Dookie is one of those albums that has been such a constant presence in my life that I can scarcely remember a time when it wasn’t just always there. It came out on this day in 1994, when I was just shy of my 13th birthday, so not only was it a formative time for me but also a pretty lucky time to be a pre-teen/teen just getting into rock music. It was a very special time with a vast landscape to choose from in both the mainstream and the underground. (Though if I had it my way, I’d have been born just a few years earlier so I could have been already a teen by 1990 or 91 so I could have gone to more shows and seen Green Day in their pre-Dookie days and of course Nirvana among others, but alas, I arrived in 1981 and that was that.)
My initial exposure to the band was, like many kids of the day, when I saw the video for “Longview” on MTV one day after school. If I had to guess, it was probably the same month the record came out, maybe in March, and it was not long before you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the band on the radio or seeing the videos on MTV (in between and around coverage of Kurt Cobain’s tragic early death that April). Being a kid at the time with no source of income, and obviously no such thing as streaming platforms or YouTube, there was often a significant delay in me getting my hands on albums if someone else I knew didn’t already have it and was willing to let me borrow it to tape it. Surprisingly, no one I knew had a copy of Dookie so I couldn’t tape the entire thing and had to rely on taping what songs I was able to catch off the radio for a while until I was able to buy a copy of the CD with my Christmas money some months later (along with a copy of Hole’s Live Through This and Veruca Salt’s American Thighs). It was then that I could really dig deep into the full collection beyond just the singles that were receiving airplay.
I eventually lost that original copy, but have listened to it countless times on streamers since (and definitely had MP3s of it along the way too), have absconded with a copy of the CD in a breakup, bought copies at thrift stores, and more recently finally got a copy of the vinyl LP picture disc. Even when most of the kids around me in that era grew out of punk or alternative rock or whatever term you want to ascribe to it really, that album just never left my consciousness. And sure the album went on to win a Grammy in 1995 and sell millions upon millions of copies, but its always meant much more than that to me; its always felt personal. Even when I go long periods without listening to it, it always still feels like coming home whenever I hear a song from it.
So with all that being said, I thought to myself recently, isn’t it time I do a song by song breakdown of the album? I agreed with myself (ha) so what follows is thoughts/anecdotes/memories on one of my favorite albums of all time. The band has said what many of the songs are about or what they mean in the intervening years but we all know lyrics are personal to the listener too and everyone takes away something different. These are just my interpretations and what they mean to me, you may think or feel something entirely different about these songs and that’s okay; You certainly don’t have to agree with my takes and I invite you to let me know yours in the comments. This is not intended as a monolith or anything like that, just a middle aged nerdy punks opinion on them.
Lyrics and artwork for “Burnout”
Burnout- Billie Joe Armstrong gets right to the point from the very beginning giving us the opening line: “I declare I don’t care no more…” and what a fucking way to start a record! I know Kurt Cobain gets most of the 90s slacker aesthetic cred even to this day, but if that line doesn’t sum up the 90s/Gen X experience, then what else does? Also what drummer hasn’t fantasized about nailing Tre Cool’s epic drum solo in the middle of this song? I know I for sure have. And the fact that he was 20 years old when he recorded it? Incredible! The one-two punch of the pairing of these elements still floors me to this day even after hearing it hundreds- if not thousands- of times now.
Having A Blast- This is one of those songs that I think, okay maybe these lyrics wouldn’t work so well today, and I have mixed feelings about the violent nature of the whole strapping-a-bomb-to-yourself-to-hurt-other-people with thing or making light of that in a song. That being said, looking under that surface of blowing people up etc, the underlying theme of frustration and wanting not so much revenge, but to feel seen and validated is something anyone can relate to; that’s what I’ve always taken from the song and interpreted it as. I’ve found myself often pondering these words, even well into my adult life:
Do you ever think back
To another time?
Does it bring you so down that you thought you lost your mind?
Do you ever wanna lead a long trail of destruction
And mow down any bullshit that confronts you?
Do you ever build up all the small things in your head
To make one problem that adds up to nothin’?
