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It’s easy to forget that the Smashing Pumpkins were outsiders. Not in the sense that many bands are — the weird, artsy, pained kids who find an outlet by playing loud rock music. The Smashing Pumpkins were outsiders from a wave of outsiders, often regarded by a sneer from their contemporaries as ’90s alternative took over the mainstream. Because in writing about the past we need to make generalizations and group the survivors together, it’s not uncommon to see Smashing Pumpkins’ name in the same sentence as all the grunge bands, even as Steve Albini publicly denounced them and many were put off by what they deemed a blatantly careerist band. Of course, all these bands were getting huge and selling millions of records, but the key was to tell everyone very loudly how much you didn’t want it. The Smashing Pumpkins, on the other hand, were rock stars in a traditional sense, just speaking in the more angst-ridden lingua france of Gen X. In a sense that, in hindsight, makes them one of the last of their breed.

Part of this is because the Smashing Pumpkins always seemed to have their feet splayed in different worlds. While most of the ’90s alt rock bands held some debt to classic rock — and now often get grouped with classic rock, actually — Billy Corgan worshipped artists like ELO and Queen as much as he did Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. This went beyond unhip; this signaled that the Smashing Pumpkins would have a greater deal of comfort with the idea of performance. Compared to all the grunge bands’ aesthetics — the not-caring-about-your-appearance thing, which is really a very conscious decision in and of itself, but anyway — the Smashing Pumpkins looked prefabricated. Corgan was seen as an old-school rockstar egomaniac once tales of his perfectionism cropped up. If he’d re-record all his bandmates’ parts, the rest of it could be artifice, too. He could’ve carefully orchestrated the band’s diversity. And, throughout, he was always interested in the band’s look, cultivating a kind of goth-glam mix through the mid and late-’90s, at times almost playing rock star characters. This was far more akin to what U2 was doing in the ’90s than what Soundgarden or Pearl Jam were.

To a certain extent, the Smashing Pumpkins were indeed just something Corgan constructed. After a failed stint in St. Petersburg, Florida trying to find success with his first band the Marked, Corgan moved back to Chicago and plotted his next move while working in a record store. He already had the band name figured out when he met guitarist James Iha in that same record store. They met bassist D’arcy Wretzky at a show, arguing over the band they’d all just seen. In hindsight, it seems too perfect, the classic rock band origin story. Corgan hatched his band and then met people in the most expected ways, only needing the mythic entrance of a distinct drummer to make things fall into place. Jimmy Chamberlin was the final member to join, and his muscular style convinced Corgan to pursue a more aggressive direction musically. All of this is circumstance, how any band finds their way together. But there’s something about the Smashing Pumpkins that seemed a perfect, unreal depiction of what a rock band was supposed to be in a time where the other major artists bristled against it. Maybe this is largely the media’s doing, but the band came off as the intentional experiment of a sole architect passing himself off as bandleader, the most inauthentic of rock band concepts in a time that prized so-called authenticity.

And for a constructed rock band, a constructed rock band dissolution. Was there ever a totally good, peaceful phase in the Smashing Pumpkins’ career? There was the big issue — an alternative band at odds with the alternative world — and there were all the smaller, personal strife issues. Just during their first tour alone, Iha and Wretzky’s relationship fell apart, Chamberlin began nursing the drug habit that’d later get him kicked out of the band, and Corgan began struggling with depression. Once the Smashing Pumpkins became everything a rock band could imaginably be by releasing a sprawling double-album as their third record, just four years in, there wasn’t really anywhere for them to go but down a slow path of disintegration. They’d deconstruct their sound, and they’d deconstruct the perfectly synced vision of a rock band they’d projected. There wasn’t any big, dramatic flameout. After a few years spent alienating fans, Corgan announced preemptively that the band would release one more album and then quit.

He still had control over what would occur, but the narrative had wriggled out of his hands. Does anyone really talk about those last few years of the first incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins? The main thing anyone seems to think of with the Smashing Pumpkins is those first three albums, and maybe Pisces Iscariot, exclusively. Which makes sense, on one hand, as it was undoubtedly their peak, and it’s the music of theirs that you could most easily identify as being influential on recent indie artists. But it hardly gets at the expanse of their catalog, the sheer amount of music Corgan wrote and the weirdness of how the band released it. This makes for some unconventional territory for a list of this sort. Pisces Iscariot is a collection of b-sides, but it’s a crucial entry in their catalog; the transitional phase of Teargarden By Kaleidyscope was left unfinished, but still seems important to note; MACHINA II was released for free on the internet in 2000, an album with a much lower profile and no official commercial release, but is one that many fans hold in high regard. For those reasons, these releases were included, while the smattering of other EPs and the expanded singles collection The Aeroplane Flies High were not. If there’s someone out there who thinks Zeitgeist was a stunning comeback and the greatest thing since nu-metal, make your case in the comments.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (147)
  1. Adore is easily better than both Pisces and Gish.

