Compare the music industry in 1994 to today and it’s like looking through money coloured glasses into a time of sunshine and blissful glee.
By the end of the year, the sales total for pop music was expected to be nearly $11 billion, which was – at the time – the highest ever.
Among the highest selling releases in 1994 were Disney’s The Lion King soundtrack, Ace Of Base’s The Sign, and Motown vocal group Boyz II Men’s II.
Based on the above releases, 1994 didn’t look like a particularly stand out year, but one album managed to capture the fascination of both critics and buyers alike
Even more unlikely, is that it would be a record that took its name from a colloquialism for faeces. Originally intended to be entitled “Liquid Dookie” Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool of Green Day thought that might be too disgusting.
Dookie would of course be the record that would spell the end for the mainstream popularity of grunge that had taken the world by storm courtesy of Seattle’s Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.
While grunge may have put 80s glam to rest, in 1994 alone, Kurt Cobain would live out his final moments, as Eddie Vedder would process his struggles with fame via Pearl Jam’s third LP, Vitalogy.
Three rockers in their early twenties though would assume that mantle of rock and roll fame, as pop punk would finally have its revival.
But neither Armstrong, Dirnt nor Cool could have anticipated just how famous they were about to get.
‘When I Come Around’:
By the end of 1994, three million people the world over owned their very own copy of the band’s third record and major label debut.
While Dookie reached #2 on the Billboard charts, it won a Grammy for ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ a year later and as of 2013 it has sold over 20 million copies.
That’s not bad for three young lads hailing from Berkley, California – an area not widely known for its success stories.
Talking to Rolling Stone in early 2013 after a series of public incidents would reveal Armstrong’s alcohol and pill addictions to the world, the frontman described the band’s early punk lifestyle.
“We lived with a band called the East Bay Weed Company,” laughs Armstrong on his time living with his drumming bandmate on Ashby Avenue in Berkley. “It was a lot of beer and smoking dope.”
“We don’t have to do everything we’re told. For me that’s what I consider punk.”
Despite those early rough and tumble years that house would be integral to the writing of Dookie, where at least half of the record was written.
“Mike lived down the street, we would get together two or three times a week. So there was always jamming going on,” explained Armstrong.
“There was a lot of nihilism going around. Dropout kids, people that felt like outcasts – they were coming into this scene. Things like scarification, bad tattoos, drinking booze, snorting methamphetamine – nobody thought of it as addict behavior. We knew everybody that was doing that. And we were doing it as well. We’d be at a party at someone’s house where bands were playing. Someone would have speed, and we’d do it.”
Yet even before Dookie was released Green Day were quickly building an underground fan base that would soon feel betrayed when the trio signed to Reprise Records, a subsidiary of parent company and major label Warner in April of 1993.
The independent punk label – Lookout! Records – that released Green Day’s first two album’s were “hurt” at their mainstream defection, said a label representative in VH1’s Ultimate Albums: Dookie documentary.
Larry Livermore of Lookout! Records discovered Armstrong and Dirnt’s band, Sweet Children, which they had formed at the age of 15, and signed them in 1988.
They would go on to release their debut 39/Smooth and sophomore album Kerplunk in 1990 and 1992 respectively under the name of Green Day with a new drummer on board: Frank Edwin Wright III, better known as Tré Cool.
The two combined indie records sold more than 50,000 copies for Lookout!, a feat previously thought of as unimaginable for a small independent label.
But Green Day were quickly gathering steam in California through their energetic and caustic songs – such as Kerplunk’s prototype version of ‘Welcome To Paradise – which took the morbidity of life and made fun of it.
‘Welcome To Paradise’:
It somehow spoke to the kids of the early 90s and while Lookout! helped expose them to a platform of underground teenagers, their major label deal with Reprise would see them connect with the world.
“It’s just like jumping into a freezing cold swimming pool … just do it” said Dirnt in the documentary about their signing.
It was too cold though for some of the fans that had followed them from their Lookout! origins; many labelled the group as sellouts.
