Green Day

by Jon Mandle on April 26, 2005

Last week, Michael Bérubé wrote that “Nick Lowe’s ‘Cruel to Be Kind’ is the most perfect pop song ever written.” A fine choice, I must say. Bérubé heroically rejects a distinction between ‘rock’ and ‘pop’: “We do not think that the former category is inhabited by edgy artists and assorted Culture Heroes whereas the latter is inhabited by Tommy James and the Shondells.” But, he continues: “Still, it remains true that if a song has too much fire and/or grit and/or passion in it, it exceeds the “Cruel to Be Kind” standard in obvious ways.”

Now certainly they often exceed “Cruel to Be Kind” by a considerable margin along the dimensions of fire and grit and passion, but I was still surprised that in some 193 comments – many bringing up excellent contenders – nobody mentioned the premier “hard pop” band of the last decade: Green Day. A few random notes on the concert I saw last night follow below.

First, their live show is absolutely explosive – and not just because of the explosions, of which there were plenty, synched surprisingly well with the music. I haven’t had the sense of a band riding such a powerful wave since Led Zepplin played “Rock and Roll.” The show was loud and rocking and clear-sounding with insanely great, catchy hooks – what more could you ask for? It was just thrilling, and the crowd was delirious.

There was a low-level, inchoate political vibe that seemed a little more than just the expected anti-authoritarian posturing. They opened with “American Idiot” and closed their set with “Minority” and introduced “Holiday” as “a big ‘fuck you’ to the politicians who have power right now.” But the line of the night was certainly when Billie Joe Armstrong introduced the band, culminating in this: “And I’m George W. Bush.” Crowd: “Boo!” Armstrong: “You better hope you don’t go bankrupt.” Well, it got a big laugh from me, anyway.

The one really pandering moment, and the one I could have done without, was a masturbation bit, but that was mercifully brief.

I was expecting to be the oldest person there and maybe to see some of my students. I was doubly wrong. There seemed to be very few college kids there, but plenty of people my age – late 30s to early 40s – but they were there with their middle-school kids. Probably three-quarters of the crowd was between, say, 12 and 16. (One of my 4-1/2 year old’s favorite songs for at least the past year has been Green Day’s cover of the Ramone’s “Outsider” – when it comes on, she drops everything and just starts laughing and running through the house. Still, she stayed home.)

Before they went on, the soundtrack was obviously the stuff the members of Green Day (who are in their early 30s) grew up with: Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Go-Gos, Clash. The crowd was really into it, singing along. The final tune before they went on was the Village People’s “YMCA” that got a roar from the crowd and most everyone dancing out the letters. Later, Green Day threw in a Queen cover (“We Are the Champions”) that fit seamlessly into their set and went over big.

Someone is an absolute genius at either miking, mixing, tuning – or maybe just playing – the drums. They get a big, booming sound that is never muddy, always remains crystal clear – every hit is distinct, even when very fast. For a bunch of songs, including the new ones, they brought in some extra musicians. But for the “oldies” – you know, their tunes from the mid-to-late ‘90s – they stayed a trio. And Armstrong’s peculiar singing-only British accent seems to have faded.

The opening act was My Chemical Romance. Their thirty-minute set was okay, but thrash isn’t really my thing. They did, however, supply plenty of by-the-numbers (not to say Spinal Tap) moments: plenty of screaming “Are you ready to ROCK?!”; guitarist flinging around big hair; even a song about “skeletons and coming back from the grave.” But at the same time, they threw out a bunch of comments that, although they didn’t seem to be intended as funny, tickled me. Things like: “This next song is our one ballad. So put your lighters and cell-phones in the air.” And this – I guess they knew their audience: “How many of you are at your first show? Well, I want you to lean over and hug your mom or dad for bringing you to the best fucking first show you ever could see.” And this: “Ladies, if you’re ever at a show watching some sleazy band – maybe they look like us, maybe they look like Motley Crue – and they ask you to show your tits for a backstage pass, I want you to spit right in their face.” I had a vague sense that these kinds of comments, if only I could decode them, hold some kind of key to the current teen ethos.

