Like fellow ’90s Chicago great Michael Jordan, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has seen his legacy become somewhat tarnished in recent years by poor late-career decision-making and the Internet’s desire to turn him into an endless meme cycle. But even though Corgan doesn’t have six championship rings to make his resume as bulletproof as Jordan’s, you could certainly make the argument that the lead Pumpkin was the only figure in American pop culture who was on as hot a run from ’95 to ’96: MJ won 72 games and a title; Corgan released the diamond-selling Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and — briefly — became the best and biggest rock star in the world.
With the 20th anniversary of SP’s definitive work passing earlier this month, and the official coronation of Pumpkin Season coming tomorrow, we’ve decided to look back on the catalog that made Corgan and his band — particularly when the supporting cast was James Iha, D’Arcy Wrtezky, and Jimmy Chamberlin — worth remembering in the first place. That includes not only all of the band’s album cuts — starting with the dream-psych of ’91’s Gish and concluding with the synth-soaked triumph rock of last year’s Monuments to an Elegy — but also the overwhelming reams of B-sides, compilation contributions, and reissue bonus tracks they’ve released in the interim. We only counted our favorite version of each song — so no, we don’t have both “The End Is the Beginning of the End” and “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning” on here — and only officially released, non-bootleg tracks, but the Pumpkins still served up a grand total of 318 songs for our ranking pleasure.
We’ve got a ways to go, so let’s get into the thick of it. Enjoy and, on behalf of Billy and Co., Happy Halloween.
318. “Pastichio Medley” (“Zero” B-side, 1996)
Even Lou Reed would lunge for the aspirin 16 minutes into this. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
317. “A Song for a Son” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1, 2010)
316. “Rock On” (Judas O, 2001)
315. “Little Ditty” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
314. “G.L.O.W.” (Non-Album Single, 2008)
313. “Slurry” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
312. “On the Loose” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
311. “17” (Adore, 1998)
Basically 17 seconds of nothing, which means that straight silence is preferable to every song below this. — A.U.
310. “Blaster Caster” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
309. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Live)” (No Toys for O.J., 1994)
308. “Chewing Gum” (No Toys for O.J., 1994)
307. “Revi Ravi Roo” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
306. “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Adore: Kissed Alive Too, 2014)
305. “Feelium” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
304. “Verily I Say” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
303. “Spiteface” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
302. “Have Faithe, Be Merrie” (Smashing Pumpkins Record Club, 2011)
301. “A/Ab/E/B/F#” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
300. “Widow Wake My Mind” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1, 2010)
Just about every song on the Pumpkins’ first, ’70s AOR-fixated Teargarden By Kaleidyscope EP was uniquely awful; “Widow Wake My Mind” was no exception, with its weak glam vamping and hilariously uninspiring lyrical come-ons (“I’m looking for a love, a love that shines / To be mine, yes, all mine”). If Corgan had receded any deeper into his musical youth, he’d have been covering “Sugar Sugar” and the Banana Splits theme by Vol. 2. — A.U.
299. “Wishing You Were Real” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
298. “Blank” (“Tonight, Tonight,” 1996)
297. “Millieu” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
296. “Knuckles” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
295. “Chinoise” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
294. “The Groover” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
293. “Sun (Remix)” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2013)
292. “Jackboot” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
291. “Winterlong” (Judas O, 2001)
290. “Blast” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
289. “It’s Alright” (Adore: Chalices, Palaces and Deep Pools, 2014)
288. “Le Deux Machina” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
287. “Astral Planes” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1, 2010)
286. “Nothing and Everything” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2013)
285. “Under Your Spell” (Live at Cabaret Metro 10-5-88, 2000)
284. “Bagpipes Drone” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
283. “New Waver” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
282. “FOL” (Non-Album Single, 2007)
281. “One Diamond, One Heart” (Oceania, 2007)
280. “Zoom” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
279. “My Dahlia” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2013)
278. “Cross” (Adore: Malice, Callous and Fools, 2013)
277. “Ascending Stairs” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
276. “Methusela” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
275. “Pissant” (“Cherub Rock,” 1993)
274. “Lover” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
273. “My Mistake” (Judas O, 2001)
272. “Bleed” (Live at Cabaret Metro 10-5-88, 2000)
271. “Because You Are” (Judas O, 2001)
270. “East” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
269. “U.S.S.R.” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
268. “Barb Wire” (Smashing Pumpkins Record Club, 2011)
A decent-enough instrumental demo with a particularly good Chamberlin shuffle, but best if viewed as a subliminal dig at future Pumpkins drummer Tommy Lee, via his ex-wife’s classic starring vehicle. — A.U.
267. “A Stitch in Time” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
266. “Vanilla” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
265. “Towers of Rabble” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
264. “Daughter” (Non-Album Single, 2012)
263. “Heaven” (Adore: Malice, Callous and Fools, 2014)
262. “Star Song” (Adore: Malice, Callous and Fools, 2014)
261. “Tribute to Johnny” (“Zero,” 1996)
260. “French Movie Theme / Star-Spangled Banner” (“Cherub Rock,” 1993)
259. “Indecision” (Adore: Chalices, Palaces and Deep Pools, 2014)
258. “Terrapin” (“I Am One,” 1990)
257. “Rings” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
256. “Jennifer Ever” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
255. “The Bells” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
254. “Germans in Leather Pants” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
253. “Have Love Will Travel” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
252. “Teargarden Theme” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1, 2010)
251. “The Dream Machine” (Live) (Oceania: Live in New York, 2013)
250. “Jupiter’s Lament” (“Tonight, Tonight,” 1996)
249. “Spangled” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2, 2010)
248. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Live) (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
The Pumpkins as ’70s cock-rock hellraisers: not totally implausible, but much better fitting as a Halloween costume than true second skin. — A.U.
247. “Transformer” (“Thirty Three,” 1996)
246. “Apathy’s Last Kiss” (“Today,” 1993)
245. “Jesus Loves His Babies” (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
244. “Bullet Train to Osaka” (“I Am One,” 1990)
243. “Jersey Shore” (Adore: Malice, Callous and Fools, 2014)
242. “Glamey Glamey” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
241. “Soot and Stars” (Judas O, 2001)
240. “Slunk” (Lull, 1991)
239. “STP” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
238. “Hope” (Still Becoming Apart, 2000)
237. “Jackie Blue” (20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions!, V/A, 1991)
236. “Fun Time” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
235. “Speed” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: High Tea, 2012)
234. “Meladori Magpie” (“Tonight, Tonight,” 1996)
233. “There It Goes” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
232. “Glass and the Ghost Children” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
The ten-minute centerpiece to an overwrought concept album that’s best enjoyed once you forget the concept. (Short synopsis: Eccentric rock star talks to God, undergoes major rebranding.) Worst of all here is the pitch-warped, spoken-word segment delivered by Corgan’s character, a slog of self-indulgent drivel that actually features the following line: “I’m operating on the premise that I’m hearing the voice of God, or what I perceive to be God speaking to me or through me…” Unbearably pretentious, even by SP standards. — KYLE MCGOVERN
231. “The Rose March” (American Gothic, 2007)
230. “O Rio” (Adore: Chalices, Palaces and Deep Pools, 2014)
229. “Jesus Is the Sun” (Gish: Trippin’ Through the Stars, 2011)
228. “Sunkissed” (American Gothic, 2007)
227. “Mama” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
226. “Czarina” (“Ava Adore,” 1998)
225. “Phang” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
224. “Smiley” (Peel Sessions, 1992)
223. “Summer” (“Perfect,” 1998)
222. “Ma Belle” (Zeitgeist Silver Edition, 2007)
221. “God” (“Zero,” 1996)
220. “Medellia of the Graay Skies” (“Tonight, Tonight,” 1996)
219. “Why Am I So Tired” (Earphoria, 2002)
218. “Purr Snickety” (“Cherub Rock,” 1993)
217. “If There Is a God” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
216. “Violet Rays” (Oceania, 2012)
215. “Cinnamon Girl” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
214. “Moleasskiss” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
213. “Zeitgeist” (“Tarantula,” 2007)
212. “Pomp and Circumstances” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
211. “Movers and Shakirs” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
210. “Pox” (American Gothic, 2007)
209. “My Eternity” (Live at Cabaret Metro: 10-5-88, 2000)
208. “Dross” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
207. “Tom Tom” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2, 2010)
206. “Speed Kills” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
205. “Do You Close Your Eyes When You Kiss Me?” (Adore: In a State of Passage, 2014)
204. “Special Winner’s Song” (The Aeroplane Flies High Deluxe Reissue, 2013)
Four-and-a-half minutes of stage banter and James Iha drumming up intros for his bandmates (“D’ARCY WRETZKY ON THA MUTHAF**KIN’ BASSSS!!!) over an improv’d Jimmy Chamberlin groove, imagining a fascinating alternate universe in which the Pumpkins actually kinda liked each other. — A.U.
