Green Day’s major label, 1994’s Dookie, brought the band’s modern take on punk rock to the attention of the masses, charting in seven countries and eventually earning Diamond certification in the US (that’s for sales in excess of 10 million copies) and spawning five singles.
‘Longview’ was Dookie’s lead single, which might seem an unusual choice given that the song’s lyrics focus primarily on marijuana and masturbation, but what seemed like a distinctly un-commercial concept on paper turned out to be something of a smash hit for the band, hitting the top of the Billboard Alternative Chart, earning them a Grammy nomination and being ranked at number 3 of Rolling Stone’s ‘Best Singles of 1994’ list.
‘Longview’ begins with Tre Cool’s tom-based shuffle groove before a lengthy picked slide announces bassist Mike Dirnt’s arrival with the song’s main instrumental hook; a lyrical, loping bass line that uses a repeated melodic sequence to draw the listener in.
The use of the bass’ middle register and the inclusion of an open string drone to create harmonic tension and resolution was a definite departure from the prototypical punk bass ethos of hammering out root notes, but other acts from the same genre have also used melodic bass hook to great effect; Rancid’s ‘Maxwell Murder’ and Blink-182’s ‘Man Overboard’ are examples of modern punk anthems with similarly prominent bass motifs.
Where did Mike Dirnt find the inspiration to write this monster bass line? As it turns out, his creative spark on this occasion was LSD. He also confessed in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview that it took him a great deal of practice to master the line:
“When Billie gave me a shuffle beat for Longview, I was frying on acid so hard. I was laying up against the wall with my bass lying on my lap. It just came to me. I said, “Billie, check this out. Isn’t this the wackiest thing you’ve ever heard?” Later, it took me a long time to be able to play it, but it made sense when I was on drugs.”
It may well take some time and effort to get the line to feel right on your bass – each note needs to be clearly articulated and plucking two strings at once with a plectrum may take some slow, deliberate practice before it becomes natural.