The Green Day Song That Billie Joe Armstrong Was Inspired By Pretenders

If someone wanted to describe the ’90s scene, two sentences probably would be enough: The youth was dissatisfied, and the music was loud. Billie Joe Armstrong, a young boy at the heart of this scene, was bored out of his mind at the time, feeling under pressure as Green Day couldn’t make their breakthrough. But one day, something shifted as he was listening to the Pretenders’ ‘Message of Love’ on repeat. The muses of creativity and inspiration came to him, and he was struck with the idea of writing a song.

He shared his idea with his bandmates, who were also entrenched in the 1990s rock scene. They were all living together in a house in Richmond, California, and experimenting with psychedelic drugs in search of inspiration. One day, while under the influence of acid, the band’s bassist Mike Dirnt came up with the bassline for the song that would become Green Day’s breakthrough hit.

Billie was initially skeptical about it, as he thought Mike wouldn’t remember it the next day, but to his surprise, the bassline stuck and became a central part of the song. The lyrics, which spoke to youth’s boredom and aimlessness, perfectly captured Armstrong’s and his generation’s feelings. As the band perfected the song and took it to the stage, it became an anthem for a generation of disaffected youth. We are talking about ‘Longview.’ Let’s see what the Green Day frontman had to say about the hit track to Rolling Stone in 2020.

“I really loved the song by the Pretenders called ‘Message of Love,’” the rocker said, revealing the inspiration behind their smash hit. “And wanted to write a song like that, but we needed a bass line. We are all living in this house in Richmond, California, and I think I went to a movie. Everybody back at the house had dropped acid. So I came home, and Mike was sitting on the floor in the kitchen tripping balls, and he had his bass on, and he goes, ‘I figured it out, man! I figured it out.’”

Further reflecting on how the bass for ‘Longview’ came about, the singer added, “He played the bass line for me for the first time right there. I didn’t know what to think about it because I was like, ‘Well, he’s on acid, so I can’t tell if he’s even going to remember it.’ Then we ended up playing it the next day, and it just stuck.”

Armstrong continued, “The lyrics to it are about feeling like a loser, watching television, jerking off, and feeling lonely. I was pretty frightened at the time. I was in limbo. I didn’t have a girlfriend — it took, like, four years for me and Adrienne to get together, from like ’90 until ’94. We had signed to a major label, and there was a backlash at the time because we had been this underground band. Things felt out of my control, and it felt like a make-or-break deal. It’s such a unique-sounding song when you really look at it. Nobody was playing rhythms that swing or that kind of power in the choruses.”

Grunge and punk opened up a space to engage young people who hadn’t made peace with the political and social scene at the time, but its sound was later excluded and stigmatized. Billie noted, “Grunge had turned into something that was bastardized by lameness, and I think we were coming from a place that felt a little harder and more upbeat. And it was super-danceable and got people to go crazy.”

The grunge and punk movement of the ’90s provided a platform for those who felt disengaged and discontent with the norms of society to express their emotions and ideas through music, fashion, and art. It was a time when the youth could break free from the constraints of conformity and find a sense of belonging in a community. Green Day was undoubtedly an integral part of this community, and ‘Longview’ became a timeless anthem for many young lost souls.