As we hope you've heard by now, Green Day will be releasing their first single in almost four years, "Bang Bang," exactly one week from today. We don't yet have a release date or title for the band's forthcoming new album, but the single will serve as the initial taste of the new (or maybe distinctly old-school?) direction in which Green Day will lead us next.

Lead singles are tricky business. We passionate fans will swoon almost regardless, but the casual music consumer can be immediately turned off by an uninteresting or odd first single. Obviously, for better or worse, the lead single sets the stage for the album from which it originates. Bands, producers and record companies are well aware of this, and, usually, input from all of these parties is taken into account in an effort to release the best first single possible. Since we'll all be judges when "Bang Bang" comes out in a week's time, let's take a look at some of Green Day's most notable lead singles to see how they represented their respective albums -- for better or worse.


"Longview" [Dookie] -- February 1, 1994

Longview single

In VH1's Ultimate Albums: Dookie documentary, longtime Green Day producer Rob Cavallo remembers the first time he heard "Longview":

"I'll never forget, [somebody] put [the demo tape] on the mixing desk that I was working on, and it sort of sat there. And I'm like 'Oh, great, yeah, okay,' and I'm mixing away. And then, at 11:30 that night when we were done and my ears were tired, I popped in the tape. I just went, 'Oh my god, this is great...this is like everything that I love in a band.' I drove home with it, listened to it probably like ten times. I thought, 'That song could be a single.' It had this really cool looping kind of drum thing, and then went into this intense punk guitar assault where he was just singing all this great stuff..."


As we know, the rest was history. "Longview" was absolute perfection in terms of the way it encapsulated Dookie as a whole. Angst, frustration and boredom were mixed & mingled with fun, energy and bodily pleasure in the song's explicit lyrics. Crowds of teens around the country identified with it immediately, and the enthusiasm translated into record sales: the song hit #1 on the US Billboard Alternative charts and propelled Dookie to Diamond sales status, with over 10,000,000 copies sold to date.


"American Idiot" [American Idiot] -- August 31, 2004

American Idiot single

In the infancy of the war in Iraq and the aftermath of 9/11, the United States was a tense political and social climate. Bands and musicians who publicly criticized the politics of President George W. Bush, such as the Dixie Chicks, were normally outcasted. So, when Green Day decided to release a political rock opera with more than a few songs that directly addressed this controversy, they were taking a massive risk. It paid off, due to the catchy packages that their messages came in -- none more catchy than the opening three chords of "American Idiot."

Mike Dirnt categorized the song as "a call for individuality" in a country oversaturated by mass media and glorified war, rather than just a sentiment of anger. "American Idiot" got heavy radio play and helped bring pop-punk back to a wider audience. As a lead single, the song couldn't have served the album better: it was nominated for four GRAMMY awards and topped the US Billboard Modern Rock chart. Green Day's eventual tour and widespread promotion of the album solidified American Idiot as one of the single most iconic and successful albums of the 2000's.


"Know Your Enemy" [21st Century Breakdown] -- April 16, 2009

Know Your Enemy single

Let's begin this description by acknowledging how hard it would be for any other single to follow the successes of "Longview" and "American Idiot." In terms of 21st Century Breakdown as an album, this was part of fans' initial thoughts: how could anything live up to American Idiot? In 2009, Green Day attempted to answer this question with "Know Your Enemy." As a song, it isn't necessarily bad: it has a catchy yet simplistic guitar foundation similar to that of "American Idiot," and energetic, rousing lyrics about rebellion. But, it has a very tough time living up to the scale of some of Green Day's past works and the songwriting skill that they've reliably shown us for decades.

To put it bluntly, I wouldn't ever play "Know Your Enemy" for someone who had never heard any of Green Day's music, only because I don't feel that it showcases what the band are capable of. After all...isn't a lead single supposed to do exactly that? Even so, commercially, "Know Your Enemy" was not a failure. It appeared in video games (NHL 10, Shaun White Skateboarding, Rock Band), TV spots (Wimbledon, NCAA March Madness, WWE Smackdown) and got as much radio play as any new Green Day song deserves. It topped the US Billboard Alternative and Mainstream charts simultaneously. Yet, when considering some of the great songs on 21st Century Breakdown, maybe a different lead single would have done the album more justice musically. Then again, not every single can change the world, right?
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