Formed in 1988, The Smashing Pumpkins are a grunge band, Kind of, or... maybe a shoegazing band? No, what about gothic metal? Not really that either. The Smashing Pumpkins are a Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly band from the Windy City consisting of Billy Corgan. Okay, that's not true, there's three or four other band members (one of them being a female bassist), but Corgan's the songwriter, lead vocalist and the only member who's been present throughout the band's entire lifespan, so we'll start from there.The band is known for its angsty lyrics combined with heavy metal guitars and dense production. Other features include an epic scope (perhaps best displayed by the music video for Tonight, Tonight) and Corgan's nasal singing voice. After sticking to mostly heavy rock with experimental/psychedelic/progressive elements for their first three albums, the Pumpkins swerved over into electronica territory for one entry, returning to form thereafter due to significant fan disappointment. They were also one of the first bands to experiment with online distribution: Machina II / The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music had a print run of exactly 25 vinyl records given to select friends, family and fans, with orders attached to rip and upload to the Internet for free.Almost as tumultuous was the band's internal affairs. The band consisted originally of secondary guitarist James Iha, bassist D'arcy Wretzky, drummer Jimmy Chamberlinnote who joined the band after Cabaret Metro owner Joe Shanahan told Corgan that he would only book the band if they got a drummer instead of using a drum machine and (of course) Corgan, whose obsessive perfectionism drove the others to distraction; Iha and Wretzky were often Garfunkeled on albums, their parts re-done by Corgannote Wretzky didn't seem to have a big problem with this - she admitted Corgan tended to record them quicker and more efficiently during Siamese Dream. Plus, Chamberlin, described by Iha and Wretzky as the only non-Corgan member who was actually important to the band's sound, was also an inveterate druggie. The result was a band plagued by Troubled Productions and often teetering on the edge of full-on Creator Breakdown. Then tragedy struck during the Mellon Collie tour, when session keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose while shooting up with Chamberlin. Jimmy was fired, which might have had something to do with the electronica sound of Adorenote one of the key elements of rock & roll is how you use your drums. They didn't have a drummer. Unfortunately, people listen to the Pumpkins for their rock sound, and Adore was pretty much a wipe commercially (though it did receive some of the best reviews of the band's career). Chamberlin straightened himself out and rejoined, just in time for Wretzky to quit, replaced by Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, and the band produced one more album (well, technically two) before announcing they would break up at the end of 2000. And, for a while, all was quiet in Pumpkinland.In '05, Corgan released his solo album. He then upstaged himself by, on the very same day, announcing that he was reforming the Smashing Pumpkins. He and Chamberlin were the only permanent members (Iha and Wretzky are on record as declining to participate, and Auf Der Maur's offer to rejoin wasn't accepted), which also changed after the release of their first post-reunion album. Chamberlin's split was amicable this time; he has been replaced by the 19-year-old newcomer Mike Byrne, and current bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder are also participating in-studio. The Pumpkins are once again experimenting with digital distribution; their next album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope [sic], is going to be released, song by song, for free on the band's website.The Pumpkins claim inspiration from bands like Queen, Boston, My Bloody Valentine and The Cure. What is really interesting, though, is that almost nobody claims to take any inspiration from them; just about the only bands on record for that are My Chemical Romance, Kill Hannah, and neo-shoegaze band Silversun Pickups (though considerably less than is often credited to them; the band hadn't even listened to Siamese Dream until after their first album). Oh, and they're on Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the soundtracks for several blockbuster movies, such as the first live-action Transformers excursion. Corgan was also featured as a playable character in Guitar Hero World Tour.
Studio album discography:
Gish (1991) - the debut album, occasionally overlooked.
Siamese Dream (1993) - the mainstream breakthrough, mainly because of "Today" and "Disarm".
Machina/The Machines of God (2000) - the attempted comeback.
Machina II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music (2000) - not a commercial release and, for that matter, was not intended to be; Corgan wanted Virgin Records to make the album free to anyone who had bought Machina I. When they declined, he just gave it to everyone.
There's also a bunch of EPs and compilations like:
Lull (1991) - first EP. In Billy's words: the EP was really supposed to be a single but they tricked me.
Pisces Iscariot (1994) - compilation of BSides, demos and outtakes from the 'Gish' and 'Siamese Dream' era.
Vieuphoria (1994) - a video compilation of various live performances, mostly from the Siamese Dream tour, plus comedy bits (usually centred on friends The Frogs), interviews, and other features. It was reissued on DVD in 2002 with several extras, including a complete interview and some additional performance footage from 1994 that Corgan had found before the release date. Similarly, its soundtrack was initially released as a promo CD in 1994, titled Earphoria, and then officially released in 2002. Earphoria retains a segment where the band jokingly played part of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" during a medley of "Silverfuck" and "Jackboot", whereas the Vieuphoria footage had to edit that part out due to licensing costs.
