Why Billie Joe Armstrong Got Rid of the Original Love Song Lyrics to Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’
Did you know that Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong initially wrote love song lyrics for what would eventually become "Basket Case"? Luckily for him and us he eventually decided to keep the music but go a different direction with the song.
During a recent appearance on the Song Exploder podcast, Armstrong broke down how the song came about and even shares the music from his initial 4-track demo with the original lyrics in place.
How Did the Music for "Basket Case" Come About?
As Armstrong told it, he had earned a little money while out on tour for Kerplunk! and he spent it on a new amp and a 4-track recorder, figuring that he would teach himself how to record some demos.
"I had this melody in my head for a while, and I wanted to have this sort of grand song about a love story," recalls the singer. "I think it was around 1993, early '93, when the song was first written."
"I thought the song could have this intro that would be like a ballad that would blast into the full band coming in, making it like a rocker," he continues. "I did a beatbox effect with my mouth to create the drum sound."
Green Day, "Basket Case" Original 4-Track Demo
What Were the Original Lyrics for "Basket Case"?
As Armstrong revealed while sharing the original 4-track demo, the original lyrics for his "love song" were as follows:
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
And they could care less what's coming up
Sometimes the future doesn't have much luck
This wigged-out thing called love
It may get kinda rough
And they don't really mind
They're on their own
They said this has been
Motionless orbit flight
Around each other intoxicating their minds
Dancing in the street
Under suburban lights
They stumbled to the concrete without a hurt
They're on their own, own.
You can hear the original 4-track demo play out within the podcast below around the 2:57 mark.
Why Did Billie Joe Armstrong Discard His Initial Lyrics?
"The true confession is I was on crystal meth when I wrote the lyrics to it. And I thought I was writing the greatest song ever," says Armstrong, before admitting, "As you know, with drugs, they wear off. 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," explained the singer, revealing that he set the music aside for a while because he felt "gross" about what he had written.
Armstrong goes on to reveal that as the band started writing for Dookie, they began to move away from writing love songs and were more invested in writing about everyday life and feelings. That's when he decided to revisit the music for his discarded love song.
"I think I just got the courage to get into it again, trying to write the lyrics," says Armstrong. "And it was the best decision I’d ever made, probably, as a songwriter. The approach sort of changed where now, the song, it was about panic attacks."
How "Basket Case" Evolved Lyrically
Armstrong recalls, "I had had panic attacks since I was about 10 or 11 years old. 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 [chuckles], you know, breathe into this paper bag."
He adds, "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."
Green Day, "Basket Case"
As for that song title, Armstrong later revealed, "I think that 'Basket Case,' the title, just came immediately. I've always been self-deprecating. Maybe it's like a defense mechanism. You know, it’s like that thing, take yourself down before someone takes you down. So, calling myself a basket case? It was empowering, to be able to show people all the zits and imperfections that you have."
In addition to Armstrong, one of the other key players in the song, producer Rob Cavallo, helps share the tale of how Billie Joe's drug-fueled love song turned into one of the band's biggest and most signature hits of their career. Dig further into the song's history through the Song Exploder podcast below.
Billie Joe Armstrong Revisits the Creation of Green Day's "Basket Case" With Song Exploder
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Gallery Credit: Chad Childers, Loudwire