And that right there points to me that no, this kid doesn’t want to blow people up, he just wants to not feel so damn frustrated about life; we can all empathize with that because we have all been there at one time or another. One can hope we all have evolved – and that male expressions of frustrations/disillusion/dissatisfaction specifically have evolved – in the last three decades to convey feelings like this more productively. Aside from analysis on the lyrics, I’ve always loved the vocal delivery in this song which really shows off the range Billie Joe has and the way he and Mike Dirnt so effortlessly harmonize together. Musically the band is locked in so tight, chugging through the verses, with Tre Cool’s drumming again shining through with those splashy cymbal hits in the chorus.
Chump- If there was one thing a lot of bands did well in the 90s, it was conveying angst. Green Day may lean a bit more towards the “boredom/I hate you” side of things rather than the “I hate myself” side but it is angst none-the-less. While I wasn’t bullied to the point of trauma as a kid, I did have my fair share of kids who picked on me (perhaps because mean kids and bullies always seem to be able to sniff out weird little queers before we can figure it out ourselves) and this song definitely gave a voice to how I felt about a lot of it at the time. It still does when I find myself doubting things and wondering if I’m “relevant” or other such feelings of inadequacy in the face of how I think others are perceiving me. The build up/fade out instrumental jam into “Longview” still gets me each and every time too.
Vinyl picture disc A-side
Longview- I was not a teenage boy in 1994 or at any point thereafter, so I admit that it escaped my notice for many years that this song is pretty much entirely about masturbation. Yes, I knew it was a PART of the song since it’s mentioned directly, but it always struck me more as a bored slacker anthem which it definitely is, but I always figured, I don’t know maybe he’s playing video games or reading comics when he’s bored and then does a little of that on the side too. But oh no, it finally dawned on me, he’s been jerking off this entire time! It seems a little ridiculous now to admit that I didn’t realize that way earlier but again, I was a shy nerdy barely teenaged girl who was not in any way thinking of sex at the time this was released and I guess it just never occurred to me until much later the whole entire thing could be centered around doing the deed with yourself. Of course this song also contains one of the most iconic rock basslines of the 90s and probably of all time. Which, as the story goes, Mike Dirnt came up with on acid one night.
Welcome To Paradise- This is absolutely top three favorite Green Day songs for me, and in my top favorite songs by any artist period. It just hits every single element of what they do best and wraps it all up in one song. The frantic drums, raging guitars, nimble bass, killer vocal harmonies – I can seriously listen to this song ten times in a row and not tire of it at all. This is about the band’s experiences in and around Berkeley/the East Bay, but a few shifts in words, and it can easily apply to a bored and confused kid in a small town in NJ in the early 90s for sure (or anywhere). And certainly to a grouchy ass adult living in the NYC of the 2020’s too, particularly the line “It makes me wonder why I’m still here…”
The breakdown of this song I think really is an early foreshadowing of their later move away from being a lean power trio to that of a band that, yes does often stick to its established style in many ways, but that is also willing to experiment within that framework. It is particularly evident in the guitar work here, with several tracks layered on top of each other, building something far bigger than what is on the earlier and rougher recording of this song that appeared on Kerplunk, and shows a band that was learning to come into its own in a studio environment for the first time.
This video is labeled a little oddly…it is an official video and I am assuming here the footage was likely purpose shot in the 90s or maybe was just concert footage that has just been very well edited (though I never saw this video back then that I remember). It is also tagged as being from Kerplunk but this is definitely the Dookie version of the song
[Speaking of re-records…“409 In Your Coffeemaker,” which originally appeared on 39/Smooth, was also re-recorded during the sessions for Dookie. While this also resulted in an improved version of the recording, I just don’t find it to be at the level of the distinctness between the two versions of “Welcome To Paradise,” which sound so radically different to me. The re-record of 409 is better but it really just sounds like a mere updated recording. The record company and band might have agreed with this sentiment which may be why it was left off of the final edition of Dookie and was only made available as a b-side of the UK version for the CD single of “Basketcase.” Because of this, many American fans, including this one, didn’t know of its existence until much later]
“409 In Your Coffemaker” from the Dookie sessions
Pulling Teeth- This is another one of those songs that I don’t think has aged as well lyrically. I know it’s probably not meant to glorify abuse and sure the tables are turned with the traditional dynamic of the abuser vs abusee, but something about it just rubs a little bit the wrong way. Perhaps it was BJA’s attempt at opening a dialogue around this subject, something that not a lot of folks were doing in that era, and I can certainly see there being a lot of good in having these discussions. But the song never really went any further so maybe it really was just a cheeky song about a guy being beat up by his girlfriend. I also find it’s not their most interesting work musically so I tend to skip this one more often than not. Still, I don’t find it a total blemish on the overall work since while not the strongest track, it’s still a solid B. Not bad amongst a collection of so many other heavy hitters.