The Aeroplane Flies High (1996) - box set including all the singles and B-sides from the Mellon Collie era.
Judas ∅ (2001) - more B-sides and rarities, bonus disc coming with the Greatest Hits AlbumRotten Apples.
The first track on disc 1 of Mellon Collie, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," has a running time of 2:52, as does the last track on disc 1, "Take Me Down." The first track on disc 2, "Where Boys Fear to Tread," is 4:22, as is the last track on disc 2, "Farewell and Goodnight." Furthermore, the piano theme at the end of "Farewell and Goodnight" is a reprise of the eponymous instrumental (the theme also appears in a different key at the end of "Thru the Eyes of Ruby").
The same lines from the start of "Appels + Oranjes" from Adore are repeated near the end.
Call Back: The opening lines of the heaviest song on Mellon Collie, "Tales of a Scorched Earth" ("farewell, goodnight, last one out turn out the lights"), are echoed in "Farewell and Goodnight," which is the sweetest and quietest song on the album, and is basically a lullaby.
Concept Album: Mellon Collie (which Corgan called "The Wall for Generation X", though is a rather loose concept about coming of age); both Machina albums (about a boy hearing the voice of God in the radio and fashioning himself into a Captain Ersatz version of Billy Corgan, fronting a rock band; chart by Billy here◊); and Teargarden (similar chart here).
Cover Version: "A Girl Named Sandoz" by The Animals, "Terrapin" by Syd Barrett, "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac, "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Thin Lizzy, "You're All I've Got Tonight" by The Cars, "Clones (We're All)" by David Carron, "A Night Like This" by The Cure, "Destination Unknown" by Missing Persons, "Dreaming" by Blondie, the classic pop tune "My Blue Heaven", "Rock On" by David Essex, "Soul Power" by James Brown, "Sad Peter Pan" by Vic Chestnutt, and those are just the ones that made it onto albums and compilations.
The band has taken to performing "Space Oddity" by David Bowie during shows on the Oceania tour. (This troper can attest that it's as good as it sounds.)
Conveyor Belt Video, The Oner: "Ava Adore". If it doesn't click in that it's a oner, the halfway point where the camera spins around and reveals the camera's track and all of the sets will do it.
Description Cut: Used in the Vieuphoria segment "Bugg Superstar" - After a clip of a fan speculating about the "cool, artsy life" James Iha must live, we then see James sleeping in a very messy bed with his clothes and sneakers still on.
Development Hell: The Machina albums were to be accompanied by an animated web series called Glass and the Machines of God, which would've hopefully explained the plot more. Aside from a teaser trailer and production stills, nothing came of it.
'Teargarden by Kaleidyscope' is going to have 44 songs over 11 EPs. 10 songs have been released so far.
Oceania. Originally scheduled to be released in September 2011. Production wrapped in September. Then pushed back to November, then Early 2012. Billy announced March 2012 as the new released date, but then it was pushed back to 19 June.
Album re-issues. They were originally announced back in late 2000 during the Break-up.
The Last Show (see Grand Finale entry below). Announced along with the Greatest hits CD/DVD.
Digital Piracy Is Evil: Subverted. As mentioned above, Machina II was intended to be leaked onto the internet for free. Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is being released song-by-song for free on the band's website.
Corgan's stage attire has often included dresses/skirts.
Epic Rocking: Quite a lot - "Rhinoceros", "Hummer", "Soma", "Silverfuck", "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", "Thru The Eyes of Ruby", "X.Y.U.", "Tear", "Shame", "Cherub Rock," "For Martha", "Glass and the Ghost Children", "Heavy Metal Machine (alternate take)", "In My Body", "Starla", "The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)" ...oh, we could go on.
Grief Song: "Glynis" is a tribute to Glynis Johnson, the bassist of the band Red Red Meat, who toured with the Pumpkins and died of complications from AIDS one year before the song was released on the HIV benefit album No Alternative.
I Am the Band: Billy Corgan, to the point where Corgan threw out Iha and Wretzky's parts on Siamese Dream and re-recorded them himself. This attitude while recording mellowed out for the next album but Corgan always kept this demeanor.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Anywhere from a 1 ("Tonite Reprise," "Take Me Down") to 8 ("X.Y.U.," "Tales of a Scorched Earth"). The aforementioned "X.Y.U" is arguably in a 9. But generally in the 2 (Tonight Tonight) to 6 (Bullet With Butterfly Wings) range.