If you go to see them – and I certainly encourage it – I’d stay away from the floor. It really didn’t look safe or fun. It seems to me that something has changed since I was the age of most of this audience and went to rock shows. Back then, I remember seeing security beating people up and being pretty afraid of them. Now I’m more afraid of the crowd moshing and body surfing. In fact, the security seemed to be doing an amazing job of actually catching people safely as they were hurled toward the stage. Maybe you just notice different things when you get old.



P ONeill 04.26.05 at 3:06 pm

Excellent post. American Idiot is a superb rock/pop album. I suppose some rock fans complain that they are too power-chord happy but as long as there’s melody and interesting lyrics to go along, I don’t care. Of all the fine songs, I’ve been listening to “She’s a rebel” a lot — 2 minutes of excellence.


soren renner 04.26.05 at 4:15 pm

The most perfect pop song is “The Phoebe I Know” by Cat Power.


Keith M Ellis 04.26.05 at 6:15 pm

You’re my peer? My dad could’be written that concert review in 1980. You’re scaring me, man.

I have an intuition that any rock group with a political/social message that someone in their 30s and 40s approves of take their kids to see is a rock group that the Cool Kids Stay Away From. Those 12 to 16 year olds at that Green Day show would have, twenty-five years ago, been at a Billy Joel concert.


Tom T. 04.26.05 at 6:40 pm

And if recent trends hold up, odds are that ten years from now, one of those 12 to 16 year olds will have gone on to be married to Billy Joel. (Ba-dum-bum).

I have to agree with Keith; “parent-friendly” is probably a somewhat limiting niche in rock music.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why Tommy James is dismissed so readily. His work is pop, but to me it always had a disturbing quality that provided some depth. Certainly, his originals hold up quite favorably to the dull remakes that Joan Jett, Billy Idol, and Tiffany put forth.


mw 04.26.05 at 7:26 pm

(One of my 4-1/2 year old’s favorite songs for at least the past year has been Green Day’s cover of the Ramone’s “Outsider” – when it comes on, she drops everything and just starts laughing and running through the house. Still, she stayed home.)

Odd, when my kids were about that age, their favorite song was “I Wanna Be Sedated”. My son’s now pushing 14 and has “American Idiot” in his MP3 collection.


Phillip J. Birmingham 04.26.05 at 8:57 pm

I have to agree with Keith; “parent-friendly” is probably a somewhat limiting niche in rock music.

Well, sometimes parents just bite the bullet and take the kids to a show, whether they particularly like it or not. When I was in high school, my English teacher took her son and some friends to see Judas Priest, and I don’t think it was because she was a fan (though she did say that the opening act, Uriah Heep, wasn’t all that bad.)


Keven Lofty 04.26.05 at 10:49 pm

Best Pop Song:

Another Girl, Another Planet – The Only Ones


dave heasman 04.27.05 at 4:09 am

You’ve probably heard it too often for it to still have an impact, and you probably first heard it as an oldie, and it doesn’t have a proper middle eight, but Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer” is better than “Cruel” or “Planet”. It just is. Actually “Peace Love & Understanding” is better than “Cruel”. So is “The Beast In Me”.


Ginger Yellow 04.27.05 at 7:56 am

Surely everyone knows the perfect pop song is the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.


Belle Waring 04.27.05 at 8:22 am

“Another Girl Another Planet” is one of the greatest songs ever, but surely the perfect pop song must be by the Beatles. may I suggest “And Your Bird Can Sing”? think about the harmonies in the bridge, people.


Uncle Kvetch 04.27.05 at 8:36 am

No, no, Belle! “And Your Bird Can Sing” is the Most Underrated Beatles Song.

Whereas the Perfect Pop Song is “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders. Everybody knows that. 8^)


rbyrne 04.27.05 at 8:55 am

Slaphappy’s Acnalbasac Noom has the three best pop songs ever, all on one album: “Casablanca Moon,” “A Little Something” and “The Secret.” The fact that they made the record with avant-rockers Faust gives it extra bonus points. The first song begins as a rumpled tango (think Piazzolla being squeezed out of a music box) — and then Dagmar Krause kicks in:

“He used to wear fedoras
Now he sports a fez
There’s kabbalistic innuendos
In everything he says
Sucking on a cigarette
Picking up the dregs
Underneath the Casablanca Moon”

That said, “Brass in Pocket” is an excellent candidate. May I also suggest “Kid?” That drum breakdown and breathy Hynde vocal is pretty stunning.


