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In 1995 Billie Joe Armstrong wrote a song about a scene populated by people he once considered his friends. 86 appeared on Insomniac, its authors' tightly coiled and deeply troubled fourth album, which itself succeeded Dookie, the multi-platinum release that had the world telling Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool that while their band was cute its music was not punk.
The fact that just three years prior to their elevation to Millionaires' Row the Oakland-based trio found themselves on a tour of European squats that saw their frontman contract body lice was neither here nor there. Following their decision to sign with the Warner Music Group-owned Reprise Records, at home the group were disowned by the militant Berkeley punk magazine Maximum RocknRoll and banned from playing at that city's all-ages not-for-profit venue Gilman Street. "Exit out the back," sings Armstrong on 86, "and never show your head around [here] again."
It is worth repeating that, prior to the success of 1994's Dookie, American punk rock was not a genre that sent cash registers ringing to any kind of crescendo. Green Day were the first to manage this, and prior to this achievement their genre credentials were impeccable. Released on the tiny Lookout! label, 39/Smooth (pictured/listed) and Kerplunk are early efforts from a band who no one at the time predicted would rise above their modest station. Indeed, their first album, 39/Smooth, was recorded for just $700. Even here, though, one is reminded of drummer Tre Cool's assertion that seeing Armstrong write a song is the closest thing to magic one will ever witness. Barely 17 at the time, a track such as the magnificent Going to Pasalacqua showed anyone who cared to listen that here stood a writer of already rare talent.
But it was with 1992's Kerplunk that Green Day really came to the notice of more people than their pay grade suggested possible. Featuring songs of the quality of 2,000 Light Years Away, Christie Road and Welcome to Paradise - a track the group would revisit on Dookie, to devastating effect - with no promotion whatsoever, and with its creators touring in a converted mobile library, Green Day were soon able to draw up to 2,000 people a night in whatever city they visited. To the wider world, the group's success in 1994 may have appeared to have arrived overnight; but in reality the rumblings of the underground heading upwards had begun in style, some years before.