The Top 10 Epic Smashing Pumpkins Tracks

During the reign of alternative rock in the 1990s, Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins were anomalous in their embrace of melodrama and grandiose ambition. While hipper contemporaries were recording their slacker manifestos with Steve Albini or onto a cassette tape, the Pumpkins would layer armies of guitar tracks onto a single song and release albums that neared the upper limit of what could fit onto a CD’s runtime. Having grown up on widescreen classic rock staples like Pink Floyd and Queen, Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was predisposed to framing his canny songcraft and cathartic lyrics in outsized statements, which ensured that concept albums, titles like “Behold! The Night-Mare”, and tracks that regularly extended beyond the three-minute single format would be well-trod territory over the ensemble’s two-decade career.

Corgan is at it again with his 44-track Teargarden by Kaleidyscope song cycle project (it says a lot about a group’s character when concepts like “44-track song cycle project” seem par for the course). So far, the centerpiece of that undertaking is Oceania, the Pumpkins’ forthcoming album and its first since its comeback LP Zeitgeist way back in 2007. In anticipation of the release of the Pumpkins’ latest opus on June 19, Sound Affects honors the group’s outsized tendencies by counting down its top songs that exceed the six-minute mark. By their nature, such brazen exercises constantly risk turning out as muse-stroking pretension. Yeah, when Corgan overreaches himself — consider the boring “Glass and the Ghost Children” (9:56) and the godawful “United States (9:52) — the music becomes a ponderous, unending slog. But when he nails it as he does on these offerings, he goes quite a ways towards reminding listeners that few other rockers in the last 20 years possessed of such bombastic and unapologetic creative visions have shifted as many millions of records to the introspective bedroom dreamers of the world as the Pumpkins have.

10. “Starla”
(“I Am One” re-release single, 1992)
Length: 10:59

Drawing its title from Corgan’s misrememberance of a woman’s name (she was actually called “Darla”), this psychedelic daydream of a song is built around a continuously repeating ascending drone. The effect is suitably hypnotic, lulling the listener into relaxation, then elevating them to a higher state of consciousness once the drums and fuzzed-out guitars enter. Even as the track becomes more and more rocked out, the change in dynamic is so gradual and the feeling of the music so blissed-out you might barely register it.

9. “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)”
(“Thirty-Three” single, 1996)
Length: 8:31

The Pumpkins clearly have no qualms about relegating their long-form tracks to b-side status. The antithesis to this singles’s lilting a-side, this slow-burning dirge bears a hint of post-rock strum und drang as it explodes from its deceiving complacency at key moments. Spoken word snippet captured onto a tape recorder (“I never really liked sunny days” is a classic Corganism) add a lo-fi touch to the group’s typically perfectionist production, and its warbling guitar solo seems to spiral around the monolithic groove.

8. “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”
(Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Length: 7:28

The Smashing Pumpkins’ sprawling two-disc magnum opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the album where the band’s starry-eyed melodramatic tendencies transformed into full-blown fantasy. Though packed with plenty of overdriven guitars (Corgan estimated it contained 56 guitar parts tracked onto it), “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” has an otherworldly quality that wouldn’t make it out of place on the soundtrack to some elf and wizard-packed flight of fancy. Corgan wholly embraces the mythic tenor conjured here, penning lines like “We’re forever frozen / Forever beautiful / Forever lost inside ourselves” that are a realm away the confessional lyrics of “Today” and “Disarm”.

7. “For Martha”
(Adore, 1998)
Length: 8:17

For a man who made his name writing albums full of cathartic statements, Corgan’s elegy to his late mother is relatively subdued. It’s also beautiful. Backed by mournful yet comforting piano and tearful descending guitar lines, Corgan takes his time to tenderly explore his grief, and emerges at the end at a sort of peace.

6. “Silverfuck”
(Siamese Dream, 1993)
Length: 8:43

A vortex of Sonic Youth-style noise assault located in the final quarter of Siamese Dream, “Silverfuck” is a cut that steers dangerously close to prog-rock ponderousness. Thankfully, the studio version pulls back from the verge of outright pretension to refocus attention on the sheer wallop the band is generating (the same can’t be said for some live renditions, which can stretch well past the half-hour mark). It’s violent, overblown, and glorious in equal measure.

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5. “Rhinoceros”
(Gish, 1991)
Length: 6:32

The first of the Pumpkins’ long-form epics, “Rhinoceros” was also the track where the group’s sound finally congealed into something unique and potent. The tune fades into view as if emerging from a sonic mist, revealing a beguiling dream pop lullaby as gentle as it is hushed. Then Corgan busts out the heavy riffage, and it becomes clear that the gap between the Creation Records catalog and Led Zeppelin wasn’t as insurmountable as the previous decade’s warring musical factions maintained. Even accounting for the formless introduction and outro, this is one impeccably-structured arrangement, with no one bit of excess hanging off it. After absorbing to “Rhinoceros” in all its glory, it becomes easier to understand why it was the band’s first charting single on the Billboard rock charts.

4. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”
(Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Length: 9:21

“Porcelina” takes the slowly unfurling opening fade-in first utilized in “Rhinoceros” and expands it to ludicrous lengths. Over two minutes, in fact. The band pushes the intro to the very edge of what listening tolerance will allow, then BAM! Corgan and James Iha’s lurching riffs explode out of the speakers. The sedate verses swoon with lovestruck affection, and the choruses (“Without a care in this whole world!”) are ecstatic exclamations that sweep aside any considerations aside from enraptured romance with the most passionate of gestures.

3. “Soma”
(Siamese Dream, 1993)
Length: 6:39

“Silverfuck” is longer, but “Soma” is the true epic centerpiece of Siamese Dream. The Pumpkins pull out all the stops for this outsized anthem about intoxicating love, including E-Bow, piano by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, and a whopping 40 guitar overdubs. The momentary pause heralding the arrival of Corgan’s armada of distorted rhythm guitars is prime evidence that the group’s command of dynamics shifts should not be underrated.

2. “Drown”
(Singles soundtrack, 1992)
Length: 8:17

Some might consider this cheating as “Drown” is essentially a (damn good) verse/chorus/verse composition with several minutes of experimental feedback taking up the rest of the runtime (the version on the 2001 Rotten Apples compilation excises the latter portion completely). I would argue that those extra minutes function as a satisfying comedown coda to this soundtrack to the Seattle-set Cameron Crowe film. Corgan’s droning guitar riff is instantly memorable, and the final surge before entering Feedback City creates an unexpected yet totally welcome sense of invigoration. In a record packed with a murderer’s row of Seattle’s finest (including everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains), the Windy City’s prime alt-rockers get to steal the show at the last possible moment.

1. “Hummer”
(Siamese Dream, 1993)
Length: 6:57

Sandwiched between the singles “Today” and “Rocket” on the album tracklist, “Hummer” can be easily taken for granted. But don’t skip over it, for it may very well be the ultimate single-song encapsulation of the best the Pumpkins have to offer. Moving from an Indian-flavored riff to a roar of detuned power chords, “Hummer” hits its apex when Corgan sings “It’s alright, honey / It’s alright, yeah!”, which is then answered by Jimmy Chamberlin’s jaw-dropping drum fill and a positively heroic guitar melody. Though Corgan didn’t bring his A-game to this song’s frankly trite lyrics, all is forgiven when his final line of “Do you believe love is real?” is followed by an astonishingly beautiful outro solo where he reinvents the Edge’s textural soundscapes for the grunge generation.