Green Day were accused of commercialising punk and denigrating its DIY ethic when they signed to a major label for their third album, Dookie.
They were even banned from their local club, 924 Gilman Street, for their heinous act of ‘selling out’. A ban that was only lifted last year. The venue operators and their patrons adhere hard and fast to their punk values. But the truth is, punk music would not be where it is today without Dookie.
The pencil drawn album cover is a cross between a Where’s Wally picture and something a bored high school student doodled in biology class. In it you can see Angus Young, Patti Smith, Elvis, and local personalities from around the band's home town of Berkeley.
It might have been hard to get past the tributes to defecation in the album title and the airbourne stool showdown depicted on the cover. But this album proved to be a lot more than just a steaming juvenile pile up.
Thanks to the band's extroverted personalities, dyed hair and kooky eyeballing of the camera in their music videos, Dookie’s songs seemed like hyperventilating, trite adolescent fare to some. They reference boredom, ex-girlfriends, drug use and masturbation. But there are also some brave personal experiences and emotions brought into the open.
Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has said the album touches on bisexuality. While ‘Basket Case’ is about Billie Joe’s anxiety and panic attacks, he also sings, 'I went to a whore, he said my life’s a bore…'.
He lays himself bare in 'Coming Clean'. ‘Seventeen and strung out on confusion, trapped inside a roll of disillusion, I’ve found out what it takes to be a man, Now mom and dad’ll never understand’.
Billie Joe recalls seeing rich kids in their area, going to college complaining about their lives. He also saw it in music circles, but knew his band had a strong point of difference.
"We never claimed that we were the most aggressive band or the hardcore band or anything like that," he told Jon Pareles from the New York Times. "That’s one thing I think may have set us apart from a lot of bands that were around at that time. We were into melodies and we were into sappier songs, and singing about girls. Singing about feelings and emotions. Not necessarily something that was more straight up political and angry".
The suburbs and emotional frustrations provided plenty of fuel and fodder for Dookie. The songs struck a massive chord around the world, showing the music industry that people had a huge appetite for melodic punk rock.
But it broke ground in another way. It challenged the ideal that being a punk band and being part of the mainstream was incompatible. Billie Joe Armstrong perhaps has the best last word on the matter.
"The one thing I’ve always learned from punk rock is that it’s like a metaphor for life," he told Pareles. "You become an individual, you do things your own way. Fuck what everybody thinks about you."
Many punk bands took heed of that advice and successfully followed in Green Day's wake. The Berkeley trio proved to everyone that they were right.