthem “Good Riddance,” though, this is a masterclass on how much these Cali punks can pull off, from ska music to instrumentals to straight-up power-pop songs. Others have tried to make something this diverse, but no one has succeeded quite like this.
Essential Tracks: “Scattered,” “Last Ride In,” “Good Riddance”
If you thought the brattiness of Dookie was too good to pass up, Insomniac picks up exactly where it left off. Compared to the pop-punk tags they get labeled with, this is the most straight-up punk album they ever made, with songs that are as fast as they are angry. From being mad at their punk community back home to the roller coaster they had to deal with in the public eye, this is a middle finger to anyone who dared call them sellouts.
Essential Tracks: “Brain Stew/Jaded,” “Panic Song,” “Stuart And The Ave.”
21st Century Breakdown (2009)
And for all of you who loved the classic-rock worship of American Idiot, you’d be happy to learn that Green Day weren’t done with their rock ‘n’ roll grandstanding. Whereas their previous record sounded like a punk’s version of classic rock, this is classic rock trying to do punk, with amazing results throughout the tracklisting. Even for an album that breaks the hour mark, not a second of time is wasted.
Essential Tracks: “21 Guns,” “Restless Heart Syndrome,” “East Jesus Nowhere”
Green Day weren’t always the loveable snotty punks that you knew them as, though. Before they had even signed to a major label, their last indie release Kerplunk! shows the monster they were about to become. A little rough around the edges? Yes… but still well worth your time as an early glimpse of what this band can really do.
Essential Tracks: “80,” “Christie Road,” “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”
Not all fans are huge on this record. But if this is what happens when Green Day shake it up, they should probably do it way more often. Considering the last thing they came out with was Nimrod, the sound of folk punk works surprisingly well across every track on the album. The early days of the band may have been taking cues from the Ramones, but this is where we get to the Elvis Costello side of the band.
Essential Tracks: “Minority,” “Fashion Victim,” “Waiting”
No matter how big they got, Green Day have always been music fans first. So when they decide to do a cover song, you better believe they take care of it. Whether it’s from the world of classic rock or the punk music that they grew up with, it’s nice to know that they can even do justice to the greatest bands of all time
Essential Tracks: “Working Class Hero,” “A Quick One While He’s Away,” “Hybrid Moments”
Odds and Ends
Some of the most underrated Green Day songs of all time never ended up making a proper studio album. Although some great tracks eventually show up on deluxe editions, a lot of material ends up getting left on the cutting room floor. If many other acts created songs from the Shenanigans album, it would be the best tracks of their career.
Essential Tracks: “Suffocate,” “Favorite Son,” “Ha Ha You’re Dead”
American Idiot Musical
Since American Idiot showed us just how much you could do with a punk-rock opera, why not have it actually meet the stage? As risky as this project was, the love and care put into this album is on display the minute it comes on. Incorporating songs from the album and a few cuts from 21st Century Breakdown, this is the kind of gamble that likely only pays off once in a lifetime.
Essential Tracks: “When It’s Time,” “21 Guns,” “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”
Revolution Radio (2016)
Considering many of the things going on with the band behind-the-scenes at the time, Revolution Radio is a surprising album. After trying to latch onto different creative directions, this sounds like the trio getting back to basics and rediscovering their love of playing music. Many people go through difficult times, but the true professionals are able to get back up again.
Essential Tracks: “Still Breathing,” “Outlaws,” “Ordinary World”
1,039/Smooth Out Slappy Hours (1990)
If you’re really into the Cali punk scene, you’re going to be in for a ride with Green Day’s proper debut. The only thing that some may view as a strike against it is the fact that the band aren’t fully intact yet, especially because Tré Cool wasn’t behind the kit. For a bunch of scrappy kids who were trying to figure themselves out, though, this is what most of us wish our early days could have sounded like.
Essential Tracks: “Going To Pasalacqua,” “The Judge’s Daughter,” “At The Library”
Father Of All Motherfuckers (2020)
The only problem that comes with an album like this is that there doesn’t seem to be enough of it. At just 10 tracks and under a half-hour, this almost feels like a weird side experiment that they did on the side. Since this is a mainline album, though, their attempt at a more glam-rock style of production still feels like they genuinely put some love and care into it. Still great… just not the one you should go to first.
Essential Tracks: “Graffitia,” “Sugar Youth,” “Fire, Ready, Aim”
The Trilogy (Uno, Dos, Tre) (2012)
Even Armstrong doesn’t look back too fondly on the trilogy era of the band. The idea of a triple record does seem pretty cool, but having this much Green Day all at once feels like too much too soon. If you want to see what it’s like to see into the minds of pop punk’s favorite sons, this is still worth a peek.
Essential Tracks: “Nuclear Family,” “Dirty Rotten Bastards,” “Lazy Bones”
Foxboro Hot Tubs
Sometimes an artist gets so creative that they can’t contain it to one band. Just before getting to work on 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day’s take on garage rock with the Foxboro Hot Tubs is still a rip-roaring good time from start to finish. Even though this is a ways away from classic punk, this is the kind of stuff that could give people like the Strokes a run for their money.
Essential Tracks: “Mother Mary,” “Ruby Room,” “The Pedestrian”
If you still want something all its own, Green Day can deliver. Though the garage-rock sound was distinct, imagine them trying to pull off something like DEVO. Just before getting to work on American Idiot, this fun little side project was a unique detour into the world of synth rock, with songs that would make the robot overlords proud. For any die-hard fan, this is still a deep dive that you need to take.
Essential Tracks: “Supermodel Robots,” “Roshambo,” “Ivankkka Is A Nazi”