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Alternative History

The 10 Most Underrated Songs by The Smashing Pumpkins

the smashing pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins were opportunists believing that fate had predetermined their success. Billy Corgan’s songs made them one of the defining bands of the 1990s alternative-rock scene. Their ambitious albums earned them comparisons to rock royalty. No, The Smashing Pumpkins were hardly underrated.

They had videos on MTV and singles on the radio. They jousted with fellow alt-rockers in the press and boasted about their own importance.

But not all of Corgan’s plans came to fruition. Some of his very best material is underappreciated, under-discovered, and demands a rethink.

Today I will look at the complicated history of The Smashing Pumpkins through ten of their underrated, non-hit-singles. And we may learn that the band’s arrogance was usually justified.

“Bodies” – from the album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” (1995)

The success of their second album meant that The Smashing Pumpkins were allowed total creative control over the follow-up. They take this opportunity to prove a point.

On “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” Corgan is determined to show that the band can play everything. “Bodies” is space-rock for Gen X, a bumpy ride through the cosmos.

It features one of the singer’s most gritty vocal performances. It’s built on an almost militaristic fuzz-guitar riff. And its lyrical content has been the subject of numerous fan theories that suggest that Corgan may be singing about violence at shows, the Oklahoma City bombing, or his former girlfriend, Courtney Love.

Hearing “Bodies,”, especially in the context of the full album, is always a treat. It’s a reminder of just how many great songs The Smashing Pumpkins could produce at their peak.

“Obscured” – from the album “Pisces Iscariot” (1994)

The Smashing Pumpkins’ early ambition was always to turn the heads of shoegaze and prog-rock fans. Hard-rocking grunge tunes were just a distraction that soon proved justified.

“Obscured” is a tune that echoes the dreamy tenderness of the original vision. It features beautifully layered guitars and ethereal vocals.

It was written during the “Gish” era and was initially meant to be included on that album but later appeared on “Pisces Iscariot”.

Call Billy Corgan what you will, but a lazy musician, he was not. “Pisces Iscariot” was a strong collection of b-sides and outtakes that the band had accumulated only two studio albums into their careers.

“La Dolly Vita” – from the album “Pisces Iscariot” (1994)

“La Dolly Vita” is one of Billy Corgan’s favorite underrated Smashing Pumpkins songs and also, one of my own.

Musically and lyrically, it presents the band at its most playful. The tune rides a subdued rock groove, avoiding a guitar onslaught until the closing scenes of the song.

However, Corgan explains that actually this is a very personal song written about his mother. He calls it a “timeless” composition.

It was initially tracked as The Pumpkins’ first collaboration with producer Butch Vig. The song was nearly re-recorded for inclusion on “Gish.” It appears as a b-side to the single “Tristessa” and on the odds-and-ends compilation “Pisces Iscariot.”

“Soot and Stars” – from the album “Judas 0” (2001)

Billy Corgan was always a prodigious songwriting talent while fronting The Smashing Pumpkins. With so many great songs in his back pocket, he could afford to give some to fans as a gift.

“Judas 0” was another collection of b-sides and rarities. It was offered a bonus disc in the “Rotten Apples” hits collection.

“Rotten Apples” was a look back at the band’s career. “Soot and Stars” fits this kind of bittersweet recollection. It poetically tells the story of Corgan as a professional dreamer, “Waiting to be called/Waiting to be yours.”

The Smashing Pumpkins’ magic works best when you can suspend disbelief and get in their corner. “Soot and Stars” works best for those who can see the band as doomed alt-rock mavericks.

“Annie-Dog” – from the album “Adore” (1998)

In 1998 Billy Corgan was one of rock’s best-known figures and one of its most confident ones.

Having collected so much goodwill from audiences, he could take some chances. He rolled the dice on “Adore,” a highly divisive album.

Songs like “Annie-Dog” are part of the reason for the commercial failure of “Adore.” In retrospect, however, they’re also a reason for their greatness.

