Green Day is one of the most iconic punk-rock bands of the 20th and 21st centuries. The three-piece band is comprised of frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool. The band is the most successful punk band of all time, with an impressive career spanning nearly 40 years (and counting). Green Day songs are also incredibly fun and accessible to play, and they have a huge selection of albums and singles for players to learn and enjoy. I’ve put together a list of the top 20 Easy Green Day songs on guitar so that you can play along to these legendary rock songs!
1. 21 Guns
I put this song right at the top of this list based on how easy it is to play for most guitarists. The ‘’21 Guns’’ title refers to the 21-gun salute given to American soldiers at their burial. While Green Day was a classic pop-punk band in the 90s, they became very upfront about their feelings on American politics in the second half of their career. And this ballad was one of their more tender takes on war and the humans who are unfortunate enough to experience it.
“21 Guns” starts off with a somber acoustic guitar playing a four-chord progression for the verses, with a two-chord turnaround in each verse as well. The chorus turns to this awesome chord structure that descends the guitar neck and sounds thunderous on an electric guitar.
This song also has a fun and easy bass line, so if you are also a bassist, I recommend checking it out.
2. (Good Riddance) Time Of Your Life
Before Green Day turned political in the early 2000s, they released a fair amount of personal material. “Good Riddance” is intimate and even sounds like frontman Billie Joe Armstrong recorded it in his bedroom. The song features just a single acoustic guitar and is one of the very few Green Day songs without any backing bass or drums. In the lyrics, Armstrong ends a dysfunctional relationship and wishes the other person a bittersweet farewell, although we never find out who that person is.
“Good Riddance” is an extremely easy Green Day song to play on guitar. It starts in the G Major open chord shape, and you can play the entire chord progression with your left hand in this position to create variations of each chord shape. The true challenge of this song is mastering the picking pattern that Armstrong uses with your right hand while passing through each chord.
“Holiday” is the third song and a single off Green Day’s second best-selling album, American Idiot. The song is a stadium-sized rock anthem with an uplifting feel, but the lyrics are very sarcastic and harshly criticize the American government and its practices. The music video shows the band enjoying some rowdy activities while a town falls to pieces in the background.
“Holiday” is driven by a single chord progression in E Minor that you can play using open or power chords. The recorded version uses both chord shapes layered over each other, which is what gives the guitars their thick tones. If you use the power chord shapes, try sliding between each chord to make your playing sound like the original recording.
4. Bang Bang
Once the initial dust had settled on the success of American Idiot, Green Day set out to push themselves and their songwriting potential. One of their more recent albums, Revolution Radio sees the band use more complex chord structures and arrangements. Still, songs like “Bang Bang” are easy enough for most guitarists to play, especially if you’re familiar with power chords.
“Bang Bang” is an easy Green Day song on guitar despite not following a standard chord progression. The song switches between A Major and A Minor in parts, and there are different grooves for each section of the arrangement. Try to break the song down into smaller sections before chaining them all into a single composition.
5. Know Your Enemy
This track is the first single off the band’s album 21st Century Breakdown. This album was the follow-up to American Idiot and had some pretty big shoes to fill. While it might not have been as successful, the album does have a few catchy and impactful songs, like “Know Your Enemy”. The music video features the band performing the song outside what looks like a burning prison building.
Not to be confused with the timeless Rage Against The Machine song of the same name, Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy” has a classic, straight rock groove supporting the guitar arrangements. The primary guitar chords that run through the song are played in time with the lyrics, drums, and bass, creating a very impactful punchy wall of sound throughout the song.
6. Wake Me Up When September Ends
Possibly one of Armstrong’s most personal singles, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” details the singer’s battles with losing his father at a very young age. Because of their political associations, the song was thought to be about the September 11 attacks in the USA. This misconception is understandable as the song featured on their most political album, American Idiot.
You can play the initial riff of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by using a unique chord shape that uses the open G string to give the guitar a soothing drone. The song sounds best when played with two guitarists: one to play the main riff in the verses and one to play the supporting chords underneath. This song also has a super easy guitar solo, making it perfect for beginners looking to expand their skills.
This song is a firm favorite amongst fans of Green Day’ earlier albums. A lot of the band’s first records tend to playfully explore the boundary of mental health. “Warning” is a song about taking ownership of your thoughts and decisions, and the music video features a zombie-like man seemingly unaware of his surroundings during day-to-day life, as well as shots of the band playing in a San Francisco apartment.
