Personalities | Introducing Green Day
In March 2011 the New Musical Express published a list of the Top 100 gigs that music fans ‘should have been at’. Green Day were at No. 68 and the gig in question was their famed performance at The Den in Wigan on 21 December 1991 where they not only performed tracks from their debut LP 39/Smooth and upcoming album Kerplunk but also took part in an improvised nativity play.
Although I was, sadly, not at this gig, a good friend saw Green Day perform a few days earlier in a small London venue in front of around 90 people. Appearing on the same bill were Wat Tyler and headliners Jailcell Recipes, both of whom he preferred to the unknown American punks. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the trio, whose journey from playing in front of 90 to rocking giant stadia is a truly remarkable one.
Green Day were inspired to make music by the punk movement that emerged in America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It took hold in their native Bay Area and was intensified by the famed Gilman Street Project, a co-operative venue which not only helped establish local heroes like Operation Ivy but also gave succour to a host of new bands of which Green Day were one. Although they now live in multi-million dollar homes, Green Day started out playing any venue that would take them, from house parties to squats in Europe where payment was a little money, food, something more than tobacco to smoke and a bed for the night. Musically, although they drew water from established punk and hardcore bands, main songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong also had a tentacle in other musical pockets such as the melodic throb of The Buzzcocks. Their early material demonstrates this musical variety. Many of the tracks on 39/Smooth, such as ‘The Judge’s Daughter’, had a clean accessibility; this diversity is also what gives the music its immediate resonance today.
Green Day signed to Reprise Records in the wake of Nirvana’s proclamation that, after the success of their seminal Nevermind (1991), independent rock music could sell millions of units. Many who belonged to the movement that spawned them saw this as an abandonment of their punk principles, and led to spiteful fanzine editorials and constant interview questions from probing journalists about ‘selling out’. It could be fair to say that after two EPs and two LPs on Lookout!, Green Day had taken the independent route as far as it could go at a time when, as a live band, they were reaching critical mass and needed better support and marketing for their records. That their third album Dookie (1994) went on to sell over 16 million copies worldwide was probably a surprise to Reprise and to Green Day themselves, but it propelled them out of small venues into arenas and through the medium of MTV into the living rooms of American youth. Green Day were a breath of fresh air...
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