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Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Green Day song that waited 20 years to become a hit

The entire pop-punk genre may as well be considered music derivative of Green Day. While acts like the Ramones may have started the idea of pairing pop smarts with a bad attitude, it was the songs of Billie Joe Armstrong that turned the genre into a full-blown movement in the early 1990s, going from a small punk outfit into one of the biggest names in music in no time. Despite having a catalogue of fantastic songs, Armstrong did have one track that had to wait decades before seeing the light of day.

Coming from the punk underground, most of Green Day’s catalogue was far more tuneful than their predecessors. While counterparts like Operation Ivy and the Offspring were able to score their fair share of hits in their time, no one could quite measure up to what Armstrong could do, singing pop-based melodies as bassist Mike Dirnt provided the perfect countermelody with his bass-playing and trademark harmony vocals.

Even though they had everything covered on the melodic side, their first album got off to a shaky start with original drummer John Kiffmeyer, soon to be replaced by a young drummer on the local scene named Tre Cool. As the band set about making their sophomore album Kerplunk, the majors came calling, including a young producer from Reprise Records named Rob Cavallo.

Hitting it off almost immediately, Green Day signed a deal with Reprise to record their third album, Dookie, by which time everything would ascend into the stratosphere. Polishing their signature sound to an absolute sheen, half of Dookie has the potential to rank among the band’s best songs, including excellent odes to teenage angst like ‘Welcome to Paradise’ and ‘Longview’. 

Outside of the traditional punk framework, though, Armstrong wasn’t above writing the occasional love song here and there. Kicking off Kerplunk, ‘2000 Light Years Away’ was an ode to his longtime girlfriend Adrienne when she was still living in Minnesota. After Armstrong married her, he would write her numerous love songs, only for none of them to make it onto a Green Day project.

Since love songs clashed with the band’s bad attitude, one song called ‘When It’s Time’ got left on the cutting room floor. A beautiful ballad of devotion, the song was written in the early 1990s for Adrienne only to sit on the shelf for years until putting the pieces together for American Idiot. While the central character ‘Whatsername’ in the rock opera centred around one of Armstrong’s exes, he found that ‘When It’s Time’ would fit in perfectly with the 2010 Broadway adaptation of the album.

No longer concerned with sounding overtly punk on every single track, Armstrong comes close to sounding like The Beatles halfway through the song, no doubt influenced by the classic rock pastiches he used for 21st Century Breakdown around the same time. The song would even get two versions for the Broadway adaptation, one that’s played with a full band and another played only on acoustic guitar. Despite being known as one of the kings of modern punk rock, ‘When It’s Time’ is a bold look into Green Day’s sensitive side.

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