Punk Trio Has Its Day with New Generation

By | February 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Los Angeles – A few days ago, a colleague asked if it would be possible to get a Green Day poster for his 12-year-old daughter.

“She’s always listened to nothing but rap and hip-hop,” the editor said, “but lately she’s been obsessed with the Green Day album ‘American Idiot.”‘

Warner Bros. Records chairman/CEO Tom Whalley relates a similar story. He says a couple of his teenage daughter’s friends who stopped by the house were evidently unaware that the red-hot punk trio is the prize act of the moment on Whalley’s label. But they knew the band was cool.

“They said, ‘Do you know who Green Day is?”‘ Whalley recalls with a slight chuckle. “Like they knew something I didn’t.”

A new generation of listeners is homing in on Green Day, who released their first album 14 years ago on indie Lookout! Records.

The punk-operatic “American Idiot” has sold more than 2 million units domestically, and last month it bounced back up to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, where it debuted in September. The ambitious album has sold 5 million copies worldwide, Whalley says.

The band is no stranger to big records – its Warner debut, “Dookie,” sold more than 8 million in 1994 – but it is receiving acclaim, and respect, like never before. “American Idiot” was a fixture on critics’ year-end top 10 lists, and the Recording Academy – in its only major acknowledgment of a rock act this year – bestowed six Grammy Award nominations on the set (plus a nod to its producer Rob Cavallo).

“It’s a career record, without question,” Whalley says.

Warner’s setup for “American Idiot” dates back to 2001, when the label released the compilation “International Superhits!” and paired the group on a tour with Blink-182, probably the most successful punk-pop act to emerge in Green Day’s wake.

“I thought, let’s go find the audience,” Whalley says. “We got the reaction we were looking for…. They had approximately two years to live with (the hits package) and get into Green Day. Now, those kids are in there buying and telling their friends about it.”

Warner’s marketing campaign will continue through the year. In mid-April, Green Day will return for a new run of U.S. dates after a stint in Europe, Australia and Japan. The album’s second single, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a top 10 entry, will be succeeded by “Holiday,” but the likely fourth single, the splendid rock ballad “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” stands to be the biggest hit of all.

Of course, “American Idiot” will blow up even further if Green Day, this year’s Grammy dark horse, manages to bring home a gold Victrola or two. It’s a fiery, reverberant work that has transcended its American origins, Whalley believes.

“The timing and the content of it spoke to people all over the world,” he says. “It speaks to a topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind around the world.”

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