“Warning” is played on the acoustic guitar in the original recording, but there are many live performances where they use electric guitars to bump up the song’s energy. The composition centers around Mike Dirnst’s repeating bass lines, and the chord changes follow him throughout the arrangement.
8. When I Come Around
Another one of Green Day’s more personal songs, “When I Come Around” is an early song from the album Dookie. The song is written in dedication to Armstrong’s then-girlfriend. During this time, Green Day was quickly gaining popularity, shifting from a niche underground band to a highly successful rock band. This sudden fame resulted in lengthy tours away from home. “When I Come Around” details Armstrong’s wishes to return home from the road and spend time with Adrienne. The two would eventually marry and have two children together.
Playing through these four chords in this song’s verse and chorus progressions automatically lifts your spirits, and it has a very happy-go-lucky feel. There is a small pre-chorus section that switches back and forth between A and C Major. Otherwise, the entire song uses just one chord progression.
This song was a surprise hit for Green Day and spent a total of 5 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts shortly after its release. This was one of the band’s first politically upfront songs. The lyrics express Armstrong’s desire to stand alongside marginalized groups within America.
The music video shows Green Day performing on a float in a parade run on empty streets.
The driving force in this song is the combination of drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt’s relentless punk groove. The guitar is just along for the ride and even drops out in certain sections of the verses, only to come back in the choruses for maximum impact.
10. Boulevard of Broken Dreams
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was the 3rd single of the hugely popular album American Idiot and affirmed the record’s success by spending weeks at the top of global radio charts. The song is about believing in the illusion of the American dream and how it feels to have those dreams squashed under the weight of authority. The song is named after a famous painting featuring Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Humphrey Bogart, and James Dean together in a bar.
So many guitarists have scratched their heads trying to recreate the timeless shimmering guitar sound on this song. The secret to this sound is not in the playing but in the effects pedal used during recording. The guitar sound you hear on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is done using a modulation pedal called a tremolo. This pedal fluctuated the volume at specific intervals. The verses are strummed using a simple 4 chord progression with a straight strumming pattern.
11. Brain Stew
When he wasn’t penning songs to take down the American government, Billie Joe Armstrong would write certain songs to reflect on his mental health. “Brain Stew” is a strange and sweet account of Armstrong suffering from insomnia for a few days after the birth of his first son, Joey (named after Joey Ramone of the Ramones). This is fitting as the name of the album this song features in is called Insomniac.
“Brain Stew” uses a very clever composition with a single-chord progression repeated throughout. The chord structures remain consistent in the arrangement, but you play the choruses with more sustain in the notes while the verses are more tucked in (or staccato). This subtle change in playing gives the song its great A/B dynamic.
12. American Idiot
“American Idiot” is the title track of Green Day’s 2nd best-selling album to date, also titled American Idiot. The song pulls apart the practices and policies of the George Bush presidency. The album was released at a very volatile time in America and was the key to the band’s popularity rekindling in the 21st century. The song perfectly blends catchy pop hooks over relentless punk instrumentation.
The trickiest part of playing “American Idiot” is mastering the way Armstrong plays his guitar in between singing the lyrics. He uses a very specific, tight strumming pattern to get his power chords to lock in with the backbeat, giving the guitar added intensity and aggression. The song also has a highly enjoyable melodic guitar solo in its bridge.
13. Hitchin A Ride
“Hitchin A Ride” is about a person’s battle with quitting drinking and finding a balance in life. In recent years, Armstrong has unfortunately had some struggles with alcohol and has since thankfully managed to find steady ground to keep writing music.
“Hitchin A Ride” is possibly one of the easiest Green Day songs on guitar, as it consists of a single, descending power chord progression throughout the arrangement. There is a subtle difference in how the progression is played between verse and chorus, with the latter having a lot more sustain and intensity to give it added impact.
14. Welcome To Paradise
Many hardcore Green Day fans don’t know that there are two versions of this popular Green Day song. Most people are familiar with the recording featured on the band’s best-selling album Dookie. However, there is an early version of the song that was released on the band’s 1993 album Kerplunk. The lyrics are written about a slum in Oakland that Armstrong and Dirnt grew up around.