203. “U.S.A.” (Siamese Dream: Lollipop Fun Time, 2011)
202. “Pulseczar” (Earphoria, 2002)
201. “No Surrender” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
200. “Sparrow” (Judas O, 2001)
199. “Glass’ Theme” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
198. “Oceania” (Oceania, 2012)
197. “Cinder Open” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
196. “Isolation” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
195. “Innosense” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
194. “Translucent” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
193. “Lucky 13″ (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
192. “Owata” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope Single, 2011)
191. “Autumn Nocturne” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Morning Tea, 2012)
190. “She” (Live) (Pisces Iscariot Bonus Tape, 2012)
The most convincing of the pre-Gish-era demo cuts collected on the Pisces Iscariot reissue bonus tape, a compelling glimpse into a a pre-grunge Pumpkins world where Echo and the Bunnymen and Kitchens of Distinction still loomed as potential formative influences. It’d be one of the six best songs on the next DIIV album, for sure. — A.U.
189. “Inkless” (Oceania, 2012)
188. “Cottownwood Symphony” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2, 2010)
187. “Tales of a Scorched Earth” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sandess, 1995)
186. “Lightning Strikes” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope Single, 2011)
185. “My Blue Heaven” (“Thirty Three,” 1996)
184. “Peace + Love” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
183. “Saturnine” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
182. “Dizzle” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
181. “My Love Is Winter” (Oceania, 2012)
180. “Dorian” (Oceania, 2012)
179. “For God and Country” (Oceania, 2012)
178. “Pennies” (“Zero,” 1996)
177. “Ugly” (“1979,” 1996)
176. “Valentine” (Adore: In a State of Passage, 2014)
175. “Vanity” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
174. “Pale Horse” (Oceania, 2012)
173. “Venus in Furs” (Live) (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
Billy Corgan might not be highest on the list of performers you’d want to hear mewling, “Taste the whip, now bleeeeeeed for me,” but he does manage an impressively strong arrangement of the Velvets’ S&M classic here, his vocals getting lost underneath the swirling guitars like a newbie nodding out on the couch of a Factory party. — A.U.
172. “Siamese Dream” (Live) (“Disarm,” 1994)
171. “Transmission” (Adore: Kissed Alive Too, 2014)
170. “Soul Power” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
169. “Not Worth Asking” (“I Am One,” 1990)
168. “Wildflower” (Oceania, 2012)
167. “Anti-Hero” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
166. “Death From Above” (“Tarantula,” 2007)
165. “Bye June” (Lull, 1991)
164. “Blissed and Gone” (Still Becoming Apart, 2000)
163. “Blue” (Lull, 1991)
162. “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
161. “Cash Car Star” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
160. “Starz” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
159. “Stellar” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
158. “A Night Like This” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1996)
157. “Believe” (“1979,” 1996)
156. “Pinwheels” (Oceania, 2012)
155. “Honeyspider” (“Tristessa,” 1990)
154. “The Fellowship” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2, 2010)
153. “Go” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
James Iha’s songwriting contributions to the SP canon tend to skew drowsy, and “Go” is a worthy part of that lineage. Despite its extra muscle — the production’s slathered in fuzz and the band chugs forward in lockstep form — this Machina II standout benefits most from Iha’s penchant for dream-pop. Miraculously, his cooing makes a devastating late-night confession like “You’re the only reason why / I’m terrified to go / To know love, to show love” soothe like a salve. — K.M.
152. “Spaced” (Pisces Iscariot, 1994)
151. “Marquis in Spades” (“Zero,” 1996)
150. “Blank Page” (Adore, 1998)
149. “…Said Sadly” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1995)
148. “Bugg Superstar” (Earphoria, 2002)
A 90-second James Iha Eurodance jam about his dog, with New Order synths. Exactly as good as that sounds. —A.U.
147. “Promise Me” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
146. “Window Paine” (Gish, 1991)
145. “In My Body” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
144. “Drum + Fife” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
143. “One and Two” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Special Tea, 2012)
142. “The Celestials” (Oceania, 2012)
141. “Cherry” (“1979,” 1996)
140. “Behold! The Night Mare” (Adore, 1998)
139. “The Imploding Voice” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
138. “(Come On) Let’s Go!” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
137. “Sweet Sweet” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
136. “By Starlight” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
As deep as Mellon Collie deep cuts get, “By Starlight” pines away at the tail-end of disc two, a love pledge nestled in the double album’s sleepiest stretch. The Smashing Pumpkins have no shortage of nocturnal ballads or grand gestures — least of all on MC&IS — but what keeps this one afloat (aside from the gravity-repellant percussion) is the blue-hearted refrain at its core: “Dead eyes / Are you just like me?” Millions of teens swooned. — K.M.
135. “Waiting” (Untitled Machina Promo, 2000)
134. “Once in a While” (“Ava Adore,” 1998)
133. “A Girl Named Sandoz” (Peel Sessions, 1992)
132. “Tristessa” (Gish, 1991)
131. “The Sacred and the Profane” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
130. “Blew Away” (“Disarm,” 1994)
129. “Again, Again, Again (The Crux)” (American Gothic, 2008)
128. “Superchrist” (“G.L.O.W.,” 2008)
127. “Suffer” (Gish, 1991)
126. “Blue Skies Bring Tears (Heavy Version)” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
125. “Anaise!” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
124. “Slow Dawn” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
123. “Monuments” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
122. “Glissandra” (Oceania, 2012)
121. “Crawl” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
120. “Farewell and Goodnight” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
119. “Bring the Light” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
118. “The Chimera” (Oceania, 2012)
117. “Quasar” (Oceania, 2012)
116. “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” (Adore, 1998)
115. “Christmastime” (A Very Special Christmas 3, 1997)
A slice of wintry whimsy and a rare instance in which the Pumpkins are happy to reminisce about childhood. This holiday one-off doubles as a fond memory for any alt-rock worshippers who longed for a respite from the shopping-mall parade of Xmas Pop. Billy’s nasal tone never sounded so sweet. — K.M.
114. “Age of Innocence” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
113. “The Last Song” (“Thirty Three,” 1996)
112. “Clones (We’re All)” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1996)
111. “Untitled” (Rotten Apples, 2001)
110. “Galapagos” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
109. “Gossamer” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
108. “With Every Light” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
107. “We Only Come Out at Night” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
One of the rare songs on Mellon Collie that actually knows how silly it is, with synth farts, tip-tap drums and Addams Family harpsichord encouraging all the little goth kiddies to sing along. In the imaginary SP musical Vampire!, this is the band’s intro theme, and a real crowd-pleaser. — A.U.
106. “Being Beige” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
105. “Neverlost” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
104. “Cupid de Locke” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
103. “Rotten Apples” (“Tonight, Tonight,” 1996)
102. “Hello Kitty Kat” (“Today,” 1993)
101. “Glynis” (No Alternative, V/A, 1993)
100. “Blissed” (Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition, 2012)
Weepy dual acoustics, sighing vocals, no percussion necessary. How this Sadlands demo missed the cut of Pisces Iscariot proper is anyone’s guess. — A.U.
99. “The Crying Tree of Mercury” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
It was never a matter of if Billy Corgan would write a song called “The Crying Tree of Mercury,” it was when. I’m assuming the Pornography synth blurt came first and upon hearing it, could Corgan really have called this deep, deep MACHINA cut anything else? — IAN COHEN
98. “Snail” (Gish, 1991)
A kind of dry-run for “Drown,” guitars soaring at an appropriately slow, gauzy crawl. Amazing in retrospect how few years it took for “Flower chase the sunshine” to turn into “Living makes me sick / So sick I wish I’d die,” really. — A.U.
97. “Soothe” (Demo) (“Disarm,” 1993)
And it does. — A.U.
96. “99 Floors” (If All Goes Wrong, 2008)
The best of the Zeitgeist-era tracks that didn’t make the LP cut but made it into the 2008 concert doc If All Goes Wrong, a gorgeously slow-developing strummer that sees Billy in his underutilized Led Zeppelin III sweet spot. Despite the eight-minute-plus length, few 21st-century Pumpkins songs have avoided bombast this successfully or rewardingly. — A.U.
95. “For Martha” (Adore, 1998)
An eight-minute tribute to Billy Corgan’s late mother, who succumbed to cancer in 1996, “For Martha” endures as one of Adore’s emotional pillars. Supported by cyclical piano that swirls, builds, and recedes like a nighttime tide, the frontman bids a heartfelt and touching farewell to his parent: “If you have to go don’t you cry / If you have to go I will get by / Someday I’ll follow you and see you on the other side.” The two-minute coda may be unnecessary — especially after the album’s marquee guitar solo fades and the song slows to a would-be conclusion — but the universal sentiment shared here remains affecting. — K.M.