The song is built over minimalist piano lines and jazzy drum lines. It contains Corgan’s surreal lyrics and a title that fits with the writer’s other audacious song names.

The reputation of “Annie-Dog,” as that of “Adore,” have grown over the years. Both prove that The Smashing Pumpkins did their best work when they had no reason to doubt themselves.

“Soma” – from the album “Siamese Dream” (1993)

For many, grunge music was a return to the original values of punk-rock. Songs were short and punchy. People dressed weirdly. And many of the musicians couldn’t play past a few chords.

The ones that could play having migrated from hair-metal and other styles, hid their abilities well. The Smashing Pumpkins’ songs did no such thing.

“Soma” is prog-grunge, a nearly seven-minute epic about the hardships with a title that references the narcotic supplied in the book called Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It’s filled with soaring guitar solos, beautifully picked guitar lines, and emotional vocals.

“Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” – from the album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” (1995)

The Smashing Pumpkins’ fate is to be remembered to the general public as a great singles band.

“Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” an underrated gem on a vastly overpacked double album, proves that the band wanted more.

They demanded not only their public’s attention but also their dreams. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is a nearly 10-minute song that sways like a boat launched into deep, uncharted waters.

Corgan later commented on the song’s obscure lyrics. The frontman claims that a frenzied automatic writing session provided most of them. They contain references to mythology, sinking ships, and other things that seem perfectly at home in the world of The Smashing Pumpkins.

“Pissant” – from the album “Pisces Iscariot” (1994)

The Smashing Pumpkins’ contained multitudes, and not least of all, songs directed at long-haired rockers. They wouldn’t whip them out as often as some grunge peers. But when they did, as on “Pissant” the band sounded like it could rival Nirvana or Pearl Jam for sheer sonic power.

“Pissant” is another Corgan composition about feeling trapped in one’s circumstances. The moody lyrics receive the perfect fuzz guitar-lead grunge treatment.

The song was recorded live and considered for inclusion on “Siamese Dream.” It earned a special place in the hearts of fans as part of the b-side to the massively successful “Cherub Rock” single.

“The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” – from the album “The Aeroplane Flies High” (1996)

In many ways, The Smashing Pumpkins were at their best on their b-sides. They’re not forced to overthink. These songs can’t impact the alt-rock kingdom they had fashioned for themselves.

“The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” is one of their best songs. It’s not a throwaway song, just a really well-hidden one.

It contains spoken-word poetry and jagged metallic guitar riffs, and it’s as long as some band’s discography. It’s all of the things for which supporters of the band love them, and casual listeners stick to the radio hits.

It also shows that, at heart, Billy Corgan had fashioned The Smashing Pumpkins as a progressive-rock band. Casual grunge fans might have scoffed at this level of ambition. But it defined the course of the band’s music.

“Here’s to the Atom Bomb” – from the album “Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music” (2000)

The Smashing Pumpkins survived much longer than most of their contemporaries. And they took more artistic chances than most. But all of these had worn out a large segment of their audience.

By their sixth album, “Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music,” Corgan wasn’t just confident. He was willfully arrogant.

“Machina II” is a concept album about a messianic rock musician. It features another ridiculous title. It builds on the band’s experimentation with electronic elements. And it was a free release on the internet.

Meanwhile, bassist D’Arcy Wretzky was due to leave the band. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had returned following a tragic event that involved the death of one of the band’s touring musicians. And the line-up that still included Melissa Auf der Maur and James Iha wouldn’t be along much longer.

Despite all of this chaos, Here’s to the Atom Bomb” proves that The Smashing Pumpkins was still a powerful proposition ahead of the new century. “Here’s to the Atom Bomb” is the strongest song here. It’s a modern-rock track, equipped with a drum machine sound reminiscent of “1979.”

The Smashing Pumpkins achieved a lot in their career. Billy Corgan’s work ethic and stubbornness made the band produce an ungodly number of compositions. A surprising number of them are good. You should seek The Smashing Pumpkins’ best-underrated songs.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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