Billie Joe Armstrong reveals “embarrassingly bad” original lyrics to Basket Case

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has given an honest assessment of his first attempt at writing Dookie mega-hit Basket Case, before he changed up the whole thing and made “the best decision I’d ever made, probably, as a songwriter”.

Billie Joe Armstrong reveals “embarrassingly bad” original lyrics to Basket Case
Emily Carter

In the latest episode of Song Exploder, Billie Joe Armstrong has gone into great detail about Green Day’s 1994 mega-hit Basket Case – and revealed that, lyrically, it very nearly went in a different direction entirely, and was actually a “love story” at first.

The frontman admits that the Dookie classic was initially written while he was “on crystal meth”, and he thought at the time he “was writing the greatest song ever”. Returning to it once sober, though, and this love story didn’t feel right at all…

“As you know, with drugs, they wear off,” he explains in the episode. “And then, I felt like I’d written the worst song ever. I thought that the lyrics were just embarrassingly bad. I had a few songs before that I’d written on drugs, but this one was the most pitiful I felt after. And so, I just kind of let the song go for a while, because I felt so gross about it.”

While Billie Joe is explaining this, Song Exploder plays Basket Case’s earliest iteration – which saw the light of day a few months ago on the Dookie 30th anniversary 4-Track Demo – beginning with the lines: ‘I really don’t know where this story began / My friend Houston had got himself a girl / Swanky is her name, she’s got the best of him / And he’s got the best of her in the palm of their hands.’ (Seriously, can you imagine Basket Case ever not starting with, ‘Do you have the time / To listen to me whine’?! It’s wild…)

Thankfully, Billie Joe ended up returning to the song, finding the “courage” to try and rewrite the lyrics – and he enthuses that it was “the best decision I’d ever made, probably, as a songwriter” to instead pen something about the panic attacks he’d been experiencing since he was a kid.

“I had had panic attacks since I was about 10 or 11 years old,” he says. “But that was in the ’80s, and no-one really knew what those things were. I guess they would call it mental health now, but back then it was just like, ‘You’re having a panic attack, wait till it’s over, you know, breathe into this paper bag.’ So, there were times that I would wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks and I would ride my bike through the streets to kind of let it wear off.

“And so that was one way of dealing with it for me, was, you know, writing lyrics about, you feel like you’re going crazy, but you ride it out, and you’re not.”

Listen to the episode in full below:

And hear the two different versions of Basket Case:

New album Saviors is out now via Reprise/WarnerGreen Day tour the UK (and they’ll of course be playing Basket Case!) in June – get your tickets now.

Read this: Green Day: “We’re not going anywhere… and we’re just getting better!”

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