Mar 12

Green Day Stole My Riff!: Part II, feat. Chicago

Green Day -- Insomniac

A scene from Clive Barker's lost film, "Eyeraiser," featuring the creepy EyeExamContraptionHead.

On last week’s episode of “Green Day Stole My Riff!,” we featured the Green Day song “Warning,” stolen very directly from the Kinks’ “Picture Book.” It was downright highway robbery. This week’s episode features a slightly less direct riff ripoff: wannabe authenti-punkers Green Day stealing from those oh-so-uncool leading lights of ’70s soft rock, Chicago, of all bands.

Now let me just state a couple of things for the record: again, to repeat from last week, I actually like some of Green Day’s music. They have a number of songs I enjoy quite a bit (including both songs I’ve featured in this miniseries), and I own and enjoy a couple of their albums. If I pick on Green Day, it’s just because they’ve made themselves a somewhat easy target for ridicule. They want to have it all ways — to be considered authentic punk on the one hand, but then on the other, “selling out” (which in and of itself, I don’t have much problem with, if the music is good and you’re not being hypocritical) seems to be no problem for them. And then on the other hand (if we were a race of alien beings and had three hands), they want to be on Broadway. I just think by going in all those directions, they lose credibility; they just need to choose a path and stick with it.

The second thing is that, as much as I used to say back in high school that I hated Chicago, I actually like most of their radio hits up until about 1977. I think what I did, and still do hate, or maybe even despise, is nearly everything having to do with Peter Cetera. His solo work is complete crap, as is pretty much everything Chicago did after the death of guitarist Terry Kath, which was about the time Cetera’s singing took over the band. There are a few earlier Chicago songs that Cetera sings on that I like quite a bit, but the fact that they’re still good songs is no fault of Cetera’s.

So let’s get to the point: Green Day stole the chord progression of their song “Brain Stew,” off their 1995 album Insomniac, from Chicago’s hit, “25 or 6 to 4,” which appears on that band’s 1970 album Chicago II (merely the start of their ongoing and soon-to-be-annoying habit of numbering all their albums). Granted, “25 or 6 to 4” has a pretty rockin’ riff, but Chicago is not a band you really want to be associated with in any way if you’re a punk band. And it couldn’t be much more clear: listen to the two songs, and fill in the little bits in your head that Green Day leaves out in the spaces between chords, thinking that they could get away with it by paring it down. They play it in a different key, but it’s identical. But it’s okay: “Brain Stew” sounds little like Chicago’s song outside of that riff — Green Day made a different, and still pretty good song out of it. And I got to have a little fun at their expense, even though, as I said last week, stealing riffs and melodies happens all the time in popular music. It just isn’t always so obvious.

As always, the proof is in the listening…

Green Day: “Brain Stew”

Chicago: “25 or 6 to 4”




  1. SteveL says:

    I’ve enjoyed these Green Day posts Dave. I’ve never listened to a lot of GD so I didn’t know the previous song (Kinks-like) or this one. But I certainly remember this old Chicago tune!

    Anyhow, these posts reminded me of the song linked below. Not the same issue I know, and in general I’m not a fan of these mash-ups, but I found this one pretty incredible:

    1. Actually, I’d say that’s very much the same issue! The Green Day song is definitely based around the same chord progression — it may have been a more subconscious thing in this case, but still…

  2. all i can say about this is stolen from TV in the 50’s – “Lucy, you got some ‘splaining’ to do’. and your little explanation doesn’t really do it for me. You came very near to using the word classic. And if you heard that pitiful song that well that when you listened to green day, you’re reaction was my god they’e ripped off chicago (they had nice hair or was that styx) seek help. like a team of doctors. if you really need rip offs, try the replacements hootenanny, on which many songs are listed as ms – mostly stolen. chicago, could you come up with boston next week?

    1. Here’s my ‘splainin’: it’s my damn blog, and I’ll write what I want! Everybody knows “25 or 6 to 4,” whether they know the title or not, and yes, I’m pretty sure I noticed the similarity the first time I heard the Green Day song. I’m not going to apologize for happening to have a talent for picking up on the obvious. ?

      Trust me, I don’t own a single Chicago album, and have no intention of ever doing so. Nonetheless, in their earlier years, they were not nearly as bad as Styx ever was (I don’t think Chicago ever had nice hair), and yes, I still will listen to “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” and maybe another couple of songs. But look at me, defending Chicago of all bands — I wouldn’t have ever dreamed it would come to this…

  3. Levi says:

    You’re not wrong, but there are at least 4 or 5 songs featuring that progression, before and after brain stew.

    1. You’re not wrong either, but I think the key to your comment is the part about me not being wrong. Seriously, though, yes, I’m sure that progression can be heard elsewhere, but I think it’s the similarity of the tone of the distortion that makes it so obvious. It’s just a more “clipped” version of the Chicago chords.

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