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History of Green Day: Profile of the 'American Idiot' Punk Band

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Hailing from California, Green Day is a punk band that formed in 1987. Today, the line-up consists of vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool. After gaining steam on the underground punk circuit, the band had a huge independent smash with "Kerplunk." They broke through to the mainstream with "Dookie," and since then they’ve made a name for themselves as one of the biggest bands to come out of the '90s. Their largest smash to date was the 2004 record "American Idiot," and in 2012, they began a staggered release of the "Uno! Dos! Tre!" trilogy, proving they were still relevant after decades in the biz. In this video, learns more about the history of Green Day.

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History of Green Day

They’re a bunch of Basket Cases. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about the history of Green Day.

Early Days

Punk rock group Green Day formed in California in 1987 when Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Pritchard, better known as Mike Dirnt, started playing as the band Sweet Children on the local underground punk circuit.

Line-Up Changes

With Armstrong as primary lyricist, vocalist and guitarist, and Dirnt as bassist, the band recruited John Kiffmeyer, or Al Sobrante, as drummer. By 1990, the band was called Green Day and had Frank Edwin Wright III, or Tré Cool, on the skins.

Independent Success

Green Day built a cult following leading into the ‘90s with a few releases on Lookout! Records. But, it was their 1992 effort Kerplunk that made the biggest splash: it became one of history’s most successful independent releases. More importantly, it got Green Day big label recognition. After signing with Reprise, they set about bringing their three-chord punk sound to the masses with a major label debut.

Mainstream Breakthrough

Dookie dropped in 1994 after a three-week recording session. Intense MTV airplay of singles like “Longview” propelled the record to mainstream success, while songs like “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” highlighted themes of anxiety, boredom and sex. Green Day promoted the record with Lollapalooza dates, as well as a memorable set at Woodstock ’94. Ultimately, Dookie earned them a Grammy for Best Alternative Album.


The follow-up to that triumph was 1995’s Insomniac. Singles like “Geek Stink Breath” meant the album did respectably commercially and critically, but it never matched the sales of its predecessor.


After taking a brief break due to fatigue, Green Day returned with new energy and a new sound on 1997’s Nimrod. Ska and surf rock influences combined with their pop-punk vibe on this album, which also included one of Green Day’s most successful singles: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”


They moved further away from their familiar sound on 2000’s Warning. This obvious change in direction alienated core fans, and the more upbeat lyrics and mature pop feel earned mixed reviews. It was their least successful major label album yet.

Next Album

Compilations and a co-headlining tour with Blink-182 followed. Green Day returned to their roots for their next album. However, when Cigarettes and Valentines was almost complete, the recordings were stolen. Instead of re-recording the lost material, Green Day scrapped it and unveiled the rock opera American Idiot in 2004.

American Idiot

Bolstered by the self-titled debut single and rave reviews, that effort shot to number one. True to punk, this concept album had a political edge, and it followed the fictional character Jesus of Suburbia through massively successful tracks like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” American Idiot eventually sold over 14 million copies globally and won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Album. The boys were back in business.

Other Work

The extravagant live show that accompanied that record was immortalized on the record Bullet in a Bible. The band then laid low for a while, but partnered with U2 to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina relief and dropped an album under the moniker Foxboro Hot Tubs. Soon, talk of another Green Day album surfaced.

21st Century Breakdown

The rock opera 21st Century Breakdown hit stores in 2009 to commercial and critical success. That same year, American Idiot: The Musical opened, and was later optioned for a film adaptation. Soon, Green Day released the live album Awesome as Fuck, which included several songs from the lost Cigarettes and Valentines tapes.

¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!

However, their next opus was yet to come: Green Day unveiled “Oh Love” as the first song off the ambitious ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy, and set release dates for the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

The Network

Aside from their time with Green Day, members have participated in other projects: for example, the trio was rumored to have joined Devo in a New Wave band called The Network, though this was never proven. Armstrong also notably joined “The Voice” in 2012 as a mentor.


After many ups and downs, Green Day has finally solidified their spot as one of the most important bands to come out of the ‘90s. They may have started off as young punks, but they’ve matured to prove they’re no American Idiots.

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