“Welcome To Paradise” is one of the faster, more punk-rock Green Day songs to play. The guitars, bass, and drums all have a slight sloppiness in their playing, which only adds to the punk style. The composition primarily consists of simple but quick power chord progressions, and there is an incredibly technical bass riff in the bridge that is also worth learning on guitar.
The song “She” is a short, sweet love letter that Armstrong wrote for a college girlfriend he identifies as Amanda in certain interviews. Amanda is said to be responsible for introducing Armstrong to women’s rights and expanding his knowledge in the skate and punk rock music circles. It’s probably safe to say that without Amanda, there may have been no Green Day.
“She” ticks all the right punk rock boxes and is very enjoyable to play if you’re comfortable playing power chords at a breakneck speed. The song uses two sets of chord progressions, and at just over 2:15 in length, it’s over before you’ve even got a chance to settle into playing.
“Longview” perfectly showcases bassist Mike Dirnt’s playing ability. The bass line in the song is super catchy and is often chanted by crowds attending live Green Day shows. The song is a personal account of being stuck in a bad mental space and feeling like a loser.
Longview’s arrangement revolves around two primary sections. The song opens with Section A, which has no guitar and a rolling drumbeat. Section B kicks the tempo up and introduces a short, fast power chord progression. There is also a key change around the bridge of the song, which uses a similar chord structure to Section B.
Fun Fact: During an interview with Rolling Stone in 1995, Mike Dirnt revealed that he wrote this bassline during a late-night psychedelic experience with the band!
17. Basket Case
This song is one of the most popular singles from the album Dookie and touches on singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s mental health battles growing up. During the recording of Dookie, Armstrong would sometimes experience anxiety attacks and slight paranoia. The only way he knew how to remedy these symptoms was to put it into a song, and thus, “Basket Case” was born.
Traditionally, this song is played with a capo on the 1st fret, but it also sounds fine without it. Playing “Basket Case” from beginning to end will take a fair amount of focus and right-hand stamina, as the guitar never stops playing throughout the song. There is also a simple but very fun solo after the bridge.
18. St. Jimmy
“St. Jimmy” is one of my favorite songs on the album American Idiot. The song forms part of a musical interlude on the album, which is written to feel like a piece of musical theatre. “St. Jimmy” is one of the fictional characters in the album, a rebellious pastor that uses violence to defend the weak. The song is incredibly infectious live and is one of the more purely punk compositions.
You will have to break the arrangement of “St. Jimmy” into three sections: Acts 1, 2, and 3. Each section is less than a minute long and uses different tempos and chord progressions. There is also a key change about 1:30 into the song. Despite all these parts, “St. Jimmy” is still an easy Green Day song on guitar. While all these parts may seem daunting at first, they’re all fairly simple to play on their own before chaining the entire arrangement.
19. Jesus Of Suburbia
“Jesus of Suburbia” is another one of the main fictional characters in the story of American Idiot. Jesus of Suburbia is broken up into five songs over the album:
- “Jesus of Suburbia”
- “City of the Damned”
- “I Don’t Care”
- “Dearly Beloved”
- “Tales of Another Broken Home”
In the song, we learn about the character and his upper-middle-class lifestyle before the band sends him on adventures through the rest of the record.
“Jesus Of Suburbia” uses a call-and-response dynamic between the guitars and singing in the verses, and the grooves are influenced by 1960s rock n’ roll, similar to early Beatles songs. The song uses two separate sets of straightforward and easy-to-learn chord progressions.
20. Macy’s Day Parade
“Macy’s Day Parade” is the final song of the album Warning. The song sounds the least like Green Day, which is exactly why I put it on this list. Aside from Armstrong’s recognizable vocals, the instrumental feels more like an indie-folk song, a far cry from the usual punk stylings we get from Green Day. The song examines our obsession with material possessions.
“Macy’s Day Parade” is very satisfying to play solo on an acoustic guitar, and the original recording uses the same instrumentation. The composition uses a very consistent strumming pattern over two sets of chord progressions for the verse and chorus.
Green Day is undoubtedly one of the most influential bands of the 20th and 21st centuries. Their songs are relatively easy to play on guitar and are a perfect way to get better at playing.
Check out my article with the best beginner electric guitar songs for more awesome song recommendations.
Image credit: Sven-Sebastian Sajak
Attribution: Sven-Sebastian Sajak / CC BY-SA 3.0