T.A. 04.27.05 at 10:11 am

Some perfect pop songs in no particular order:

Lou Reed, “Perfect Day”
Syd Barrett, “Terrapin”
Teenage Fanclub, “The Cabbage”
Nico, “These Days”
The Fall, “Industrial Estate”


Richard 04.27.05 at 1:00 pm

Love “Industrial Estate” — but is it a pop song?


Rik 04.27.05 at 1:41 pm

Everybody knows the best pop singer is Cliff Richard!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Only trouble I have with Green Day – besides their antics on stage – is the tag they have in the States as being a “punk” band. Because, um, punk was over before those kids were even born.

But I’m not sure if they call themselves punk, or if that’s just CNN, Fox shorthand for “not an American Idol/boy band”.


Matt 04.27.05 at 4:04 pm


Punk was over before 1972? That would be a surprise, wouldn’t it? I don’t follow Green Day much these days, but they come out of a perfectly good punk tradition, that of Look0ut records from the east bay area, the gillman st. club and Maximum RocknRoll. Even just before they made it big, they were quite willing to hang out w/ the local punks before and after shows played in tiny clubs that they drove to in their own chevey panel van. And they’ve been playing for at least a good 13 years or more.


Alan 04.27.05 at 4:20 pm

(This one goes down in the annals of “misheard rock lyrics”:)

Intending to defend the genius of Tommy James and the Shondells in this forum, I googled on “Crimson and Clover” to make sure I had the lyrics correct. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that it does NOT say “My mind’s such a sweet thing.” It’s just “My, my such a sweet thing.”

My worldview is shattered.


Uncle Kvetch 04.27.05 at 5:27 pm

“My mind’s such a sweet thing.”

I always heard it the exact same way…I just figured that the song was written on the cusp of teenybopper pop and psychedelia, so my misreading made perfect sense…to me, anyway.


Alan 04.27.05 at 6:23 pm

This raises interesting questions concerning the ontology of works of art. Suppose that the majority of listeners to “Crimson and Clover” misheard it as “My mind’s such a sweet thing?” Suppose that the song’s cultural impact (assuming it had any) was based on a certain understanding of the line in that way? Couldn’t it be argued that the SONG ITSELF contains the line the way we heard it and makes sense, and that the recorded version is an imperfect attempt at realizing the Ideal Song? Isn’t that how a lot of folk art works? Blues lyrics, for example (or the Homeric epics, for that matter.) Each artist takes what the tradition passes on to him and improves it in accordance with his own vision of aesthetic perfection.

So whadddya say we try to get a copyright on OUR version of C & C?


peterw 04.27.05 at 11:31 pm

not just the best pop song, but one that is is perfect?? Furthermore, “most perfect”?? OK. lets not be pedantic, but for what its worth, I am hearing the jangling guitar opening., the simple up and down bass line, the clever and sly lyrics it adds up tp “19th Nervous Breakdown” for my nom. Though I have to agree with the comment above that ” I Say a Little Prayer” is an amazingly good song


Uncle Kvetch 04.28.05 at 7:57 am

Alan, some years ago there was an entire paperback book devoted to commonly misheard pop lyrics. I don’t remember the exact title; it was either “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss this Guy” or “There’s a Bathroom on the Right.” Seriously.


T.A. 04.28.05 at 10:56 am

“Industrial Estate” passes my admittedly low hurdles to being considered a pop tune — verse/chorus structure, hummability, etc.


blamanj 04.28.05 at 7:58 pm

The word to google is “Mondegreens”. Occasionally covered by Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle, the word was actually introduced in 1954 by Sylvia Wright.

There are a series of books was written by Gavin Edwards listing popular mondegreens.

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