In a 1994 interview with Much Music the band would palm off any suggestion that their major label deal flew in the face of the punk rock spirit.
“We don’t have to do everything we’re told. For me that’s what I consider punk,” said Armstrong.
“Punk rock is doing whatever the hell you want and not taking any shit from anybody and I’m not gonna take any shit from them or any shit from people who want to give it out.” “…what we did was straight-up blasphemy: becoming rock stars.”
Although years later, in his 2013 interview with RS the frontman came to a different stance.
“We came from such a punk-rock background – ‘rock star’ was just a four-letter word. It was a tough time. Later, I was like, ‘Man, did I enjoy that? Was I even there?’” questioned the musician.
“I loved watching the crowds getting bigger, the excitement of people singing every word. But we got the backlash more than all those other bands together. I firmly believe that.
“Coming from Gilman Street in the Maximum Rock N Roll era of bands, which was basically a socialist mentality, what we did was straight-up blasphemy: becoming rock stars.”
However that major label deal would never have happened without producer Rob Cavallo, who became enraptured with the band after listening to a demo of ‘Longview’.
“He spoke our language, he’s a musician” Dirnt told VH1 about choosing their producer. Their decision to prioritise Cavallo over a hoard of other offers and labels was ultimately a sound one.
Not just because of the incredible success of Dookie, but Cavallo has worked with Green Day on every one of their following records since (with the exception of 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown).
Twenty years ago, Cavallo would pick Berkley Fantasy Studios to record Dookie in order to preserve the sonic quality that best represented their live sound.
During these live recording sessions, the vocal components of the album would take just two days to complete, a feat that Cavallo is yet to see repeated.
Head to Page 2 for a closer look at Dookie’s songs, the effects of its fame, and the album’s lasting legacy
Released on 1st February 1994, Dookie contained 14 tracks (plus the hidden ‘All By Myself’) yet runs for just under 40 minutes.
Each track is an outcast’s punchy and fast take on society that manages to be satirical, powerful, and bleak – all in less than three minutes.
‘Longview’ is the exception however, stretching out to four minutes in evoking a story that uses masturbation as a metaphor for boredom and detachment (or maybe it’s simply literal).
“I didn’t think that masturbation was really looked at from the point of view that I was looking at it from,” Armstrong told VH1. “Mine was coming from (a) lonely guy, (with) no girlfriend (and) no life, (I was a) complete loser.”
Elsewhere the 90 seconds of ‘Coming Clean’ details the frontman’s fear of rejection and the development of his sense of sexuality.
“Sexuality is definitely something I’ve questioned before in my life and I think most men have, but most men won’t admit to that.”
While Dookie had the punk rock sonic quality that wasn’t afraid to push itself in front of your face, Armstrong’s lyrics – permitting ‘Emenius Sleepus’ which was written by Dirnt – were no different either, rich in their ability to bring what some might consider to be uncomfortable subject matter to the fore.
Originally heard on Kerplunk and re-recorded for Dookie, on ‘Welcome To Paradise’ Armstrong takes the listener through the “cracked streets” and “gunshots” of his Berkley home. While “some call it ugly” the frontman somehow manages to ironically eke beauty out of what most might think of as a hideous neighbourhood.
But out of all of Armstrong’s lyrics, it’s the introspection he allows you to see on ‘Basket Case’ that stands out above the rest.
While not realising at the time that he was suffering from a panic disorder, the song details the frontman’s crippling struggle with anxiety.
“Sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,” he squalls on the album’s third single and third #1 hit.
If Dookie did really speak to the so-called ‘slacker’ generation, then ‘Basket Case’ was the call to arms. Far removed from the manufactured bubblegum pop that dominated the charts that same year, Green Day’s album created an important point of difference to mainstream music – not just sonically and stylistically, but philosophically.
Regardless, no one could have foreseen the wave upon wave of achievements that Dookie would bring them and the inevitable downsides of such success. Least of all the trio themselves.