94. “Crush” (Gish, 1991)
“And this feeling shiiiivers down your Worldmusicfestse / Love comes in colors I can’t deny / All that matters is love, love, your love.” That’s the kind of college-dorm softie shtick that could make you unleash your inner Belushi. But swaddled in Butch Vig’s plush production and delivered by a long-haired Billy Corgan who had yet to conquer the Alternative Nation? It’s endearing enough to make you believe — for three-and-a-half minutes, at least — that Corgan’s ever-growing ambition could be satisfied with a simple kiss. — K.M.
93. “I of the Mourning” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
Billy Corgan’s fervent New Order fandom permeates this high-end Machina deep cut, which pairs a Peter Hook-reminiscent humming bass line with a mess of tangled, despairng electric guitars. — ANNIE ZALESKI
92. “X.Y.U.” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
In which the rat whips himself into a psychotic frenzy, pacing around his cage, finally exploding, “AND IN THE EYES OF A JACKAL I SAY KA-BOOM!!” Fascinating, if messy. — A.U.
91. “Lily (My One and Only)” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
The Pumpkins are often criticized for being too serious, a charge that Billy Corgan answered in ‘96 by telling Worldmusicfests, “We didn’t realize that we were supposed to be funny, too.” But there is a sliver of comedy lining parts of their output — they called their 28-track double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, fer chrissakes. The band’s unhinged sense of humor has never been clearer than on “Lily (My One and Only),” a vaudevillian number where Corgan gets his Eddie Cantor on to relay the story of a deluded peeping tom, a young man driven mad by obsessing over the object of his desire. This is the good kind of self-parody. — K.M.
90. “La Dolly Vita” (“Tristessa,” 1990)
“La Dolly Vita / Cool as ice cream” doesn’t exactly pack the visual poetry of Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi Fountain, but it’s refreshingly unassuming for a Corgan chorus hook. A little Black Crowes-y in its laconic psych-blues, and nothing wrong with that — at the beginning of the ’90s, anyway. — A.U.
89. “United States” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
No song should ever be called “United States” (or have lyrics like “I wanna fight / Revolution tonight”) but at least with its roiling guitars and tidal-wave drums, this ten-minute Zeitgeist climax is massive enough to bluff at repping for the fightin’ 50. Combined with the album’s Planet of the Apes-like cover image, it’s high drama enough to make Zeitgeist seem a lot more like a concept album than it actually is. — A.U.
88. “Luna” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
An aural mash note that’s as much an ode to love songs as it is to any one person. Corgan’s especially mushy here — for the final minute, he simply confesses “I’m in love with you” over and over again, and actually plays his own hypeman, exclaiming “So in love!” in the background. But when his overemoting comes bathed in the warm-and-fuzzy layers that he and co-producer Butch Vig labored over, the frontman deserves a pass. — K.M.
87. “Annie-Dog” (Adore, 1998)
The Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth album is the one where Billy Corgan learned how to use his voice to its fullest effect. Toning down both the whine that pleaded for attention on Siamese Dream and the snarl that scarred Mellon Collie’s nastiest moments, the singer worked within narrower — and far more subdued — parameters; he poured his vocals into the songs, rather than lashing out at them. On “Annie-Dog,” Corgan’s throat creaks amidst piano chords that tumble out, entwined with his clipped syllables. The lead Pumpkin’s wounded as always, but perhaps more than any other SP track, this one draws you toward his pain, a quiet come-hither in place of the usual red-faced tantrum. — K.M.
86. “Freak” (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2, 2010)
The easy highpoint of the otherwise horrendous Teargarden By Kaleidyscope EP set, combining two of Corgan’s best fuzz-rock riffs of the 21st century with a layered vocal hook cuddly and dejected enough (“Life is not a dream when you can’t wake from the dream you wanted”) to have absolutely ruled alt-rock radio in the mid-’90s. — A.U.
85. “Real Love” (Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
Static-crusted dream-pop vocals, screaming synths, and stacked razor-thin guitars make “Real Love” a compelling experiment in what My Bloody Valentine might’ve sounded like if you could actually understand (most of) the lyrics. — A.U.
84. “Run2Me” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
Decades ago, you might’ve guessed that Billy Corgan took some time to indulge his latent tendencies toward U2-like grandeur — but “Run2Me” goes full on contemporary Christian. If you can block out the pagan psychobabble of the (G*d-awful) video, the song strangely makes a pretty compelling case for the strangled sonics of the Lord’s rock. Emphasis is placed on little more than the overall sense of community and oneness and the end result is a thing of synth-y, emotionally manipulative beauty. He’s already got the devoted following and the absurd conspiracy theories, and now he has a worship song. In another life, Billy would make a pretty solid cult leader.— COLIN JOYCE
83. “This Time” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
Sequenced right in the middle of what was originally believed to be the Smashing Pumpkins’ final studio album, “This Time” is apparently Billy Corgan’s love song to the first version of the band. Even without that extra bit of context, this cathartic Machina anthem — with its lump-in-the-throat climax and wistful electronic flourishes — would have an air of finality: “So cry these tears / We’ll cry as all / We’ve held so long to fall apart / As the curtain falls / We bid you all goodnight.” Now imagine how much more meaningful it would’ve been if the Pumpkins had stayed gone. — K.M.
82. “Mouths of Babes” (“Zero,” 1996)
The coolest thing about The Aeroplane Flies High box set — which commemorated the year when Smashing Pumpkins were the biggest rock band in the world — was that it posited Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as this wormhole portal to alternate universes where the art-rock Lollapalooza crashers portray a new wave cover band (the “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” disc) and sadcore dream-poppers (the “1979” segment). But the Zero portion was the shrewdest, the shut-up-and-detonate-your-guitar EP to sate the “Cupid de Locke” haters, and the riff-candy necklace “Mouths of Babes” especially could’ve held its own betwixt “Zero” and “Here Is No Why.” — DAN WEISS
81. “Spaceboy” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Consider this one the clearest preview of Mellon Collie offered by Siamese Dream, both in its ever-swelling bloat and its starry-eyed emoting. The Pumpkins’ inverted “Space Oddity” never quite takes off the way it threatens to, but Billy Corgan’s stage whisper is so affecting that it’d cut straight to the heart even in the crushing vacuum outside the thermosphere. — C.J.
80. “Sad Peter Pan” (w/ Red Red Meat) (Sweet Relief II: Gravity for the Situation V/A, 1996)
A cover for the Vic Chesnutt tribute album Sweet Relief II — assisted by fellow Chi-Towners (and then-Sub Pop signees) Red Red Meat — the uncharacteristically distant lo-fi of this cover makes it sound achingly personal for Corgan, if for no other reason than “Sad Peter Pan” is just about the most fitting nickname the Great Pumpkin could’ve hoped to avoid in ’96. — A.U.
79. “Panopticon” (Oceania, 2012)
Corgan and Co.’s late-period work leans toward the riff-y claustrophobia of their post-grunge peers, but “Panopticon” feels like fresh air. Their often dour lyrical predilections pivot to focus on breath, love, life and “a sun that shines in” Billy himself. The Allmans guitar harmonies are miles from the hard sear of their early solos, but after a few decades of success, a little optimism feels earned. — C.J.
78. “Dancing in the Moonlight” (“Disarm,” 1994)
The Pumpkins were second only to the Afghan Whigs among alt-rock cover acts, and this live Thin Lizzy slow-down is a perfect example why: spotlessly recreating the dusky romance of the Bad Reputation classic, while sounding representative enough of the Pisces Iscariot era’s unplugged haziness to be a perfectly credible SP original. — A.U.
77. “Love” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
On the expanded “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” single, the Pumpkins would cover the Cars’ “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” in earnest, but first they simply swiped the distorted chug of its intro for the scintillating beginning to Dawn to Dusk’s “Love.” Corgan’s jumbled squawking (“Born of the airs and dues, my airs of madness do declare”) isn’t nearly as powerful as Ric Ocasek’s self-debasing lust, but he can match the new-wave maestro for shimmering sonic darkness any day. — A.U.
76. “Tiberius” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
Unusually tall for his time, this man who ascended to incredible heights of power during a time of economic prosperity in his realm despite (because of?) his inferiority complex. But enough about Tiberius’ ascent within Roman Empire; it’s clear why Corgan empathizes with the dude, but not so much why he’s the namesake for Smashing Pumpkins making the best Weezer song of the past ten years. — I.C.
75. “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” (“Thirty-Three,” 1996)
The B-side so big they named an entire box set after it; “Aeroplane” does grow somewhat turgid over the course of eight-plus minutes of scuzzy lurching, but the stoner-metal menace of the primary groove is one the band would rarely equal elsewhere. Plus, the best tape-recorded spoken-word intro since “Providence.” — A.U.
74. “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1996)
Smashing Pumpkins’ obsession with new wave led to some rather intriguing Mellon Collie-era B-sides. One of the best was the group’s snarling cover of the Cars’ “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” from the “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” single reissue, which pairs military-precise drums and sparse, metalli-grunge riffing. — A.Z.