Basketcase- I could devote pages and pages to this song but instead, rather than going off the rails, I’ll keep this one brief. Suffice it to say that this is another top favorite song both from Green Day and overall, and another perfect showcase of every single killer element of this band encapsulated in one song. There is a reason it is one of their most popular songs to this day- even more so than any of their other hits or even the singles off of the wildly successful American Idiot that followed a decade later. I played it at a DJ night not long ago and every person in the place immediately and viscerally reacted, singing along word for word. After all, who can’t relate to lyrics like “Sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me” and “Am I just paranoid, or am I just stoned”?
The original artwork for the UK version of the “Basketcase” single (also used in the special edition 7inch box set that was released in 2009)
She- The true staying power of a record or a song is the fact that it’s always there for you to return to, throughout many phases of your life, and that you can always relate to it. And nothing is truer when I think of this song. “She…she screams in silence, a sullen riot penetrating through her mind” has penetrated through my own mind during countless bad days and crappy situations. And how could I not find perpetual comfort in “Are you locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you? Are you feeling like a social tool without a use?” because, trust me, I do often feel this way and find comfort in the lyrics, even as a supposedly put together 40 something. This song also is another place for the rock solid rhythm section to shine together, particularly with Dirnt again showing how strong his bass skills were even then at a mere 21 years old.
Sassafras Roots- Here’s more of the bored slacker aesthetic which as we know by now is a lot of the lyrical framework of this bratty magnum opus, but it still never gets tired for me. Some may view this as a throwaway song, but it’s one of my personal standouts and aside from the strength of the singles and most iconic tracks, this is a really solid track holding down the back half of the album. The way Armstrong and Dirnt harmonize on the “may I waste your time too?” as the songs reaches it peak still gets under my skin even now.
Vinyl picture disc B-side
When I Come Around- This song always felt like Green Day at their most “alt rock” and I never really read it as a punk song***. That’s not to say that is a bad thing at all, and it is an enjoyable song, but I can admit it’s not really amongst my top favorites by them. Given that I really think they have a lot of other songs that are stronger, I found it interesting to discover in my research for this piece that at the time, it was their first song to go top 10 and the most successful song of the first phase of their mainstream career chart wise. I don’t really pay much mind to that kind of thing but I thought for sure it would have been “Longview” or “Basketcase”. I have also felt at times that it almost doesn’t even feel like it fits into the overall hyper energy of the rest of the album and has always seemed like a wild card so it being the most successful single of the album feels a bit weird. But then again given the year it came out and what else was popular at the time…I suppose it does make sense since it appealed to an audience more used to slower tempo and less hyper offerings.
Everything else aside, I don’t dislike the song, I just think it’s a bit of an oddball in the full context of this album. It’s a damn solid song and whenever it comes on, I still find myself singing along and immediately thinking of the music video for it…which at the time it came out I didn’t really like much because I preferred videos where you could see the band performing rather than lip synching and/or acting something out. I recently re-watched it and while I still like performance videos better, I can find a place in my heart for this one now. The band looks soooo young and the fashion is soooo very 90s, how could I not have warmed up to it a little by now? (future Green Day touring guitarist Jason White appears in the video making out with his girlfriend too)
(***I famously am not much of a pop punk fan and often get “but you love Green Day,” though honestly, I don’t read them as a pop punk band and never really have. I think that is probably because I discovered them in the era of alt rock and through that lens first rather than through the punk scene so I’ve always had a place in my heart for them as a 90s alternative band.
Sure they are poppy yes, but they don’t have a lot of the hallmarks of the pop punk genre overall either and to me have always had a grungier edge to them. Maybe pop grunge or something is a better term? Because I don’t read them as power pop either.
