Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of Green Day, has been vocal about the conception of single and title track to the album “American Idiot” as a reaction to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “That’s How I Like It”. For the first lineage of this song, I decided to analyze this direct correlation between the two songs. 

“That’s How I Like It” Lynyrd Skynyrd → “American Idiot” Green Day 

“That’s How I Like It” was written and released in 2003 by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. This song depicts a redneck’s love for his own culture and life, an overall appreciation for all things country. The chorus of the song is basically listing off what we know as stereotypes of country people.

“Like my women hot and my beer ice cold

A real fast car and my whiskey old

Like a slow drive down and old dirt road

That’s How I like it

I like to turn my music way up loud

There is nothing better than the sound of a crowd

American flag it makes me proud

That’s how I like it”


Hearing this song in the car one day is what triggered Armstrong to write “American Idiot”.  All of the things rednecks love about their life is what Billie Joe Armstrong hated about the song, especially during the tough political time many were facing during the Bush Administration. He is quoted as saying “It was like, I’m proud to be a redneck and I was like, Oh my God, why would you be proud of something like that? This is exactly what I’m against. I looked at the guys like, Do you mind that I’m saying this? And they were like, No, we agree with you. And it started the ball rolling.” – Q Magazine interview 2009 

The opening line of “American Idiot” is “Don’t want to be an American Idiot”. A blatant critique of people as mentioned in the Lynyrd Skynyrd song who wave the flag around because they are proud. Green Day continues this theme in their music video for the song, where a painted green version of the American flag hangs behind them while they play the song. As the song comes to an end the stripes wash away and turn into green slime that begins to spray the band. The washing away of the stripes can be interpreted as doing away with the old version of what America was and is a clean slate to start anew. This lineage helps me understand the song better because it brought to light new parallels between the songs that I had not seen before. 

Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” → Green Day “American Idiot” → NOFX “We Called It America”

Jimi Hendrix’s version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” is iconic for many reasons. His Woodstock performance turned a lot of heads, as it was impulsive and unexpected by the crowd. Many people perceived this to be rebellious to portray a patriotic song in such a rock n roll way.  Hendrix was known to name the different versions of the song at the different appearances he performed it at, a notable one being titled “This Is America”.

This performance was a reflection of the experience that happened at Woodstock. It was in its own way punk, because of the sound, abrupt tone of the notes, and the meaning of the performance altogether. Hendrix performed this song to show that even a black guitarist could be patriotic, even if people were skeptical of him. He expressed his version of America to the crowd at Woodstock that day. Rallying a large crowd of people who disapproved of the state of the country participating in the Vietnam War. When asked on a talk show why he played the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock he responded “I don’t know. All I did was play it. I’m American. So I played it. I used to have to sing it in school, they made me sing it in school so it was a flashback.”

This performance was an interpretation of an American anthem as a direct line of lineage for Green Day’s “American Idiot” because it was a starting point for rock and loud music to be combined with themes of the country. Hendrix used his guitar to embrace his country and make a statement. Armstrong used his guitar and lyrics to make a statement and critique his country. 

The song “We Called It America” was written and released in 2008 as a response to the financial crisis. The title follows the same lineage as the other songs with including the theme of America in the title. It also carries on the loud and guitar-heavy instrumentation throughout the song, using the lyrics to heavily criticize the time it was written in similar to how Green Day did. The lyrics are a representation of where people’s minds were at during the financial crisis. 

“That was the America that we thought was number one, Thought would overcome, thought would never die”

This song helps me understand the lineage of “American Idiot” more because it shows that even after the confusing times of the Bush Administration, people were not afraid to hold the United States accountable for their actions and attitudes towards national crises.