Songwriting isn’t an exact art form. The line between inspiration and outright thievery is often razor-thin, and the debate between what constitutes a true swipe is eternally up for debate. On one hand, almost all music is based on taking elements from the past and reworking them into something new. On the other, some elements are so distinct that taking them just seems obvious and lazy. The line between these two was never blurrier than when Green Day took on The Kinks.
Credit where credit is due: The Kinks were foundational in helping create punk rock. Thanks to their early love of distorted power chords on tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’, the Davies brothers gave rock music a menacing edge that would directly inspire acts like The Stooges and the Ramones. There’s a direct lineage between the straightforward attack of Dave Davies and the snotty power of Billie Joe Armstrong. But it wasn’t one of the heavier songs that Green Day (allegedly) stole from.
During the recording of 2000’s Warning, Green Day were eager to separate themselves from their pop punk past. With tracks that owed more to folk music than hard rock or punk, their sixth album was a major change of pace. The only problem is that it couldn’t have come at a worse time: the public was still clamouring for pop punk in the early 2000s, with acts like Blink-182 and Avril Lavigne finding major success. The more “muted and mature” Green Day was most assuredly out, and the group quickly returned to their fiery origins on 2004’s American Idiot.
But while they were still experimenting with acoustic guitars, Billie Joe Armstrong stumbled onto a riff that later became the album’s title song. Jaunty and reminiscent of classic folk rock of the 1960s, ‘Warning’ was more than just a nod to the past. That’s because the central riff is extremely similar to The Kinks’ ‘Picture Book’ from their legendary 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Since Green Day were openly culling from past influences on Warning, it didn’t take long for listeners to make the connection.
Whether Green Day actively and intentionally stole the riff is probably an unanswerable question. There’s been no lawsuit or official word from either camp, so it doesn’t appear as though anyone’s gotten terribly territorial about the matter. Strangely enough, The Kinks weren’t the only artist to have a gripe over ‘Warning’: English singer-songwriter Colin Merry, lead singer of British alt rockers Other Garden, claims that ‘Warning’ ripped off his own song ‘Never Got the Chance’, which was included on the band’s 1997 release Extended Play. Back in 2001, Merry was reportedly planning on suing Green Day, but nothing seems to have come of that particular story in the time since.
Check out all the tracks below and decide for yourself what is plausibly deniable and what is egregious.