Last Thursday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the longlist of nominees for its 2015 class. Per usual, it included a hodgepodge of iconic names, from Lou Reed to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to N.W.A. Among the first-time nominees this year are Nine Inch Nails, the Smiths, and Green Day. Yes, Green Day: The Bay Area punks who named their seminal album after slang for feces could, next April, be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
Those surprised that Green Day is eligible already—Rock Hall rules state that artists become eligible 25 years after their first records were released—should check out their first two albums, 1990’s 39/Smooth and 1992’s Kerplunk, which are about as good as anything you’ll find on Dookie. They may not have hit it big until the mid-’90s, but their origins can be traced back to the same year Nirvana first got together: 1987.
That Seattle band—along with grunge and hard-rock contemporaries like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains—was at its peak when Dookie reached record stores, and the album’s upbeat pop punk stood out brightly in such company. Their fast fame coupled with Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide symbolized a changing of the guard in rock.* Critically speaking, though, the contrast with those more somber bands didn’t always serve them well. As Neil Strauss wrote in the Times early in ’95, “Punk hardliners find Green Day's music too soft and pop-oriented and dislike the fact that Green Day's confusion is turned inward instead of outward against society.”
Over time, though, Green Day’s influence has only grown. “Based on interviews I’ve done, I’ll bet you Dookie has inspired more people to buy their first guitar than any LP in the past 20 years,” the music writer Ian Cohen wrote recently on Twitter. To date, the album has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide—which makes it a diamond album, an RIAA certification for selling more than 10 million units, a venerated sales milestone in the industry.
Another knock on Green Day is that the band’s a one-trick pony, trotting out the same repetitive song structures again and again. But after Dookie they pushed the boundaries of pop punk, at the risk of alienating their newly enormous fan base. 1997’s Nimrod and 2000’s Warning contain some of the most experimental work the band has done. And you can hear a direct link between songs like “Macy’s Day Parade” and the rise of emo, which happened shortly thereafter, led by Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, and so on. As Matt Diehl writes in My So-Called Punk, these bands “picked up the pop punk torch and recast it in their own heart-on-black T-shirt sleeve image.”
Last week in Billboard, Eric Rosenthal wrote, “To the extent that there’s rock music on the radio, it’s most likely tributes to Soundgarden, Nirvana, or Green Day.” I suspect that of those three it’s Green Day’s influence you’ll hear most, coming from big-selling bands like Paramore and 5 Seconds of Summer—who, by way of Blink-182, Green Day effectively grandfathered—among others. That kind of influence is one of the Rock Hall’s primary factors for induction, and probably makes Green Day a shoo-in.
I haven’t even mentioned 2004’s American Idiot, the universally acclaimed concept album that bore five hits—including its overtly political title track, which Rolling Stone put on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time—and earned the band seven Grammy nominations. Nearly 20 years after the band formed, American Idiot cemented their position as one of the biggest bands in the world. They’ve now reportedly sold more than 75 million records in their career.
And while the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a habit of getting it wrong, last year’s induction of Nirvana makes Green Day the logical next step for the institution. When the inductees are announced in December, don’t be surprised when Green Day’s name is at the top of the list.
Correction, Oct. 14, 2014: This article originally misstated the year of Kurt Cobain's suicide as 1995. He died in 1994.