Today is the greatest day I've ever known
Billy’s back, baby, as the Smashing Pumpkins ready themselves to release 10th album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., proving that the grunge dons haven’t lost their knack for overblown album titles. We’ve already heard their comeback single ‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’ and, blessed relief, it’s a belter. In anticipation of the record, frontman Billy Corgan and the gang are playing tonight – live! – at the SSE Arena in London, so what better time to tell us in the Facebook comments that we’ve missed out your favourite in our list of the 20 best Smashing Pumpkins songs?
P.S! We’ve whacked these tracks into a playlist, which appears at the end of the article, so you can listen to it Tonight, Tonight (and also any other time).
Hard to believe that when the Pumpkins arrived with their 1991 debut album ‘Gish’, their sound – a heady concoction of grunge, shoegaze and dream-pop – was already so fully formed, yet here we are. This single (which inspired the band’s 1993 masterwork ‘Siamese Dream’), mellow but heavy, wistful and raging, epitomises everything we still love about Corgan and the gang – so no wonder still graces setlists all these years later.
Another standout ‘Gish’ cut, this one sees the band paying tribute to one of their under-appreciated influences: classic rock. The ability to mix and appropriate style remains one of the band’s greatest strengths. Also: WTF is with that weird, quiet, classic interlude that occurs in the middle?
Come on – it’s one of the greatest songs of all time, and you know it. “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known”, Billy Corgan croons on this melancholic ode to celebrating the moment, a life-affirming joy from beginning to end, a bruised grunge banger for the ages, a beatific bit of perfection that befits the all-time brilliant ‘Siamese Dream’ album.
Quintessential ‘Siamese Dream’-era Pumpkins, this is glam-grunge hooked around a lithe guitar riff and the defiant, timeless lyric, “I shall be freeeee”.
A tribute to Corgan’s autistic half-brother, Jesse, this lush, semi-acoustic ballad is a woozy, lopsided paean to familial love, which peaks at the line, “Spaceboy, I’ve missed you, spinning around my head”. With swooning strings and Corgan’s cracked vocal, moving at an elegiac pace, the track is a mini masterpiece.
Fucking hell, Smashing Pumpkins have got some great songs, haven’t they? Those pounding drums underpin a spacey, punch-drunk track about the vibrancy of youth, on which Corgan sighs, “We were sure we’d never see an end to it all…” If you’ve ever been young, dumb and full of… fun (and we’d suggest you have), this’ll make your heart ache. Side note: the video for ‘1979’ is the greatest music video of all time. Fact.
The latter half of ‘Siamese Dream’ is a delicious soup of amazing grunge songs, peppered with the odd classic rock flourish. It’s a toughie to choose a standout from – that accolade could well go to the lovelorn ‘Mayonnaise’ – though ‘Geek U.S.A’, managing to combine Slash-style guitar noodling with a soaring, melancholic hook and even an ambient mid-track coda (Corgan was wildly inspired at this point), perhaps deserves the slot.
Look, we couldn’t squeeze in ‘Disarm’, so here’s another epic strings’n’guitar weepie from the Chicago dons, as they implore us, “Believe in me / As I believe in you / Tonight”. Props also to Jimmy Chamberlin’s metronome percussion, which creates a sense sense of anticipation in the verse, before the chorus achieves euphoric release.
‘Bullet With the Butterfly Wings’
“The world is a vampire / Sent to drain.” Those iconic lines usher in one of the Pumpkins’ most distinctive songs, an idiosyncratic grunge banger with a muted, melodic verse. Some of ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ feels overblown, but – despite a sprinkling of piano – this one’s right on the money.
‘Mellon Collie’ is, to say the least, a complicated record, and for all that aforementioned inflated sense of importance, it also contains some of the Pumpkins’ roughest and heaviest moments. This menacing, razor wire guitar track – looped around a scything riff that slides into a squealing, barbed solo – leaves no doubt that Corgan and the gang, even in the middle of an indulgent double album, could still blow your brain off its axis.
Those heavy moments don’t get much heavier than this ‘Mellon Collie’ album cut, four minutes of pile-driving, doom-inspired whaling on which Corgan screams that “love is suicide”.
A dreamy piano-‘n’-acoustic-guitar weepie, this gorgeous track includes a sound that sounds like someone spraying a deodorant can to the music, and still sounds profound.
An underrated cut from the ‘Mellon Collie…’, this straight-up rock belter is Corgan at his most self-aggrandising, as he insists, “My life has been extraordinary / Bless and cursed and won”. I mean, he’s not wrong, is he?
Probably the definitive track from the band’s divisive, electro-influenced 1998 album ‘Adore’, this bouncing behemoth pays homage to the titular character, and – despite its brooding tone – is one of Corgan’s most unabashedly romantic moments, as he insists of his loved one, “We shall never be apart”.
A spiritual sequel to ‘1979’ (and the video follows suit), this beautiful track follows the shimmering template of the original, subverting it in fascinating ways. The pounding percussion now underpins spacious synth lines and glossy electronic effects, while the lyrics acknowledge the passage of time, and how teenage friends grow apart: “Strangers when we we meet / Strangers on the street.” A sense of acceptance permeates these wistful observations.
‘Stand Inside Your Love’
Originally intended as the group’s final album, 2000’s ‘Machina / The Machines of God’ indicated that the band was probably due a hiatus. Yet there were notable highlights, including this heavy slab of pop-rock, a reminder that even in the midst of creative exhaustion, the band retained a genius most can’t touch.
The Pumpkins acquit themselves well on the the 2014 album ‘Monuments to an Elegy’, and this track, a sort-of full-bodied update on the ‘Mellon Collie…’ heartbreaker ‘Stumbleine’, proves the magic still lingered, as Corgan sighs, “The world’s on fire”. Things are just hotting up, Billy.
Something of a swansong for the band, this was the Pumpkins’ final release before their initial breakup in 2000. An acoustic-inflected ode to the wonder of the world, it almost wound up on the Shrek soundtrack. Probably best that the weirdly-similarly-named Smashmouth got there instead, eh?
After that near-miss with Shrek, the pummelling ‘Doomsday Clock’ wound up on the Transformers soundtrack, a dubious honour for one of the better moments from the ‘Zeitgeist’ standout. Curiously, the 2007 comeback album has disappeared from streaming services, and so doesn’t grace our playlist below. But check out the YouTube video to bask in its oppressive, idiosyncratic glory, proof that ‘Zeitgeist’ wasn’t entirely a misfire.
‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’
From ‘1979’ to 2018. To be honest: Smashing Pumpkins have no right sounding this fantastic in their their decade. A riff on ‘1979’ and, yes, ‘Perfect’, this recent release updates the template with with synth spurts and a whistling guitar solo, honouring the past with Chamberlin’s steady, pounding percussion, which has steered Corgan and co. to success throughout their chaotic, winding journey from Chicago to the history books. Godspeed.
A playlist featuring The Smashing Pumpkins