73. “In the Arms of Sleep” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Melancholy? Sure — “Sleep will not come to this tired body now / Peace will not come to this lonely heart.” But the sadness is finite on one of the Pumpkins’ duskiest, most darkly gorgeous ballads. Like most of the love songs, it seems to present the narrator as a necessitous low man in a one-sided power struggle (“And I’ll always need her more than she’ll ever need me”), but Courtney Love, Jessica Simpson, and Tila Tequila are rumored to have suffered Billy Corgan’s desire for them, so what the hell do I know? — I.C.
72. “Plume” (“I Am One,” 1991)
That gas-leak grind betrays the fact that Corgan and Co. may well have left the B-side of their very first single off of the jumpy, ‘70s-besotted Gish for being too grunge, especially with lines like “My boredom has outshined the sun.” James Iha’s paint-peeling solo bridges the two eras like a noisy emulsifying agent, and the fuzz-bleached bass was “borrowed” from Deep Blue Dream (not Something?), whom Corgan thanked in the Pisces Iscariot liners. If idle hands do the devil’s work, then Beelzebub’s a natural at doubling guitar leads. — D.W.
71. “Here’s to the Atom Bomb” (“Try, Try, Try,” 2000)
As besot as the project was with unnecessary concept-album ballast, there were a handful of surprisingly buoyant songs created during the Machina era. One of the best was “Atom Bomb,” a two-chord groover that sounds almost Manchester-like in its neo-psychedelia, with a multi-guitar sheen that makes Corgan’s mostly incomprehensible bloviating (something about television being evil, maybe?) seem somehow affirmative. (Go for the blistering B-side version of this one, by the way, not the submerged-sounding “New Wave” version with alternate lyrics on Machina II.) — A.U.
70. “Crestfallen” (Adore, 1998)
The world was not necessarily asking for Smashing Pumpkins’ musical answer to “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” but they got it with this side-two Adore cut, which borrows Savage Garden’s trip-hop music-box balladry for one of Corgan’s more straightforward and affecting lyrics. Whether being sung out of shame or low self-esteem, Billy’s questioning of his own worthiness in the light of his beloved is surprisingly human, and the song’s conclusion (“You were never meant to belong to me”) is a rare ego-less moment for the frontman. — A.U.
69. “Wound” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
The glorious unification of the pop-rock concision Billy Corgan promised after Adore and the blinding, synth-slicked Flood production he got on Machina; or, our immediate reward for making it through all 47 minutes of “Glass and the Ghost Children.”— I.C.
68. “Dreaming” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1996)
A dreary, electronic take on Blondie’s 1979 classic, this Aeroplane Flies High find offers a clue as to the pivot SP were planning after their own “1979,” as they waded into Adore’s gothtronica. Best of all, this version of “Dreaming” gives fans a rare duet between Billy and D’Arcy, his breathy vocals slow-dancing with her deadpan delivery over a whirling trip-hop beat. Shame they didn’t share the mic more often, but fans can still listen to this and wonder, “What if…” Dreaming, after all, is free. — K.M.
67. “White Spyder” (Machina II: The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
For all their techno-rock overtures of the late-’90s, the Pumpkins’ first true attempt at an industrial rave-up came with this surprisingly frisky Machina II gem, which sounds like The Fragile at 45 RPM. And not to keep ragging on “Glass and the Ghost Children,” but considering the spider-crawling lyrics to this one seem to have derived from that death march’s closing section, it’s tempting to wonder how much lither the original Machina could’ve felt with this one in its place. — A.U.
66. “Bury Me” (Gish, 1991)
Underappreciated in the shadow of other Gish highlights, “Bury Me” secretly anchors side one of the Smashing Pumpkins’ still-enveloping debut. It’s the first bit of proof that there’s a real front-to-back album beyond the college-radio smashes, one that weaves a web of hard-rock guitar stabs, psychedelia-toking production, and sweet-and-sour vocals. Billy sings about being buried, but it’s just to throw you off, a diversion that allows his band to swallow you whole. — K.M.
65. “Whir” (Pisces Iscariot, 1994)
Despite his tendency to overreach — both as a lyricist and the Smashing Pumpkins’ musical svengali — Billy Corgan is capable of a light touch. Case in point: “Whir,” which was left off of Siamese Dream and rightfully so; the song’s tender, autumnal strums wouldn’t have fit in with that album’s fussily stacked guitar parts or done much to further its widescreen assault on radio. Instead, “Whir” landed on Pisces Iscariot, imbuing the odds-and-ends collection with a modest sense of awe and gently bolstering its reputation as an essential Pumpkins document. — K.M.
64. “Bleeding the Orchid” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
A power ballad of genuine power, whose queasy guitars and exquisite nocturnal fog make it sound like Billy playing catchup with James Iha’s other band, with surprisingly successful results. And no, as far as we can tell, “Bleeding the Orchid” is not Pumpkinspeak for masturbation, though, really, you can never be too careful with Corgan. — A.U.
63. “Here Is No Why” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
The Smashing Pumpkins’ answer to the Smiths’ “Rubber Ring,” the song that foretells of the day the King of Gloom abdicates his throne, the Death Rock Boy cuts his hair, and the kids don’t need this sad-bastard music to save their lives anymore. When you’re dancing and laughing and finally living, it’s supposed to feel every bit as glorious as the guitar solo — having left those sad machines yourself, you’ll hear it in your head and think of Corgan kindly. — I.C.
62. “Home” (Machina II: The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
Weeping treble soaks this effusive Unforgettable Fire-like ode to returning from whence the Great Pumpkin came, practically drowning it in hard-earned sentimentality. Considering that SP’s real-life run was coming to an end at the time, it feels like the appropriate, LCD Soundsystem-like bow on the group’s original run. A couple of releases from Corgan and Co.’s second go-round have attempted to replicate its swirling comforts, but they’ve mostly just proven you can’t go home again. — A.U.
61. “Pug” (Adore, 1998)
The hip-hop-edged beats and soupy sonics of previous collaborator Butch Vig’s work with mid-’90s breakout stars Garbage would heavily inform Corgan’s Adore era, and “Pug” was about as close as the frontman would get to playing Shirley Manson. The hybrid sound watermarks the song’s late-’90s-ness, but the chorus melody is one of Corgan’s most naturally majestic, and the cacophony that the outro builds to provides some much-needed tension to Adore’s back half. — A.U.
60. “Raindrops + Sunshowers” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
There are a number of legitimate explanations for Adore’s dud commercial performance: the band playing against their strengths, the changing alt-rock tides leaving the band marooned, the first line on the first single being “It’s you that I adore / You’ll always be my whore.” Or, how about this: They lost the best drummer of the decade. Imagine the finest songs on Adore with Chamberlin on the skins and that’s basically “Raindrops + Sunshowers”; for Machina’s first eight minutes, it really does sound like a return to form. — I.C.
59. “7 Shades of Black” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
Corgan at his glam-strutting best, spitting the opening lines “I’m on the street, yeah / I want you / I’m looking for myself” like he was finally getting comfortable with his inner Paul Stanley. Best of all is Chamberlin’s fists-of-fury drumming matching Corgan for sheer chest-beating bravado, reminding you why of all the bandmates Billy has cycled through over the years, JC is the one he calls his “musical soul mate.” — A.U.
58. “Take Me Down” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Not the Pumpkins’ best James Iha song, but certainly the best-deployed; a hushed cradle song of an intermission between the proggy bombast of “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” and the crunching riffage of “Where Boys Fear to Tread” at the Mellon Collie midpoint. If the transition from Dawn to Dusk — or from Twilight to Starlight, for that matter — made a sound, we could only hope it would resemble the soft-spoken guitarist’s heavenly coo. — A.U.
57. “Never Let Me Down Again” (“Rocket,” 1994)
The Pumpkins wisely avoid attempting to replicate the juggernaut swagger of the Depeche Mode version here, instead going for something more quietly apocalyptic, and surprisingly jazzy. (If nothing else, Billy was born to sing-sigh the “See the stars they’re signing bright / Everything’s all right tonight” outro.) D-Mode singer Dave Gahan has even said he believes the Pumpkins version to be “a lot better” than his original — he’s wrong, of course, but the fact that it’s even a discussion is impressive. — A.U.
56. “Tear” (Adore, 1998)
J.G. Ballard’s lawyers have f**ked up big time if his estate doesn’t receive royalties every time Crash is referenced in an alt-rock song — few literary works speak more loudly towards musicians’ desires to be dark, populist sex-havers. On Adore, Corgan’s take turns into a conflagratory pile-up of chunky quasi-breakbeats, 808s and heartbreak synth-pop, and mellotron-spiked grandeur; or, in Corgan’s words, a “dead opera motorcrash.” M83’s Anthony Gonzalez was clearly rubbernecking. — I.C.