Completely unprepared for what would follow in the wake of Dookie’s release, they look exactly like the bratty, fresh-faced teens they were in this Much Music interview from 20 years ago.
The interviewer asks rather glumly “Are these questions boring you or would you rather talk about something else?” Having already saying he was tired earlier, Armstrong calls the interview as a “necessary evil” before making advertisement jibes towards the camera.
At this point, the band look seemingly naïve about their current situation.
But then who could blame them for not knowing what they were on the cusp of? The success that would envelop them thanks to Dookie would bring more than just fans to their shows and money to the table.
As Armstrong discusses his alcoholism to RS, he signals out the journey from post-Dookie fame to the anxiety he would carry on stage with him for the years to come.
“Around Insomniac [the 1995 follow-up to Dookie], I was afraid to walk around onstage. If I was to walk over to this part of the audience, that means I’m being an asshole,” laughs the punk poster boy. If Dookie did really speak to the so-called ‘slacker’ generation, then ‘Basket Case’ was the call to arms.
“I was that self-conscious. Then during [1997’s] Nimrod, my drinking took off. I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m really going for it.’ I started raising my hands in the air, getting people to clap. I realized that’s what people wanted. They want to have a good time and it’s OK to be a ringleader. All of that built up to [blockbuster 2004 album] American Idiot. It took me until I was 32 years old to actually speak for myself and do it with confidence.”
All which is in stark contrast to the frontman’s onstage antics during tours in support of the band’s third studio album.
That included Armstrong getting arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for getting nude on stage, even after getting away with it on many of the shows prior.
Away from the punk tactics of the stage, the importance of Dookie’s effect on the band’s later albums can’t be understated. While still being commercially successful, both Insomniac and Nimrod couldn’t quite live up to the heights of their 1994 effort.
Whether that’s symptomatic of a band struggling to replicate the impossible success of their breakthrough album or something much deeper in relation to fame is up for debate.
Still, Dookie’s accomplishments appear to be a double-edged sword for Green Day no matter which way you look at. But its significant impact on fans and musicians the world over is what maintains Dookie’s relevance today.
While Blink 182 might deny that the band had no influence on their sound, they cannot withhold credit from Green Day for opening up a market they may not have been able to penetrate without the album’s mainstream success.
Sum 41 are another outfit that were both deeply influenced and heavily in debt to Dookie, and the doors that it and Green Day swung wide open for such bands to follow them through.
There are however more tangential inspirations and releases that wouldn’t have existed today without Dookie.
As NME points out, the likes of Wavves, No Doubt, My Chemical Romance, Tegan And Sara, Paramore, Fidlar – even Lady Gaga – either cite Dookie as an influence or at least sonically owe it a few cues.
The diversity of those names even further cements the idea of just how many people Dookie reached.
Regardless of whether you were a converted punk rock fan, or a vrigin to the genre, the album was a zeitgeist moment that seemingly had everyone converted.
Its popularity in 1994 persists to this day. Green Day’s two-and-a-half hour sets at Reading and Leeds included Dookie in its entirety, with the band’s Australian fans hoping that their exclusive headlining sets at Soundwave will be much the same. Their allotted three-hour set certainly allows them as much.
Twenty years on and Dookie isn’t, and may never be, a music masterpiece, or at least not in the same sense that many see their 2004 rock opera, American Idiot – their seventh record, which also celebrates its 10th birthday in 2014, saw the trio explore the conceptual story of the anti-hero character ‘Jesus Of Suburbia’.
While American Idiot saw Green Day at their most ambitious, the comparatively down-to-earth backstreet narratives of masturbation and panic attacks on an album named after excrement has made more of a connection to millions of people the world over since its release.
And that’s why Dookie is a punk-pop masterclass.
Soundwave 2014 Dates, Tickets
Saturday 22nd February – Brisbane, RNA Showgrounds
Sunday 23rd February – Sydney, Olympic Park
Friday 28th February – Melbourne, Flemington Racecourse
Saturday 1st March – Adelaide, Bonython Park
Monday 3rd March – Perth, Arena Joondalup