The Smashing Pumpkins recently announced the upcoming deluxe reissues of “Gish” and “Siamese Dream,” but there’s much to be desired from the bonus material that this list sets out to correct.
As Mixtape Madness celebrates its one year anniversary, we also take the time to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the debut album of one of the most iconic bands of the ’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins.
While never an indie rock band, the Pumpkins became the essential alternative band, shaping itself through a mixture of influences ranging from ’70s hard rock, ’80s post punk, and ’90s shoegaze. A vague term such as alternative was the only word one could use to simply describe their sound, as it was quite simply their own. The songs were often larger than life, not just in length, but in overall sound and sonics. The group’s artistic range was diverse, yet it always sounded like the same band throughout.
Now with the deluxe reissues of their first two, and arguably best albums, we now get the chance to dig a little deeper into a band that shaped what we know as the ’90s. While being able to hear demos and skeletal mixes of the songs we grew up with, this look inward was not as great as I personally had hoped.
As a lifelong fan, I’ve collected several bootlegs and MP3′s of unreleased Smashing Pumpkins material, some of which are recorded fairly well – many of their demos were recorded in professional recording studios so the sound on these bootlegs were often quite full. At the announcement of these two reissues, I was hoping to finally hear officially mastered version of these songs that I had scattered across various hard drives and loose discs. Sadly, the track listings reflect more alternate takes of previously released songs, new mixes, and other songs that I’ve heard, that just aren’t that great.
Because of this, we’ve presented a list of tracks culled from the band’s early years, most of which have never seen a release by the band. Those of you who don’t know these songs will be very surprised by how good they are, and how Corgan and company had an immediate knack for songwriting and performance from the very beginning.
“There It Goes”
Like most talented bands, the Smashing Pumpkins were quite skilled in combining their influences into a unique blend. This usually doesn’t come right away. It’s interesting to go back to certain bands like Dinosaur Jr. and the Flaming Lips, who are both notorious for their originality, and hear them emulating their heroes as opposed to taking what they’ve learned from them and making it their own. Such is the case with the Pumpkins’ earliest output. While the band often sounded different song to song, they usually took heavy cues from a particular influence on each track. On “There It Goes,” it’s the gothic jangle pop of the Church, with a tune that would sound right at home on their “Starfish” album.
“Nothing and Everything”
The goth element was strong on early Pumpkins recordings and “Nothing and Everything” finds them exploring their darkest side through metallic riffs in a session believed to have been recorded in mid 1988. The song sounds like the end credits to a low budget horror movie, and is an early example of Billy Corgan’s unbelievable shredding abilities.
More of the jangle pop side to the group, “She” sounds like it would be an appropriate B-side to Modern English’s “Melt With You.” While it might have been a better idea to leave James Iha’s mic switched off, the song is pretty close to flawless outside of a loud tape hiss, something a remastering job would have helped with. Instead the song continues remain lost in the band’s history.
“Seventeen Seconds” era Cure is the main reference for this 1988 demo. While Iha falls flat on the live version of “She,” his backing vocal on “Jennifer Ever” perfectly harmonizes with Corgan’s, the two voices together becoming a rare occurrence after they signed to Virgin.
Metallica rears its ugly head on “Spiteface” but with an excellent blend of heavy chords mixed with the gnarly licks. “Spiteface” shows a particularly cohesive interlocking with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and the rest of the band. Chamberlin thunders through the song with tremendous power, rolling and pounding at all the right times.
In late 1988, the Smashing Pumpkins recorded a few songs at Reel Time Studios, where they’d return the following year to record over twenty more. A few of those songs would be re-recorded for “Gish,” but the majority of them remain unissued. “My Dahlia” is from that first session and was released on a long out of print compilation titled “Light Into Dark.”
“Stars Fall In”
One of their crispest power pop songs from their early days, “Stars Fall In” is one of many recorded during the Reel Time stint.
“Not Worth Asking”
“Not Worth Asking” is one of the few songs from their 1989 sessions to get released. The song was on the flipside of the original “I Am One” single, a version that was also recorded during those sessions and will be featured on the “Gish” boxset. “Not Worth Asking” remains one of their best early numbers. The song completely encompasses the 90′s alternative style with its quiet/loud dynamics and yearning vocal delivery.
“Daughter” like “Not Worth Asking” also saw a limited release, as a flexi disc that came with Guitar Magazine in 1990. Smokey, slow, and dreamy, it’s a predecessor to some of “Gish”‘s slow burners like “Suffer” and “Window Paine.” It should also be noted that this is the only Smashing Pumpkins song where D’arcy Wretzky gets a co-write credit. She can also be heard singing backing vocals on the song.
One of the most unusual aspects of listening to these early Pumpkins recordings is how sparse they are. Even “Gish” which was recorded on 16 track tape, maximized the equipment, making it sound much more massive. A waltzy, acoustic guitar driven song like “With You” really shows how tight the band were as just two guitars, bass, and drums, with very little embellishment.
“Snap (If I Break)”
“Snap” shows more of the band’s Cure worship, the rhythm section reflecting the fevered turmoil of their “Pornography” album. Robert Smith cohorts Siouxsie and the Banshees can also be heard a lot in the song’s autumnal gaze.
“Jesus Loves His Babies”
Kind of a throwaway from the “Gish” sessions, “Jesus Loves His Babies”‘s style of heavy jangle is something more in the vein of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin than Smashing Pumpkins. This song is one of the most surprising ommisions being that it’s one of the few songs from those sessions that hasn’t seen a release of any kind. Maybe Billy Corgan was embarrassed by the Jesus answering machine skit in the outro.
And we mustn’t forget James Iha. “Wave Song” was one of his earliest writing contributions to the band and proof that his style, at least in terms of guitar tones and dynamics, was not very different from Corgan’s. Iha’s songs in the pumpkins were usually very hit or miss, but “Wave Song” was an early indicator of his strengths.
A beautiful demo from 1990, “Translucent” sounds like something Galaxie 500 would have been conjuring up for “On Fire,” complete with a sweeping harmonica solo. The dusty quality of the song is yet another reason why its frustrating to not see it on either reissue’s tracklisting. Giving more people access to this song, and everything on this mix, would have been a great justice.