Many live cuts push their respective songs' ratings up one or two notches. "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)" from their "last show" at the Chicago Metro in 2000 is an easy 9.
Mood Whiplash: Mellon Collie utilizes this quite effectively (and often):
The beautiful "1979" is followed by the Pumpkins' heaviest song, "Tales of a Scorched Earth". On vinyl, despite the re-arranged tracklisting, Galapogos" precedes "Tales", keeping similar whiplash intact.
"Take Me Down" (the last track on disc 1) is followed by "Where Boys Fear to Tread" (the first track on disc 2).
Billy, regarding song titles: "Say you write a song about a chandelier, and the chandelier gives off light. And the light is the color red and red reminds you of the color you're not supposed to wear around a bull. So you name the song Cow."
Shout-Out: Corgan mentioned that Gish was named as a reference to Lillian Gish, specifically because his grandmother would tell him that she lived in a town in "the middle of nowhere" and one of the most important things that happened was Gish riding through said town in a train. He also joked at one point that it was originally named "Fish" but changed the name to avoid confusions with Phish.
"Siva" was originally named "Shiva" as a reference to the Tantric concepts of Shiva and Shakti, but Corgan changed the name slightly because he didn't want people to assume it referred to the Hindu god Shiva.
Their name on their first album was in an arc, so they removed the "the" to make it more symmetrical. Confusion ensued.
The reason why it was also lacking a "the" on Siamese Dream is a mystery though, especially since the "the" shows up in the CD edition's booklet.
Step Up to the Microphone: D'arcy sings "Daydream" and adds additional vocals to "Beautiful", "Where Boys Fear to Tread," "We Only Come Out at Night", "Farewell and Goodnight" (which has backing vocals by all four bandmembers) and "Dancing in the Moonlight". James did this occasionally on his own tunes and otherwise, but most of them to get shunted to B-sides - "Take Me Down" was the only one that made it to Mellon Collie, "Blew Away" got relegated to Pisces Iscariot, "...said sadly" (with additional vocals by Nina Gordon) and the cover of "Terrapin" were released on the Rarities & B-sides compilation, and so on.
D'arcy had actually recorded numerous backing vocals for Mellon Collie, but in a Jerkassy move, Billy erased most of them.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky declined to participate in the second incarnation of the band, Billy replaced them with...another female bassist and an Asian-American guitarist.
Title by Number: "1979", "Zero" and "Thirty-Three", (more if you count songs that were never officially released).
Title Drop: Too many straight examples and aversions to list here. Examples of near-title drops, however, include "Where Boys Fear to Tread" (which contains the line "to tread lightning/and ink the lavender skies" but the full title is never said) and "Jellybelly" (which contains the line "down in the belly of the beast").
Troubled Production: Siamese Dream. Actually, just about all of the albums, to hear Billy tell it.
D'arcy herself added that she had no clue how the band survived the Gish recording sessions (which lasted 30 working days), and Billy mentioned he suffered a nervous breakdown from the resulting strain.
Unusual Euphemism: "I took a Virgin Mary axe to his sweet baby jane... coiled my tongue 'round her bumblebee mouth."
What Could Have Been: Adore was a notorious flop, in large part due to the distant, icy electronics (which are interesting but take some time to get used to), the weirdly bland production (which, as Allmusic noted in its review, makes the songs blend together) and the noticeable absence of Jimmy Chamberlin. But after a listen to the live versions it becomes clear that nearly every song on the album is actually Crowning Music of Awesome, made less accessible during the studio recording and lacking the energy provided by Chamberlin's drumming, despite the band hiring Joey Waronker, Matt Cameron and Matt Walker to provide percussion. The album probably would have been much more successful if the live arrangements had been the ones used and the band had employed session drummers better, and so would the Pumpkins' post-Mellon Colliecareer. It didn't help that Corgan was going through major depression during recording, on account of his mother passing.
Word Salad Titles: Billy has frequently given songs seemingly nonsensical titles, like "Geek U.S.A.", "Silverfuck", "Whir", "Galapogos", "Muzzle", "Stumbleine", "X.Y.U.", "Slunk", "Bye June", "Plume", "Pissant", "Purr Snickety", "Honeyspider", "Set the Ray to Jerry", "Meladori Magpie" and "Pulseczar", to name a few. Typically, these titles do mean something or relate to the song somehow, but in a roundabout way.
Xtreme Kool Letterz: Some of Corgan's song titles are based on misspellings, like "Mayonaise", "Siva" and "Appels + Oranjes".