55. “To Forgive” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Mellon Collie’s emotional spectrum ranges from two adolescent extremes: all-consuming infatuation and soul-corroding nihilism. “To Forgive” dwells on the latter, but does so to startling effect. Memories of childhood neglect have blistered over, but a somber guitar line pops them open. And no matter what age Corgan was when he wrote these lyrics — or what age you are reading them — the ache behind a line like “And I remember my birthdays / Empty party afternoons won’t come back” never fades completely. — K.M.
54. “Heavy Metal Machine” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
With Jimmy Chamberlin back in tow, the Pumpkins were free to go back to the riff-ready hard rock on which they initially made their name. The mottled production’s fitting of its time, sure, but there’s really not all that much that separates Corgan’s cartwheeling guitar work from the sort that spun through the margins as far back as Gish. Their clattering alchemy certainly produced material that more classically resembles gold, but if you blow back the dust coating it, the sheen looks familiar. — C.J.
53. “Soma (Instrumental)” (Siamese Dream Deluxe Edition, 2011)
On the original Siamese Dream, “Soma” served as the album’s gently unspooling fulcrum, spidery guitar lines conspiring in the background as Corgan wailed, “I’m all byyyyyyy myyyyyselllllf / As I’ve alllwayyyys felllllt….” But as the instrumental version on this decade’s Siamese reissue proved, the song’s better off without Billy’s vocal lamentations, just an eerie whisper billowing around the night sky, briefly erupting into bright light before retreating into the dark. Turns out the Pumpkins would’ve made for some pretty dope post-rockers. — A.U.
52. “F**k You (An Ode to No One)” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
One of the most enjoyably nihilistic Mellon Collie anthems, a choo-choo guitar riff exploding into a Chemical Bros.-worthy chorus breakbeat. The best part is undoubtedly the breakdown section, where the guitars chug themselves out of gas and the drums collapse in exhaustion trying to keep up with Corgan’s generational ranting. The way Billy purrs, “Lost my innocence to a no-good gurrrrrrl…” makes for one of his most delectable moments. — A.U.
51. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
If you’re going to call a song “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” it damn well better be a nine-minute, multi-part epic with Rush-worthy sprawl and guitar grandiosity, and a legitimately swooning chorus. We’ll give it to ‘em. — A.U.
50. “Destination Unknown” (“Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” 1996)
On the flipside of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” the band turn Missing Persons’ DayGlo new-wave hit “Destination Unknown” into a Gary Numan-esque slice of robotic, space-age synth-pop, somehow making it even glossier and dreamier than the original. — A.Z.
49. “Frail and Bedazzled” (Pisces Iscariot, 1994)
Even Pumpkins agnostics realized early on that it was possible to find Billy Corgan’s official album tracks staid while plenty of his castoffs, well, go’d. “Frail and Bedazzled” was one of Corgan’s many wise documentations of rippage that didn’t squeeze neatly onto his conceptualized full-lengths, with the band’s jerkiest, Bonham-est drum blasts to date, astrophysics-ready guitar squeals, and soaring vocals from a time when Corgan couldn’t not sound anthemic. There are at least two things wrong with that title indeed. — D.W.
48. “Tarantula” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
The lead single from 2007’s Zeitgeist was the band’s last big modern-rock hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard alternative charts. The position was well-deserved: The song alternates seamlessly between unabashedly metal-inspired, teeth-baring hard-rock verses and cathartic, power-pop-leaning choruses. — A.Z.
47. “Beautiful” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
The bejeweled music box tucked away near the bottom of Mellon Collie, “Beautiful” begs to be cherished, to have its feelings of starry-eyed adoration reciprocated. And it’s easy to oblige, considering the twinkling piano, the comfort of hearing Billy and D’Arcy’s voices right beside each other, and the song’s perspective on love, which develops from a purely childlike POV (“With my face pressed up to the glass, wanting you”) into something far more mature (“And I’m sure you know me well / As I’m sure you don’t / But you just can’t tell / Who you love and who you won’t”). — K.M.
46. “Daydream” (Gish, 1991)
D’Arcy got one true shot at playing Belinda Butcher for the Pumpkins, and she aced it, with this out-of-nowhere, heartcrushingly yearning dream-pop ditty at the end of Gish that’s over far before you’re ready for it to end. The song is Glider-worthy and then some, making its lack of a sequel on Siamese Dream virtually unforgivable. — A.U.
45. “Doomsday Clock” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
Sometimes you have to judge a song based on its intent. For Smashing Pumpkins’ “No, for real this time” Return To Rock LP Zeitgeist, Corgan wrote his most Audioslavish post-post-grunge riff and a chorus of “Please don’t stop / It’s lonely at the top / These lonely days when will they ever stop? / There’s a doomsday clock ticking in my heart.” It appeared in the first Transformers movie twice, once during the Bumblebee vs. Brawl fight and again in the credits. Judged on that outcome, “Doomsday Clock” is the most successful Smashing Pumpkins song ever written. — I.C.
44. “Daphne Descends” (Adore, 1998)
Adore is the band’s murkiest and moodiest record, which also makes it their most polarizing. One of the album’s unqualified standouts, however, is “Daphne Descends,” whose antique-parlor synth drones, hollowed-out drums, and flat-affect vocals convey spellbindingly fatalistic grandeur. — A.Z.
43. “Obscured” (“Today,” 1993)
In the Pisces Iscariot liner notes, Corgan writes, “what a pretty song. sunday in the park music chicagofest,” referring to the two weeks of continuous live performances held at the Navy Pier every year between 1978 and 1982, with the final one in 1983 at Soldier Field. “Through these eyes, I rely on all I’ve seen, obscured,” Corgan sings, likely unaware of the fraught political history that ended ChicagoFest. Still, Corgan was between the ages of 11 and 16 during its run, and so “Obscured” scans as a gorgeous reminiscence of youth on the landing in the summer, missing the innocence he’s known, beautiful and stoned. — I.C.
42. “Stumbleine” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Flickering from the depths of Mellon Collie’s fourth side, “Stumbeline” arrives just in time after the combined 12 minutes of “Tales of a Scorched Earth” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” to save the album from Corgan’s most oppressive crunge. Probably second only to the “Landslide” cover in terms of Billy + acoustic loveliness, “Stumbleine” survives its nonsense chorus (“I’ll be your Stumbleine / I’ll be your super queen”) to land as one of the band’s most affecting teenage lullabies. Then it’s back to “X.Y.U.” — oh well, pretty while it lasted. — A.U.
41. “Once Upon a Time” (Adore, 1998)
The Pumpkins were essentially starring in their own fairytale for much of the ’90s, but Billy Corgan knew it couldn’t last, and he was determined to write his own ending with Adore. “Time” was gently indicative of the band’s retreat from the Alternative Nation limelight, a 3/4-time ballad that swayed much more than it rocked, sounding less like the soundtrack to America’s youth than the soundtrack to Shakespeare in Love. “Once upon a time in my life,” whimpers Billy, and it’s clear he knows it’s already over. — A.U.
40. “The Boy” (“1979,” 1996)
Pumpkins go Britpop on this “1979” B-side, more or less inventing the idea of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Flood-produced Belong in the process. “The Boy” is so far and away James Iha’s best song with SP that, if it wasn’t for “Take Me Down,” his next-best would appear more than 100 spots further down on this list. — I.C.
39. “One and All (We Are)” (Monuments to an Elegy, 2014)
Monuments to an Elegy was a mostly successful introduction of the synth as a worthwhile lead instrument for the Mk. 3 (or maybe Mk. 4, it’s hard to keep track) Pumpkins, with keys dominating tracks like “Being Beige,” “Tiberius,” and “Run2Me.” But “One and All” proved that the six-string was still king for SP, its massive riff ripping through the album’s back half with forgot-about-Dre indignation, proving that Corgan could still bring the heat with his primary pitch. It’s convincing enough that you can almost keep from chortling at Billy’s “We are so young” raWorldmusicfestsg. — A.U.
38. “To Sheila” (Adore, 1998)
In its own understated way, “To Sheila” was a bold move for the Smashing Pumpkins. After the blockbuster mood swings of Mellon Collie, the trio — now just Billy Corgan, James Iha, and D’Arcy, after Jimmy Chamberlin was fired following a heroin overdose in ‘96 — more or less stripped their sound and sold it for parts. To introduce their new iteration in full-length form, the band opened their fourth album with nighttime ambiance — the cricket-like humming that reveals itself when everything else has fallen silent. With that foundation set, Corgan softly sings with rare elegance of “blushing brilliance” and “passing vapor trails,” matters of grace and bruising faith, all accompanied by acoustic guitar, piano, and traces of percussion. “To Sheila” wasn’t exactly a hard reboot — muted as Adore is, no other song on the LP mimics this level of intimacy — but it did expose an alternate version of the Pumpkins; here, they favor mood and subtlety over grand, chest-thumping gestures. — K.M.
