Giving thanks for Kerplunk! by Green Day
In what's become an annual tradition for us, we ask a few members of Team Backbeat to reflect on an album they're thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving.
In eighth grade, Green Day's song "Longview" exploded into my little world and got seemingly everyone I knew to start learning a couple power chords on their beginner Squier guitars. While the band's platinum-selling album Dookie took the world by storm, I quickly wore it out and hunted down their earlier work. In a pre-Internet world where most music was bought at the mall at Sam Goody, I finally managed to track down a copy of Kerplunk!.
The cartoonish artwork of a cute girl with a smiling flower ringer tee and a gun instantly appealed to my adolescent brain. The music inside changed my life. Here were songs written by guys just a little older than me, and they actually seemed to be romantic, adding an extra layer of physical crush on the band, as the guys at school seemed only interested in Metallica and setting things on fire. What a refreshing change of pace to hear guys yearning for women, actually wanting to be around them.
The songs are sincere, and honest, with Billie Joe Armstrong writing straight from his confused teenage heart. It is chock full of perfect pop punk ditties about hanging in the library, pining over crushes, and feeling like a total loser in high school. The production is great and the last few songs really blow me away, cuts from their first band, Sweet Children, when they were merely fifteen.
It seemed like they took my diary and put it to three loud power chords. "2,000 Light Years Away" pines for a woman who ended up becoming Armstrong's wife in real life. If that's not real, I don't know what is. Released by Lookout in 1992, the album sounds fresh today, pop hooks galore, three part harmonies and wearing your heart on your sleeve never go out of style.
Mike Dirnt sounds seasoned beyond his years -- his bass line on "80" is simple but perfect -- and Tré Cool somehow manages to drum that fine line between utter youthful energetic chaos and keeping a steady backbone. "Welcome to Paradise" makes it's first appearance here, a bittersweet biographical narrative about living in abandoned warehouses with other punks and squatters in West Oakland (how cool!) that made it's way into a hit off Dookie.
"Christie Road" is a gorgeous midtempo ballad, Armstrong's voice hitting poignant high notes as the bridge hits and the ratatat of straight rock chords swirls the ending up into almost an entirely new song. "Dominated Love Slave" gave Cool the chance to come from behind the drums and show how multi-talented and bathroom-humored he was.
When people in Texas said they hated Green Day, I'd play this country goof-off in a hope of tricking them into liking the band (never worked). The highlight of the album for me is "No One Knows," a plaintive mid-tempo pop song with gorgeous harmonies and interplay between Dirnt and Armstrong, and lyrics that hit so hard even when I'm not exactly sure what he means. Then at the end, he sings a separate higher melody over the already beautiful harmonies, and it absolutely makes me melt.
Another standout is the acoustic "Words I Might Have Ate." Years later, when that "Good Riddance (Hope You Had the Time of Your Life)" song was played at every graduation, I rolled my eyes at how people were shocked that they could write a pretty acoustic ballad.
What makes this album truly special to me, though, is all related to that cute, anime like artwork on the album. On the back was the address to Lookout Records, who had a cute logo (teenage girls are pretty easy to please sometimes), and I was hungry for more. I wrote them a letter asking them what else they had like Green Day, and they started sending little catalogs, which then lead me to learning about Operation Ivy, Rancid, Mr. T Experience, basically anything coming out of the Bay Area. Once I heard everything there, I moved on to Kill Rock Stars, and thus a lifetime obsession began.
From those bands, I learned about different 'zines, which was the ignition spark that lit the fire inside me to constantly search out new music for the rest of my life, and probably why I am writing these words today. Now, any time I hear a new band I like, if they are signed, I will check out the rest of the label's roster, always finding gems.
Listening to the album today I am transported to those years when I was playing it on repeat for months on end. They are still perfect pop punk tunes, some of them still make me wish they were written about me, and I learned the word "malachite" from it, so for you Green Day's Kerplunk, I am thankful. Thanks for helping me learn early on that there is way more music out there than what the radio plays for you.
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