Though veterans of two EP’s and two albums on Lookout Records, the East Bay’s Green Day (Billy Joe Armstrong – guitar, vocals; Mike Pritchard – bass, vocals; Tre Cool – drums) were barely in their 20’s when they came to Reprise Records seeking Rob Cavallo for his work with the Muffs.
The band and the A&R man/producer hit it off right away, and “the next thing I knew, I was in the studio with Green Day,” recalls Cavallo. “I remember thinking, ‘This record has a chance to be really good because the songs sound complete and the album is like a fun rock ‘n’ roll ride, although I had no idea it would sell 15 million records,” he admits.
Cavallo created a crisp, dry sound for the band. “I was listening to Cheap Trick’s In Color and Black and White, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, and the first Police record as sonic reference points. Most recent rock records had been huge, wet and dark like Soundgarden.
“When I turned Dookie in to Reprise somebody said ‘Sounds like demos.’ I said ‘No, it sounds like demos to you because it sounds dry, but it has to be dry because the tempos are faster, and it actually sounds big enough.’ I wanted to pump it up big enough to get it on the radio, but we had to be true to the band’s past on Lookout. When [Lookout owner] Larry Livermore said it was okay, I knew we were cool.”
Dookie succeeded wildly by being the right record at the right time. By 1994, Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Red Hot Chili Peppers had made rock radio safe for grunge and punk bands. Dookie retained touchstones of West Coast punk (strained, slightly out of tune vocals; blazing tempos; dry production), while offering memorable melodies (“Welcome to Paradise,” “Basket Case,” “She”), rhythmic variety (“Longview,” “When I Come Around”) and sharp, youthful humor.