37. “Hummer” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Smashing Pumpkins developed their ability to balance tranquility and noise early on, judging by this Siamese Dream beauty. Distorted and shimmering guitars coexist peacefully, before the former acquiesces to an extended, dreamy coda steeped in undulating, psychedelic waves. — A.Z.
36. “The Everlasting Gaze” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
1993: “Cherub Rock”
2000: “The Everlasting Gaze”
2007: “Doomsday Clock”
2014: “Drum and Fife”
Point being that every seven years, Billy Corgan has to show up to say, “Hi, haters.” So if you thought Corgan had given up rock after Adore, he tuned down to C, brayed, “You know I’m not dead” to those who weren’t feeling his vampire look, and had the prodigal Chamberlin go Bonzo on the chorus with his most ridiculous drum fills. Oh, and that a cappella break… consider this “Zero” multiplied by a million. — I.C.
35. “Quiet” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
To the abused, “quiet” is an action of survival: Do nothing, the thinking goes, and your tormenter won’t find a reason to lash out. Such self-protective eggshell-walking is arguably the root of this churning Siamese Dream cut, which comments with wrenching clarity (“Silent / Metal mercies / Castrate / Boys to the bone”) on the emotional and physical abuse Billy Corgan’s stepmother inflicted on him as a child for more than a decade. “Helpless,” Billy understandably cries over whining guitar slides, but when it came to forming his still-developing narrative, Corgan found alterna-rock gold in a cave of early anguish. — RACHEL BRODSKY
34. “Where Boys Fear to Tread” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Mellon Collie’s best remembered for its glazed-over emoting, but there were more than a few occasions to screw pedal to metal. There’s no highwire guitar work on “Fear to Tread,” nor tolling bells, just Billy, shredding his adenoids as ever, atop the open-wheeled overdrive of his buzzing riffery. The lyrics are the usual sort of existential boho poetry, but the images are potent ones, and “king of the horseflies” may be the best insult he ever penned. — C.J.
33. “Geek U.S.A.” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Whether or not “Geek U.S.A.” is Jimmy Chamberlin’s best drumming, Siamese Dream producer Butch Vig called it “one of the most amazing drum performances I had ever heard.” Go look up some of the drum performances to which Butch Vig bore witness. — I.C.
32. “Ava Adore” (Adore, 1998)
Leave it to grunge’s preeminent classic-rock aficionado and perennial brooder to write the most troubled love song of the ’90s. Here, long before beef with both, he’s slurping up the industrial runoff of Reznor and Manson to create an unsteady and seeping bedrock for prickly meditations on some deeply ingrained Madonna/whore complex. Like all of the best Pumpkins songs, they’re transforming doom and gloom into a defeatist’s anthem; it’s love, in spite of all the odds. — C.J.
31. “Stand Inside Your Love” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
The Smashing Pumpkins carried what remained of their ‘90s momentum into the ‘00s with the massive modern-rock hit “Stand Inside Your Love,” which merged the nostalgic longing of “1979” with more streamlined, synth-heavy dream-pop, resulting in the last classic-sounding single of their original lineup. — A.Z.
30. “Jellybelly” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
In 1998, Billy Corgan told the now-defunct SP discussion board Listessa that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was meant to capture “the human condition of mortal sorrow.” (I.e., all the blood-and-guts emotional junk generally experienced by people between the ages of, as Corgan intended, 14 and 24.) That in mind, the grunge-thrash maelstrom known as “Jellybelly” achieves peak inner-torture with intensely sorrowful lyrics like “Welcome to nowhere fast / Nothing here ever lasts.” And words aren’t enough: SP turn the intensity up to 11 via their manic guitar solos and Jimmy Chamberlin’s head-splitting percussion, which communicate the adolescent need to make everything — even complete hopelessness — kind of romantic. — R.B.
29. “Silverf**k” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em — the thing about the Smashing Pumpkins that inspires either reaction is their utter punklessness, their savvy marrying of ’70s arena excess with the emotional excess of ’90s emo-grunge. Billy Corgan has no on-record tantrum that isn’t blown out into a full-on champagne supernover, and Siamese Dream’s longest, most appropriately titled cut, “Silverf**k,” accesses the full emotional and electrical spectrum between “She was my lover so sweet” and “Bang bang you’re dead / Hole in your head” like f**king Queen or something — reverse echo treatments on the quiet part and all. Pavement were cooler, no one contests that. But the Pumpkins were uglier, and when you listen to this no-indulgence-left-unrecorded prog-operetta, it’s hard to believe they were the ones with the hits. — D.W.
28. “Disarm” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Lots of superlatives for this one: best use of timpani in a pop song, Siamese Dream’s most devastating lyrics, the easiest Smashing Pumpkins song to play on guitar and, also, one of the subjects of Corgan’s best jokes — at the ’94 VMAs, he claimed it won “best art direction in a sad video.” They weren’t in such a good mood when they had to play it, though; forced by MTV to perform the track, Corgan unleashed the killer in him with one of the most visceral, frightening live performances the channel would see until Unplugged in New York. (Of course, now it’s impossible not to think of this picture whenever you hear “I used to be a little boy, so old in my shoes.”) — I.C.
27. “Appels + Oranjes” (Adore, 1998)
In 2001, Bernard Sumner invited Billy Corgan to do guest “special guest vocals” on “Turn My Way,” though it would’ve been tough to tell without reading the credits. It was the first and last time Billy Corgan’s vocals didn’t overpower someone else’s — he did not, to paraphrase one of the most quotable lyrics of that year, murder Sumner on his own s**t. Four years earlier, however, “Appels & Oranjes” did pretty much just that: If you choose to believe the rumors that Billy Corgan played all of D’Arcy’s bass parts in the studio, turns out his Peter Hook impression can be just as good as his Sumner. And while Brad Wood will always be known for the dry, economical production that defined ’90s indie touchstones Exile In Guyville and Diary, for a few glorious minutes on Adore, he thought he was Stephen Hague. — I.C.
26. “Rocket” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
Siamese Dream’s most underrated single, “Rocket” takes off like quintessential early, noisy Smashing Pumpkins: Warm, fuzz-coated guitars buzz and whine like a beehive, as Corgan triumphantly, repeatedly mewls, “I shall be free!” — A.Z.
25. “Rhinoceros” (Gish, 1991)
Most of Gish found the Smashing Pumpkins kicking their broken-hearted classic-rock evocations into interstellar overdrive, but “Rhinoceros” was always a little more damaged, a little more like “Brain Damage.” Flanged guitar lines flip and flutter around young Billy Corgan’s splatter-painted poetry. These are ‘I Am the Walrus”-esque proclamations of “ice cream snow,” “trees and balloons” — but Corgan has a knack for turning those abstract images into deeply cutting nostalgia, like he’s ripping split seconds straight out of your childhood. The anxious yearning, wide-eyed wonder, and unrepentant despondency all in equal measure, the key ingredients to the best Pumpkins songs for years to come, so consider this the urtext for their greatness. — C.J.
24. “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
No small task to kick off an album longer than most feature films, but Mellon Collie’s self-titled overture gets the action moving with appropriately cinematic aplomb. The first instrumental cut to appear on a Pumpkins LP, the song’s unforgettable piano melody dances with balletic grace under the moaning synth violins and mellotron, lasting a note-perfect 2:52 before lifting off into the sweeping strings of “Tonight, Tonight.” Listening to it, the overwhelming image is of bald Billy in suit and tails, walking to his piano bench onstage at Lincoln Center, cracking his knuckles, and getting to work. — A.U.
23. “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” (Batman & Robin OST, 1997)
Alternate theory as to why Adore seemed like such a disappointment at the time: Along with “Eye,” “The End is the Beginning is the End” was a soundtrack cut that gave the implication that Smashing Pumpkins would not only endure the onrush of electronic, but thrive, Stratocasters in hand. (Or, in short, they could replace Jimmy Chamberlin and still rock.) Or maybe Adore just got caught up in the bad mojo surrounding “The End is the Beginning is the End”: Hard as it is to believe in 2015, it is possible to make a, big-budget comic book movie so universally reviled that the entire franchise gets shut down for nearly a decade. Which just means Batman & Robin is in the same class as The Last Action Hero and High School High, a phenomenally f**king awful movie that resulted in a totally kick-ass soundtrack. — I.C.
22. “Bodies” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
This list is filled with quotes that could be described as the quintessential Smashing Pumpkins lyric, but none of them will be more succinct than the conceit that fuels “Bodies”: “Love is suicide.” In the span of three words, Corgan pinpoints a few major themes that flow through his oeuvre: love and death, obviously, but also the romance of fatalism and the fatalism of romance. That he does so over a molten-sludge mix of metal and shoegaze corroborates the belief that the Pumpkins were never more ferocious than they were on Mellon Collie. This is them festering at their trashiest and their finest. — K.M.
