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by AJ Ramirez

27 Jan 2010


“When I Come Around” is more than just the best song off Dookie.  It’s quite possibly the best tune Green Day has ever made, one of those transcendent moments in pop music where all the elements congeal to form a greater whole that’s gratifying on an almost instinctual level.  Even upon a cursory listen to the track, it’s no surprise that it was a hit.  In early 1995, “When I Come Around” became the third and final single from Dookie to top the Billboard Modern Rock Charts (helping the album match a number of Modern Rock chart-toppers managed previously only by U2’s Achtung Baby), acting as the capstone to a year-long breakthrough success story that included multi-million unit sales and a Grammy Award win for Best Alternative Music Performance.

“When I Come Around” is undoubtedly my favorite track from the album.  It’s also one of the songs I hold dearest, by any artist.  As such, it’s been somewhat difficult to write this entry in my overview of the Dookie album.  If only you knew how many times I’ve rewritten this post before submitting it.  I’ve loved “When I Come Around” ever since I began tuning into my local modern rock station in the late ‘90s.  Even upon my first proper introduction to the song, I was keenly aware that I was somehow already familiar with the track, which mystified me, as up to that point I didn’t listen to rock music past 1980, and was only starting to get into more recent releases.  My best guess is I heard it around 1995 when riding to a sixth grade field trip to the beach, an occasion during which I recall spying the unmistakable CD case for Dookie laying on the floor of the minivan I was in. Even after all this time, and all the myriad styles and artists I have encountered in the intervening years, my appreciation of the song has increased, even edging out old Dookie favorites “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case”.  And frustratingly, even after so many attempts to tackle the issue, I really can’t explain why I adore it so much.  Sure, it was the perfect song for me to connect with when I was in high school, but that was nearly a decade ago, and I love the song even more now than I did then.  I wouldn’t call “When I Come Around” my all-time favorite song (contenders for that slot change far too frequently to me to declare a winner), but it’s clear given its number one ranking on my Last.fm and iTunes playlist tallies that it’s the likeliest contender.  When it comes down to it, this song is just utterly fantastic, and I don’t think I could ever get bored with it.

by AJ Ramirez

13 Jan 2010


After its opening chord crashes and drum beats, “Sassafras Roots” settles into a four-bar A-E5/A-A-E5/A-D-E chord progression that it relies on throughout much of its duration. Billie Joe Armstrong’s quick guitar upstroke chord changes dominate the first half of this figure, while Mike Dirnt’s noodling bassline is more noticeable in the second half. It’s an appealing instrumental passage, but honestly it’s relied on so much that it quickly becomes repetitive. Luckily the chorus and bridge sections add variety to the whole proceeding, in particular providing a setting for Tre Cool to unleash some cracking machine gun drum rolls.

 

by AJ Ramirez

12 Jan 2010


In the Green Day episode of the VH1 documentary series Behind the Music, Mike Dirnt commented, “We’ve never been entirely embraced by the punk rock community because we do sing love songs.”  The radio-only single “She” is doubtless an affront to such punk hardliners. Written by Billie Joe Armstrong for an ex-girlfriend, “She” is all about wistful pining for that special someone, aided and abetted by poppy chorus harmonies. But it’s also one of the punkiest tracks on Dookie, faster and more bracing than most anything else on the record. Like first-wave punks the Buzzcocks, Green Day demonstrates with “She” that sometimes the best way to convey romantic yearning and anticipation is through punk’s short/loud/fast credo, and that’s something close-minded practitioners of the genre should never forget.

