Deep Cuts is a new feature in which we look past the hits and dig into the buried gems of our favorite back catalogs.
Few modern rock bands have a discography that can match the scope and quality of the The Smashing Pumpkins’ catalog. Since the outset of the ’90s, William Patrick “Billy” Corgan Jr. has repeatedly emerged as more than just one of the most prolific and versatile songwriters around. His role as a self-proclaimed “auteur of data” for the band’s music has yielded some of the most vital musical statements of a generation.
That the Pumpkins have almost as many official compilations as studio albums (seven and ten, including the newly released Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.) should come as no surprise. Try to quickly tally up the total tracks from their LPs to date without a calculator and you might find yourself in some trouble. But it’s more than sheer number of songs. While Corgan’s — and to a lesser, but no less crucial, extent James Iha’s – creative potency hasn’t always produced pure gold (or even “silvery” output), the band have rarely, if ever, had to favor quantity over quality to pad out a record.
Iffier eras and incarnations notwithstanding, for the Pumpkins, it’s always come down to the transformative power of great standalone songs. As Corgan himself put it back in 2012: “At the risk of self-aggrandizement, I’m a pretty good songwriter.” In truth, he could be accused of underselling himself there. To coincide with the release of their 10th album, we delve deep to whittle the resurgent alternative rock heroes’ lesser-known gems — from heart-stung lullabies to life-changing anthems with face-melting guitar solos — down to an all-killer top 10.
These are the very best of the band’s deep cuts.
A droning raga fit for Jim Morrison, “Suffer” is a spiritual descent that puts the spotlight directly on Corgan’s anomalous vocals and esoteric lyrics. It’s one of Gish’s most unique songs, distinct from the strong rock sound producer Butch Vig focused on, but not disconnected from the record itself as it showed off the depth of the Pumpkins, defiantly proving that the new generation of rockers had more to offer than pummeling guitars and caustic lyrics.
“Suffer” might not have popped out when Gish was first released in 1991, but a few years later, it would become part of another sound’s genesis when trip-hop artist Tricky sampled the modulating guitar line for a song on his seminal 1995 debut, Maxinquaye. Tricky didn’t even try to hide his influence, simply labeling the song “Pumpkin”. –Doug Nunnally
Lull EP (1991)
Having exploded onto the scene via Gish six months earlier, the Pumpkins delivered a resounding P.S. in the form of Lull at the tail end of 1991. While “Rhinoceros” (Gish) and “Blue” (Pisces Iscariot) packed a punch — and “Bye June” more than held its own – it was the barnstorming “Slunk” that traced the rapid and incendiary chrysalis of the band. From its irrepressible energy and Corgan’s wah-drenched guitar solo to its immortal opening refrain (“Ride on, motherfucker”), it’s a sub-three-minute mission statement and a quintessential Smashing Pumpkins masterclass through and through. –Brian Coney
“Hello Kitty Kat”
“Today” Single (1993)
If there’s one thing that The Smashing Pumpkins had no shortage of circa Siamese Dream, it was fuzzed-out, skull-rattling riff storms. Originally released as a B-side to “Today”, and later included on rarities comp Pisces Iscariot, “Hello Kitty Kat” is a textbook case in point.
Demoed in 1992 (a period in which Corgan later said they “were the best rock band that we ever could have been”), it’s a blistering effort that finds Corgan, Iha, Wretzky and — most emphatically of all — the irrepressible Jimmy Chamberlin working overtime. It remains a bit of a mystery that it wasn’t included on Siamese Dream, not least because it features one of Corgan’s all-time most searing guitar solos. Just try and tell me it wouldn’t fit pretty neatly between “Geek U.S.A.” and “Mayonaise” at the start of Side B. –Brian Coney
“Disarm” Single (1994)
You know it, I know it, everyone knows it: James Iha has never gotten anywhere near enough credit as a songwriter. As the sadly AWOL D’arcy Wretzky put it in an interview recently, “He really was a vital factor in the sound and songs of most of the decent Pumpkins material pre-Machina.”
A (wholly justified) permanent fixture on the band’s recent comeback tours, “Blew Away” is a model example of Iha’s gossamer touch. Although this heartfelt, deceptively simple acoustic-led ballad could easily have been slotted on one of the band’s ’90s albums, the 50-year-old has been typically modest on the matter. “That kind of song would have never been on a regular Smashing Pumpkins record,” he told Consequence of Sound back in 2012. “I don’t think [laughs] it would have been on Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie. It’s hard for me to say. I can’t remember; it was a while ago. I really like that song, though.” –Brian Coney
“Lily (My One and Only)”
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
Funny is not a word used to describe the music of Smashing Pumpkins, but this track, packed away near the tail end of the Twilight to Starlight side of Mellon Collie, is exactly that. A depraved sense of humor may be required, but the way this story of a stalker unfolds is downright hilarious, especially as the story walks the line between creepy and sympathetic up until the point the cops come into play.