21. “Let Me Give the World to You” (Machina II: The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, 2000)
Everyone who has fond memories of Zwan thinks it sounds like this: Billy Corgan on some PMA tip, pledging mirth and infinite cheer over fuzzy-wuzzy guitars and soft-focus harmonies. There’s this version and one that’s produced by Rick Rubin and features someone other than Jimmy Chamberlin on drums from the Adore reissue — some people believe the latter is superior and the takeaway is that there is a not-insignificant portion of the Smashing Pumpkins’ fanbase that is certifiably insane. — I.C.
20. “Shame” (Adore, 1998)
Billy Corgan wasn’t lacking in personal turmoil to pull from for Adore: He had recently lost his mother to cancer, his marriage dissolved, he dismissed his best friend from his band, and he (understandably) felt as though he had overextended himself as a songwriter. As such, the Pumpkins’ fourth album is their gloomiest, which, no small feat. “Shame,” the most enthralling track on the record’s second half, might read like a cheap approximation of sadness with its opening rhyme, “You’re gonna walk on home / You’re gonna walk alone.” But sung by Corgan at a time when he had singular focus and rendered over the track’s velvety instrumentation, those lines establish the forlorn mood for what is perhaps the most Cure-like song in the SP catalog. Near the end of the six-and-a-half-minute amble, Billy says so long: “Hello, goodbye / You know / You made us cry.” It’s not immediately clear who he’s addressing — if he’s mourning his mom, appealing to his ex-wife, opening up to Chamberlin, or chastising himself, even — but there’s no missing that heartbreak, even in all the darkness. — K.M.
19. “Landslide” (“Disarm,” 1993)
Easy to forget now, but covering this Stevie Nicks classic — which Fleetwood Mac wouldn’t even officially release as a single until it was pulled from their 1997 live album, The Dance — was a much bolder move back in ’94, before the Dixie Chicks, Miley Cyrus, and just about every warbly singer/songwriter on on the planet had their turn at it. The fact that a 27-year-old guy from Chicago with only two albums to his band’s name felt confident enough to take “Landslide” apart and successfully rebuild it with thickened, slightly askew acoustics — not to mention a tear-inducing guitar solo — speaks volumes to SP’s confidence in taking on the classic-rock canon. — R.B.
18. “That’s the Way (My Love Is)” (Zeitgeist, 2007)
The history books might not say as much, but the Smashing Pumpkins’ spacey synth-pop excursions represent some of their finest music — especially after their ’90s heyday. Exhibit A: The exquisite Zeitgeist single “That’s The Way (My Love Is),” a vulnerable, optimistic heart-burster in which Corgan implores a hesitant potential paramour that his aim — and love — is true. His guarantees of “I’m always there for you” even manage to not sound creepy. — A.Z.
17. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Bullet With Butterfly Wings” remains the Pumpkins’ most meme-worthy song, courtesy of Billy Corgan spitting such indelible lyrics as “The world is a vampire” and “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” Besides that, though, the song harnessed the band’s hard-rock tendencies perhaps better than any previously released song, thanks to an airtight arrangement — which refreshed the loud-quiet-loud ‘90s alt-rock template by amping up the menace, dread, and tension — and a bruising performance from Jimmy Chamberlin that’s aged much better than the “Zero” T-shirt crumpled somewhere in your attic. — A.Z.
16. “Perfect” (Adore, 1998)
The Before Sunset to the Sunrise of “1979,” seeing our once-idealistic heroes older and wiser, but still not totally willing to give up on the naive dreams of youth. The sequel hits many of the same emotional and musical beats as the Pumpkins’ biggest crossover hit — the video even employes the same cast and directors — but if it wasn’t quite exciting enough to follow “1979” to the alt-rock canon, it was quietly devastating enough to leave just as lingering an afterglow for the band’s now-grown fans. “Angel, you know it’s not the end,” Corgan promises, and you really, really want to believe him. — A.U.
15. “Set the Ray to Jerry” (“1979,” 1996)
Yeah, sometimes 70 tracks of overdubbed guitars and DOOM samples and harps and kettle drums get tacked on in post-production, but if you listen to enough of their non-album tracks, it becomes clear that Billy Corgan can write a truly great Smashing Pumpkins song in, like, five minutes. Check the sublime “Set the Ray to Jerry” — it’s little more than a single, softly phased guitar set to a splashy, brushed drum pattern and sauntering bass rumble, with some actual sweet nothings (“I want you and I need you”) and sweet-sounding things that actually mean nothing (“Let roar these fears / From the whore of my tears”). Every self-respecting Smashing Pumpkins fan has tried to make a proper album out of the Aeroplane Flies High boxed set and every one worth taking seriously has this song on it. — I.C.
14. “Tonight, Tonight” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Written by Billy Corgan for Billy Corgan as an encouraging note about narrowly escaping his abusive past (“We’ll find a way to offer up the night / The indescribable moments of your life”), “Tonight, Tonight” grabs and bear-hugs your attention with dazzling strings, Billy’s cloud-opening wail, and Jimmy Chamberlin’s looping drum roll, which makes it sound like SP are always on the verge of a big reveal. Each of these elements could have weighed a four-minute single down, but like the mammoth double LP from which it came, the Pumpkins understand how to drape complex themes and instrumental arrangements in affecting directness: “Believe in me as I believe in you.” It’s a straightforward yet indelible sentiment not for a lover or a friend, but for the person who arguably needs your support the most: yourself. — R.B.
13. “Try, Try, Try” (Machina: The Machines of God, 2000)
Divorce “Try, Try, Try” from the larger narrative baked into it — the bonkers concept behind Machina; the junkie romance chronicled in its music video; the limited rotation that clip received on MTV; the fact that it was the final single off of the classic Pumpkins’ last major release — and what you have is a sappy but effervescent and enjoyable pop song. Embrace that larger narrative and what you have is a late-career (for the original roster, anyway) triumph; a swan song of sorts from one of the most commercially successful and artistically ambitious bands of the ‘90s; a plea to fans to “try to hold on to this love.” — K.M.
12. “Muzzle” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Last year, Strand of Oaks released “Goshen ‘97,” a very, very meta song where Timothy Showalter rekindles his love for loud guitars after his own personal Adore (the synthy, overproduced Dark Shores) and recalls singing Smashing Pumpkins in the mirror as an angry Indiana teenager. It was a triumphant song that saved the guy’s career. He revealed that he was specifically talking about “Muzzle,” which could not be more perfect, as it contains the two most important Billy Corgan lyrics to coexist in the same song — “I fear my life is ordinary / Just like everyone” and “I know that I was meant for this world.” This ability to mobilize spite into empowerment is why angry teenagers sing Smashing Pumpkins in the mirror and pick up a guitar — to quote one of the Pumpkins’ most obvious progeny, nothing sounds better from the stage than three cheers for sweet revenge on the world. — I.C.
11. “I Am One” (Gish, 1991)
Talk about setting the bar high: The stinging “I Am One” was Smashing Pumpkins’ first single. Although indebted to a variety of sources — heavy-metal heroics, Jane’s Addiction-caliber boogie, psych-noise tangles — the tune somehow transcends its influences. For that, credit the taut, precise fury of Jimmy Chamberlin, and how co-songwriters James Iha and Billy Corgan seamlessly merged their disparate styles into something unburdened by precedent. — A.Z.
10. “Thirty-Three” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
It says everything about the run of commercial indomitability that the Pumpkins were on in 1996 that the band was even able to get the gorgeously fragile fifth Mellon Collie single “Thirty Three” to the Top 40. Credit the video’s director (and Corgan’s then-paramour) Yelena Yemchuk for truly understanding how the frontman’s lyrics were best appreciated: As a montage of discrete images, meaning little but evoking much. Billy Worldmusicfestss lyrics like “Supper’s waiting on the table” and “Steeple guide me to my heart and home” into weeping childhood memories over tenderly plinking piano, turning a fan-favorite B-side for most bands into yet another radio smash for the Pumpkins. For a moment there, it seemed like he really could make it last forrr-ehhhh-vahhhhh. — A.U.
9. “Starla” (“I Am One,” 1990)
“To disappear takes so much time,” Corgan whines two minutes into “Starla,” and the band spends the next nine minutes proving it. Despite being relegated to the flip-side of early single “I Am One,” “Starla” is the closest thing in the SP catalog to a “Free Bird” — or at the very least, a “Dreams Burn Down” — an epic beauty that gradually elevates from serene splendor to mind-shredding delirium, and stays in the red for longer than you can maybe even take. You can hear the guitars lifting themselves higher and higher with every heavens-reaching refrain, until they decide they’ve reached proper altitude and start streaming dazzling patterns around each other in the sky. It’s the Pumpkins’ greatest aerial show, and the best argument for B-sides being reserved for songs that are too brilliant for their accompanying LPs. — A.U.