I’ve always considered “She” to be a perfect companion to “Basket Case”, the preceding cut on Dookie. I always listen to them as a pair. The band seems to hold a similar inclination, as it often performs the tracks back-to-back in concert. In a way, “She” ups the ante of “Basket Case”, offering something similar but approaching it with more speed, power, and simplicity. “She” takes its cues from “Basket Case” early on, opening with a sparse rhythmic backdrop (highlighted by Dirnt’s pulsing three note bassline) that allows Billie Joe Armstrong to take center stage as a lyricist. Sounding almost as if he’s mere inches away from the listener, Armstrong tenderly paints the scenario of a girl unsatisfied with the predetermined life she’s trapped in. With a “sullen riot penetrating through her mind”, this girl is “waiting for a sign” (i.e. him) that will impel her to break through her silent suffering “with a brick of self-control”.

by AJ Ramirez

30 Dec 2009


Before I begin, is anyone going to argue that “Basket Case”—Green Day’s second Billboard Modern Rock Tracks number one hit, the result of a vibrantly cartoonish music video and the band’s infamous mud-slinging set at Woodstock ‘94—isn’t one of the best songs on Dookie? Because if you are, you are objectively wrong and you suck and I hate you. Here’s why.

First, let’s look at how the song is laid out. “Basket Case” has a pretty straightforward song structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, and finally outro. Simple, huh? Except that’s not how the listener perceives the song.

You see, in order to keep “Basket Case” from sounding like thousands of other songs with a similar framework, what Green Day does is cast the first verse and chorus as a long intro section, a mere prelude for the mayhem to follow. For much of the first verse/chorus pairing, only singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong is playing on the track, instantly grabbing the listener’s attention with an unforgettable introductory monologue:

Do you have the time
To listen to me whine
About nothing and everything all at once?
I am one of those
Melodramatic fools
Neurotic to the bone no doubt about it

by AJ Ramirez

18 Dec 2009


After five potent doses of heady pop-punk, “Pulling Teeth” is the first track on Dookie that really allows the listener to catch his or her breath. Drawing inspiration from an episode where Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt broke his arms while having a pillow fight with his future wife, the leisurely-paced “Pulling Teeth” features a character who is physically tormented by his girlfriend. The narrator is trapped in an abusive relationship, noting wryly “She comes to check on me / Making sure I’m on my knees / After all she’s the one / Who put me in this state”. The track is pure black comedy wrapped up in electric ballad form, as exemplified by the Beatles-esque delivery of the chorus “Is she ultra-violent? / Is she disturbed? / I better tell her I love her / Before she does it all over again / Oh God she’s killing me”.

Sandwiched between album highlights “Welcome to Paradise” and “Basket Case”, the song easily falls prey to “album track syndrome”, where a listener is prone to skip over it in order to get to another, more familiar tune. I certainly do that every time I listen to the record, partly because it’s not one of my favorites, but more importantly because it kills the momentum the album has been riding out up to that point. I know “Pulling Teeth” has its fans, but I’ve always found it a bit boring.

It’s not a bad song per se. Like the tracks preceding it, “Pulling Teeth” displays Green Day’s knack for musical interplay and lyrical character studies. Based on a standard rock ballad structure, the band adds touches like dual lead vocals that harmonize throughout and one of the album’s few proper guitar solos in order to play up the song’s subversive intent. However, Green Day delivers the song predominantly in a chugging groove that moves slower than all other songs on the record save “When I Come Around”. Such grooves are rare in Green Day songs, as the band moves best when it’s jumping around syncopated chord changes at a breakneck pace. The band has a harder time keeping its performances interesting when it slows things down (this is why for all its merits I don’t think the group’s American Idiot megahit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is all that great). Here, it almost sounds like a chore for Green Day to keep from speeding up and busting loose. Unfortunately, the backing performance can’t be too adventurous, as the lyrics are undoubtedly the main focus of the track. As a result, the appeal of the song primarily rests on the listener finding its gender-tweaking “battered male” concept amusing. If you don’t think that a woman abusing her boyfriend is inherently funny (and why should you?), “Pulling Teeth” loses its center and becomes a two-and-a-half-minute slog that sits between you and “Basket Case”. Despite being a nice exercise for the group, these hindrances make it hard to classify the song as one of the album’s essential tracks.

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