Though all this being said, I am obviously well aware that they came from distinctly punk roots ethos wise and of their connection to Lookout! and the East Bay scene. And though I never experienced that scene first hand, it has been well documented, so I’m confident in saying it definitely seemed like it was a scene united more by “punk as an ethos” and friendships built within a community than strictly adhering to “punk as a sound.” Their mention of this scene and their connection to it, particularly early on in their mainstream success, was what opened a wider door for me to explore these things myself and directly lead to me discovering many underground punk bands and zines which I still regard very highly in my life even to this day. I can say the same for Nirvana and several other bands of the era that led me to backtrack through the scenes they came from that I otherwise would have had absolutely no knowledge of or access to)
Coming Clean- Another ode to confusion and disillusion, this album is packed full of angsty tales of all sorts. This is another one that may be tempting for some to classify as “filler” but has never felt that way to me. It is in fact quite the opposite and I’ve always found inspiration in it. “17 and strung out on confusion, Trapped inside a role of disillusion” having heard this song as a pre- 17 year old and now as a post 17 year old for many many years now, trust me, you don’t need to be 17 to feel the impact of those words deep in your soul. Over the years it has been said this song is an allusion to Armstrong’s bisexuality and I for sure know many queer people (myself included) who have taken comfort in the lyrics and found strength in their coming out processes through them as well.
Emenius Sleepius- This song talks about the betrayal and sickness (literally and figuratively) of realizing a friend isn’t who you thought they were and really I can’t think of too much that is more disappointing than that. Be it a friend, a family member, a coworker or otherwise, it’s always a huge let down and bummer when you realize you’ve been hoodwinked by someone you thought you could trust. I return again and again to songs like this because these feelings never really go away as we age, we just hopefully get better at processing them. This is another one of those songs that people don’t usually think of first when this album comes to mind and one that might also be tempting to refer to as “filler,” but I would point you to the one minute mark where the breakdown begins and some of Tre Cool’s best drumming of the album hits, paired with some of Dirnt’s finest bass work too. “Filler” my ass, this song is a rapid fire banger and a drastically underrated classic.
In The End- A lot of the themes of this record could be perceived as the follies of youth or teenage concerns (since the band was barely out of their teen years when these songs were written and recorded) but remember what I said about staying power well into adulthood? I could say it really for any of these songs and it was why I found myself turning specifically to this romper after the end of several relationships in my life – both platonic and romantic – with people who really embodied all of the traits of the subject of Armstrong’s ire in this song. These themes are always universal and vapid narcissistic people are always part of our lives so it’s nice to take some comfort in a bratty sing along to convey exactly how you feel about it all.
The original back cover of Dookie before the Ernie doll was airbrushed out over fears of a lawsuit
F.O.D.- If “Burnout” is a killer way to start a record, then “F.O.D.” is an even more killer way to finish it where every sentiment of every other song is compressed here in the final track. It would have worked fine for me if it was just the first acoustic half and really how would we have known there was more to come if the band chose to stop there? But they didn’t stop there and when the song massively explodes and the distortion and rhythm section kick in, it all flies around like shrapnel to drive the album home. All of the other pain, frustration, rage, ache, and yearning expressed throughout the course of the album comes to a boil here to nail the point home one last time. I’m hard pressed to think of many other albums that start and end so perfectly and have so much strength bolstering them in the middle.
I’ve had this burning in my guts now for so long….
Slays me every damn time.
(I know it’s technically not part of the song and a mistake, but I love how you can hear Tre drop his drumsticks on the floor of the studio at the very end as if to say, “that’s fucking it, I’m OUT!”)
(I did a very bad acoustic version of this at a birthday show I was having some years back when I foolishly entertained the idea briefly of trying some singer-songwriter stuff. I was terrible at it and fortunately realized pretty quickly, but I can say I did have a lot of fun singing this with my then boss in the room)
All By Myself- I almost left this one off but then figured, what the hell, why not? Dookie came out in the heyday of the hidden track era and I have to say, I always thought this song was silly filler and after hearing it a few times back then, I’d just stop the CD after “F.O.D.” or go back to the beginning skipping this one all together. Now in the era of streaming it plays immediately after the final album track and I still think it’s silly filler, but every once in a while I do find myself chuckling and letting it play through.
Live in 1994 (music doesn’t start until just after the 9 minute mark)