8. “Today” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
How do you popularize a song about contemplating suicide? Well, the key there would be “pop,” an aesthetic Billy Corgan knowingly weaved through his depressive (“I wanted more than life could ever grant me”) yet shimmering Siamese Dream smash. Its unapologetic grandiosity, beginning with a sublimely catchy deedle-deedle-dee guitar theme and building to a shoegazing gloom-pop climax, is precisely the reason Corgan would insist upon recording “Today” by himself (only Jimmy Chamberlin got to play his drum kit — Corgan took care of everything else). Call that controlling or unnervingly perfectionist if you want, but it would be foolish to deny the results: alternative radio ubiquity in the ’90s — and, well, today. — R.B.
7. “Eye” (Lost Highway OST, 1997)
The beginning of Billy Corgan’s electronic-leaning future-rock phase, and the period’s crown jewel. Improbably, “Eye” began as a sort of audition beat for a possible collaboration with Shaquille O’Neal, inspired by the loops of Dr. Dre. As sad as it is that the world was deprived of hearing the fruits of that potential team-up, the song made much more sense coming to life as the hazy, ominous centerpiece of the Lost Highway soundtrack, arguably one-upping industrial kingpin Trent Reznor’s contribution to the same film. The black-lit sparkle of the synths over an austere drum machine is mesmerizing, and Billy’s multi-tracked crooning on the chorus (“Is it any wonder I can’t sleep / All I have is all you gave to me”) makes it one of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs that could accurately be described as “seductive.” But as impressive as the song’s millennium-reaching sonics are, the piano-and-vocals-only Soundworks Demo version on the Mellon Collie reissue demonstrates that the real reason “Eye” works is that no one was writing more unnervingly beautiful melodies in the mid-’90s than Corgan. — A.U.
6. “Siva” (Gish, 1991)
The lead single from Smashing Pumpkins’ debut LP may sound more direct than the bulk of their later output, but the band’s ambition was still plainly evident in the thunderous Gish standout “Siva.” Iha and Corgan engage in one of the greatest on-record duels in ’90s rock with their back-and-forth metal crunching and weeeeeeooohh-weeeeeee!! guitar screeching, while Chamberlin and Wretzky do an impressive job merely keeping pace. Even a mid-song break to (relative) quiet doesn’t provide much respite from the ruckus — again we’re submerged in a distortion tidal wave, at once filling your ears and gathering speed for yet another crash. — R.B.
5. “Zero” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
On the grand list of adjectives most frequently applied to the Smashing Pumpkins, you could probably find “economical” somewhere in the low 2,000s. That’s part of what makes “Zero” one of the stunning pillars of the SP songbook: It packs an intro, two verses, two choruses, three pre-choruses, a bridge breakdown, and two guitar solos into two minutes and 42 seconds — not even as long as it takes for the vocals to kick in on “Porcelina.” And it never bursts at the seams; likely because it’s all glued together by one of the greatest guitar riffs in alt-rock history, a crunching harmonic monster invigorating enough to encourage the most feeling-himself vocal (“Wanna go for a ride?”) of Billy Corgan’s career. The Pumpkins were most easily characterized in the ’90s by gloom and self-doubt, but the overwhelming impression of “Zero” is that of a bunch of cocky MFers who can pack an entire album’s worth of rawk into a sub-three-minute pop single, fortified by the knowledge that God is empty, just like them. — A.U.
4. “Drown” (Singles OST, 1992)
Aside from honorary patron saint Paul Westerberg, Smashing Pumpkins were the only act on the Singles soundtrack that wasn’t from Seattle. They come on like flower children amongst the flannel-rending, chest-beating longhairs on “Drown” — they play in drop-D, but only so it can contrast against major 9th and 11th octaves and Corgan’s soft-palate vocals. Jimmy Chamberlin’s drum patter is sourced from his jazz background rather than grunge. They use e-bows and phasers, not just fuzz pedals. But when those fuzz pedals do kick in, it’s just another way they distinguish themselves — the Pumpkins may have also grown up on classic-rock radio, but their heroes are Sabbath, Floyd, and Boston, not Neil Young. Grunge’s earnest, EveryHe-Man shtick held Billy Corgan’s interest not one bit.
On “Spaceboy,” a song dedicated to his brother, Billy Corgan sang, “Anyway you choose me, we won’t belong.” It’s pretty self-centered to compare your sense of persecution to a blood relative’s autism, but damn if he didn’t have reason to believe it was 100 percent true: Chicago figureheads like Steve Albini made it abundantly clear how unwelcome Smashing Pumpkins were in their own city and before long, Billy Corgan would antagonize Kim f**king Thayil of all people following what he deemed to be an insult about his looks. In between, alt-rock’s most self-conscious party-crashers used Seattle’s capital-M moment as a sneak attack predicting their subsequent radio takeover. — I.C.
3. “Cherub Rock” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
The song that declared — with a full-throated “Let me out!” — that the Smashing Pumpkins were leaving behind the basement-dwelling stoner rock of Gish to conquer arenas, headline festivals, and, uh, play strobe-lit gigs in the forest. Opening tracks don’t get much more iconic than “Cherub Rock” — certainly not opening tracks from ‘90s-rock juggernauts. (The short list ranks this one right behind Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and just ahead of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” and Hole’s “Violet.”) This was the first taste the public got of the Pumpkins’ absolute pinnacle — when they doused themselves in overdubs and insisted on achieving mainstream acceptance by bridging the gap between Boston and MBV.
They did cross over and sell millions of CDs with 1993’s Siamese Dream, but first came this lead single, which announced itself with a literal drum roll, followed that with a series of rising-tide riffs, and then aimed a lyrical middle finger at the music industry and indie-rock elitists — and somehow managed to fit in an all-time great guitar solo for good measure. With instrumentation recorded by just Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, “Cherub Rock” is the work of what has come to be known as SP’s core duo, making it feel even more essential to the band’s mythos. To that end, legend has it that Corgan threatened to end the Smashing Pumpkins if Siamese wasn’t a commercial success; thankfully, the LP broke the Billboard top ten upon release. Seeing that “Cherub Rock” was the first promo track, and therefore responsible for building hype, it stands to reason that this is the one song responsible for the Pumpkins’ greater legacy. — K.M.
2. “Mayonaise” (Siamese Dream, 1993)
You can thank faulty wiring for all of the quirks and charms of the Smashing Pumpkins’ most overcast classic. It’s there in the chorus, amidst the delirious mess of stops and starts, an atonal shriek (sometimes described as a whistle) that happens every time Billy Corgan lifts his fingers from a cheap guitar. Distorted to hell, an unproperly grounded six-string is going to buck and mew at all attempts to corral it, but “Mayonaise” emulsifies these moments into jagged exclamation points while Corgan traces the charred resistors and otherwise overloaded circuits in his own head. So often, his lyrics run around his own personal missteps and honest mistakes, but “Mayonaise” is where he’s most self-aware — a grunge Sisyphus “doomed” to try and fail over and over again. He’s begging for us to “try to understand,” but that’s the beauty of it: That sort of blissed brokenness is universal. — C.J.
1. “1979” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
The best Smashing Pumpkins song isn’t particularly definitive — a novice who starts here won’t get the whole story, or really much of it at all. There’s no Almighty Riff, in fact, there’s barely any guitar — the niftiest part, that little flanged tag on the progression that earned Billy Corgan a songwriting credit on a Miguel album, is probably a synth. It’s the one song with Jimmy Chamberlin that could’ve been helmed by an average drummer with no real consequence. It speaks not of Billy Corgan’s capacity for gargantuan ego or fathomless self-loathing, nor his ability to feel persecuted in direct proportion to his popularity. There is no indication that Corgan was despised and ridiculed for not being punk rock or indie enough, two things he never once claimed to be. It doesn’t give insight to his fraught childhood nor his impact on Homer Simpson’s children: “Thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve stopped dreaming of a future I can’t possibly provide.” Matter of fact, “1979” and its indelible video makes teenhood seem like a pretty cool place to hang out for a while, a high school reunion that would actually be worth attending.
Which is to say that it’s the wish of every anguished Smashing Pumpkins song coming true. While Corgan often sounded just as tortured and conflicted as Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder or Trent Reznor or Courtney Love or Thom Yorke or Chris Cornell, behind that rage was a deep-seated, barely concealed desire to be loved, to fit in, to not be that rat in a cage, to not be all by himself as he’s always felt. Why else does “LET ME OUT” sound like his most passionately delivered lyric? But “1979” sounded like such a revelation because it was a brief respite from taking on the world, asking, “let me in” — it comes in skipping like a stone and at the end of each line, there’s an effect that sounds like “tell me,” an onomatopoeic nod saying, “Do go on, you are welcome here.”
If the Smashing Pumpkins’ music still resonates to a far greater degree than their more critically beloved and “influential” counterparts, it’s because they spoke to a realistic, tangible escapism that teenagers crave and a belief that the impossible is possible tonight, something adults feel is forever lost. Two songs later on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Corgan yells, “Youth is wasted on the young,” but for a fleeting four minutes, he lets us know what it might be like to embrace youth in all of its splendor because it’s not going to last — to live with the urgency of now. — I.C.