Now, if Mellon Collie is The White Album of Corgan’s work, then “Lily” is the “Rocky Raccoon”, an off-kilter song with some odd humor choices. But whereas McCartney dresses up the story with musical flash, Corgan stripes it bare with a baroque arrangement, and whereas Rocky is just an ineffectual cuckold, Corgan’s “protagonist” is truly mentally unstable … as perhaps we might be, too, for highlighting this weird track. –Doug Nunnally
“Blissed and Gone”
Adore Outtake on Still Becoming Apart EP (2000)
Of the uncountable Pumpkins songs to just miss out on being included on studio albums, “Blissed and Gone” takes some beating. An outtake from the notoriously fertile Adore sessions, it’s a glitching, mid-tempo triumph whose gothic, skeletal sway has long made it a fan favorite.
A song featuring additional guitar from Cheap Trick‘s Rick Nielsen, some fans believe its omission from Adore was due the fact that the disc would pass the 74-minute mark, which was the standard length limit for audio CDs at the time. That’s unconfirmed, but seeing as it featured on both the band’s Still Becoming Apart bonus EP and B-sides and rarities comp, Judas Ø, its special place within the Pumpkins’ mammoth catalog is ironclad. –Brian Coney
“I of the Mourning”
Machina/ The Machines of God (2000)
“Radio play my favorite song/ Radio, radio/ Radio, I’m alone,” Corgan laments at the onset of this song, something that, per this interview, was meant as a metaphysical observation, but seemed to poignantly reflect the way the music industry had begun to automate rock and roll at the time. This doesn’t feel like a critique, though, more of an introspective deliberation that came in the middle of a tumultuous time for Corgan and the “band,” all of which beautifully fleshes out the loose “Zero” concept of the record.
The song itself is a tangled mess of electric anguish, with frenetic guitars clashing atop a faint bass line that bustles like a pulse in the midst of a breakdown, which comes true with the final lines of the song: “What is it you want/ What is you want to change?” These are questions Corgan probably never got answers for. –Doug Nunnally
Machina II/ The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
Seven years before Radiohead unleashed In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want download, Corgan did something very similar with Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music. While the jury’s still out as to its classic status, the album — which was released online for free in September 2000 — packs a few gems into 92 minutes.
Up there with the best is “Home”. Though perhaps not the finished article production-wise, it’s a wonderfully wistful nugget that hits home time and time again. With the band’s demise firmly on the horizon, “Love is everything I want” all but doubles up as a dewy-eyed farewell from Corgan. If the Pumpkins had permanently ceased to exist post-2000, “Home” would have made for an apt swansong. –Brian Coney
“Bring the Light”
For a number of reasons, Zeitgeist was a confusing letdown for fans and critics alike, but the record still holds some gems, some of which have only become more pronounced as the bitterness towards the album has dwindled. Enter “Bright the Light”, a stunning testament to Corgan’s rock prowess and his dissociative songwriting.
Each part here exists independent of each other, interpreting the melody and tone of the song in their own unique way that gives the songs layers as opposed to cracks. Just listen to the chorus. Corgan clings to the song title and a delicate vocal melody while the drums completely spaz out behind him, interrupting the rhythm and groove. Elsewhere, the guitars set off to explore the sliver of unexplored land between The Edge and Johnny Buckland, a place no one would expect Corgan to go. Deconstructed, it sounds completely insane, but together, it’s a great representation of Corgan’s desultory brilliance. –Doug Nunnally
“The Pale Horse”
Much of Oceania felt like an olive branch to the Pumpkins’ disillusioned fan base, with “Pale Horse” specifically serving as a welcoming invitation back into the fold. However, this isn’t the band pandering to its audience with an attempt at a new hit song. In fact, nothing about “Pale Horse” screams hit song, but everything screams classic Pumpkins when you factor in the genre-snapping melody and haunting execution.
The song’s dirge-like melody is instantly arresting, borrowing from both goth rock milieu and classic country sensibilities. There are no big moments here or surprises around the bend – just emotive ambiance that bounces between dread and anxiety with a glimmer of hope, perhaps signaling that Corgan has finally found peace within today’s music world. This isn’t Billy Corgan the alternative insurgent. This isn’t Billy Corgan the rock star. This is Billy Corgan the musician, haunted by his mind and humbled by his life, baring all of his brilliance and insecurities for the world to hear once more. –Doug Nunnally