Thursday, June 25, 2009

Green Day...Are They The Best of What There Is?

by Colt

I am going to do my best Lester Bangs impression by making an argument that Green Day is the greatest band of my generation. I am not stating that Green Day is my favorite band or even the one I consider the best in any one category. But if we were to create an overall matrix of what makes a band greatest of their time. I feel like Green Day would have to rank on top.

First the criteria by which I judge a band. The standard that every band is judged against is The Beatles, and why is that? The answer is easy "Because they are the FREAKING BEATLES!" For purposes of this article however I will need to break The Beatles down into categories that made them THE FREAKING BEATLES.

-Commercial Success

The Beatles are the most successful rock band of all time. They had sold nearly 300 million units by 1969. They still hold the record for most Number One hits on the British pop charts (15). The Beatles and Elvis are the only two artists in history who have sold more than 1 billion units, this clearly puts them in a class all of their own.

Green Day sold roughly 40 million units as of press time on this article. Their current album 21st Century Breakdown is selling well and debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Top 100 Chart. Green Day is obviously not in The Beatles league, but no one (besides Elvis) is. This means for my purpose is that a band has to be commercially viable to be in the discussion for greatest of an era. This point must be made in order to stifle the belief that a band must be small and a non-economic powerhouse to be a great band. That musical prowess is lost when a band hits the big time. I love indie/small rock, but greatness is measured in dollars as well influence. Because dollars show broad appeal, that the music has reached a cultural mainstream.

This does not mean that all music that sells is good; it just means that all music that sells does have some pop cultural significance. To deny that Miley Cyrus had no impact is ludicrous, to state her music is good insane.

-Contributions to Musical Culture

The Beatles here again would rank 1st on contributions to rock and roll. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the single most influential album of all time. This was nothing we had ever heard before. I will further add that The Beatles 'B-Side' music is likewise influential. Songs like Helter Skelter paved the way for early punk rock. The use of feedback on albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver were an obvious influence on such icons as Led Zeplin and Aerosmith which later influenced all heavy metal even if Robert Plant plugs his ears and hums Kashmir every time someone says that. The Beatles influenced nearly every aspect of modern pop music either directly or indirectly.

This is where my Green Day argument becomes hard, not impossible, to prove. They are just now old enough to have younger generations of musicians site them as an influence or for us to hear it in new artists’ music. The problem is that with most new artists what we hear when they site influences is still The Beatles or if you are appealing to hipster audiences Iggy Pop and the Stooges. I have to predict into the future that albums like American Idiot and Insomniac will be influences for future artists.

Personally, Dookie was one of the very first albums I ever bought; the video for Basket Case was one of 3 videos I remember loving in middle school. The other two were both Nirvana and Heart Shaped Box both excited and terrified me.


The Beatles continued to grow along with their audience. The same crowd that teenie-bopped to I Wanna Hold Hand and Love me Do later considered the complexities of the ever changing world they were about to inherit to Let it Be and Revolution. This growth showed that the band not only had substance and creativity, but the ability to stay together.

Green Day has also done this with their two latest offerings they have shown that as band they have moved beyond the sounds of Dookie and Nimrod that fit the way I felt at those times. Much the same way Hey Jude and All You Need is Love were the soundtrack for '60s high schoolers, Time of Your Life will forever be played at my high school reunions. Now Green Day's two latest CDs fit the mood of my mid and late 20s. They match the anger felt at the Bush Administration, and a world we did not create, but our now destined to inherit from our Flower Child Parents. These two new anthems echo the voice of my generation the way that Green Day always has from the first time When I Come Around said to the world how I tried to find myself during puberty.

-Breaking New Ground Musically and Socially

The Beatles and Bob Dylan created the “thinking rock song.” Pop songs were no longer just about holding hands with a girl, a fast car, the beach, or summer vacation. Songs became about real issues and the times in which they lived in. The Beatles were also the first rock band to have a profound effect on the political climate as well as the musical scene. In 1967 when they sang "All You Need is Love" which spawned the "Summer of Love" a critical point in the 1960s and the hippie movement.

This is where I believe Green Day has separated from the pack. The album American Idiot was is masterpiece (I will add the 21st Century Breakdown is almost as good if not better). It merged politics and music in a way not seen in rock during my adult life time. It also served as stirring anthem for the dramatic shift left among the nation's youth today. I am not saying that college and high school kids worked and voted for Obama in 2008 solely because of Green Day, but the fact that best selling album was an obvious attack on the Bush Doctrine, and that it was widely played in both 2004 and 2008’s elections is highly telling of the band’s influence. No other band of my era has had this great an effect on politics.

I know what some of you are thinking " are a moron...U2?" So this next part will show how I eliminated the competition.

U2-Too Old, Boy came out the year before I was born, and I was 6 when The Joshua Tree came out. Plus (put down the pitch fork) I don't know how much they have influenced other musicians.

Red Hot Chili Peppers-Have not had enough social impact. Unless wearing nothing but a tube sock is akin to John Lennon's "Bed In."

Foo Fighters-Dave Grohl is a genius, and a member of two bands that are with out a doubt in the top ten of great bands of my lifetime. However, Grohl is the drummer for Nirvana and that will always define him. Plus, how much social impact do we have from the Foo Fighters?

Nirvana-Here is the band that could have been number one. And if I wanted to go the easy route I would have placed them there, but they released 5 albums including the MTV Unplugged Live Concert Appearance. The did destroy Glam Metal and most forms of heavy metal other than Metallica, but their impact is tainted as are all deaths by celebrities who go too young, not unlike how Buddy Holley has gained mythic status 50 years after his death with present day emo kids who claim he invented their glasses wearing whine rock (you are all wrong and need to be stopped. By the way also we are taking Weezer back they were here before you so they are still ours).

Weezer- A lack of Commercial success, broad appeal, and consistency keep Weezer from topping the list (which I did not discuss, but is vitally important to any bands long term impact).

There are many other bands that could enter into this discussion, but this is where I am stating my position for now. I also wonder if this does not show the weakness that modern mega-music companies have created in our once loved hard rocking country. The debate still rages on Beatles v. Stones, Sex Pistols v. Ramones, Zeplin v. Who, but I am left with Green Day v. ????. There is no clear cut rock rivalry, and this may be the greatest telling sign of rock in my generation. I am always open for a debate, so please feel free to comment, concern, and complain.