    • pisces- yep
      gish – NOPE

    • I would agree with this. Not to slight Gish or Pisces, but Adore was an amazingly successful experiment. I was just listening to it yesterday and remarking to friends about how fresh it sounds. It could come out tomorrow and not sound dated.

      I’m not saying it was ahead of it’s time, or some kind of masterpiece, but it is a very respectable left handed forgotten arm from a band that could have easily played it safe and rehashed themselves into eternity. I hate to think that Billy might wish he had just rehashed himself into eternity like he is apparently trying to do now. But I look to Adore to remind myself that there really is, or at least was, a real spark of artistic genius behind the bald head, and it was something that capable of being more than simply a rock star.

      • I totally agree, while not flawless Adore is their third best record, although I assumed it would be placed 4th do to the fact that their classic line up wasn’t intact.

      • It’s an experiment that would never have happened if not for Chamberlain’s drug problems, which will always put a hazy pall of what could have been over that album for me.

    • Agreed that Adore is better than Pisces Iscariot. Also extremely underrated: Machina II, though I can’t imagine ranking it higher than it is here.

    • Totally agree. I was very off put by Adore at first, but after finding a few tracks I enjoyed and branching out from there, it’s become one of my very favorite albums. The way Corgan reins in his voice is amazing considering Mellon Collie (which I love) was probably the nasaliest he’s ever been, and Machina jumped right back into that very nasal sound. The themes and lyrics of the album, though as romantic as the Corgan’s writing has ever been, are very mature, especially for something so personal. I love Perfect (which pretty much lives up to it’s title) almost as much as 1979, if not a little more. I hold that the break into the second chorus is one of the greatest things that the band has crafted.

      Even beyond the fantastic first four songs, there are a lot of gems to be found in Adore. Crestfallen has a nice rhythm to it, Shame is extremely sleek, The Tale of Dusty & Pistol Pete is an underrated pop gem, For Martha is a masterpiece. I’m not going to list all of them, but even within it’s own little electronic niche, Adore represents a whole lot of diverse tracks, most of them of fine quality.

      I wish Adore got a little more respect.

  2. thank you for doing this band justice. those records are in the correct order.

    • Ask and ye shall receive. Stereogum and Ryan Leas, a MASSIVE THANK YOU for doing excellent justice in covering a band that is significant, regardless of it’s many dead ends, detours or mountains topped. Smashing Pumpkins/Billy have put out timeless records that deserve to be heard in today’s musical climate.
      Ryan, as a long time SP fan, I think your writing was spot on and your observations completely keen. You really got to the heart and impetus behind each record in a way that only a true SP fan/friend/lover of their music could. Your rankings were dead on in my opinion.
      Stereogum, thanks for the article. Terrific and very well done.

      • Thanks for plugging the request, Luke. And thanks to Stereogum for listening! Specifically, thank you Ryan for putting out one of the best Counting Down pieces I’ve read on the site. You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

        I started a new job recently, and to my dismay have realized commenting on Stereogum is difficult due to the web block’s there. This saddens me as most of my Stereogum interaction was done in the afternoons at my old job. I’ve been itching to get to my computer and comment on this glorious list all day.

        Anyway, I don’t want to spend too much time debating how I think the catalogs to one of my favorite bands of all time should be ordered. Partly because it would get too long, but mostly because this list is pretty damn good. I’d have MCIS at #1 no question. But it doesn’t anger me to see Siamese Dream up top, since both sit firmly in my top ten albums of all time. I love Oceania, much more than the Machina albums, but Ryan’s writeup on it and reasoning for a lower ranking make total sense.

        What I would like to add is this: This band is one of maybe three or four bands that literally changed my life with their music. A band that soundtracked who I was at the time I heard it, and continues to deliver on nostalgiac bliss all these years since. People can have their Nirvanas, their Pearl Jams, their Pavements and whatever else. That’s all fine and dandy. But Smashing Pumpkins was THE band of the 90′s in my opinion. Hell, even the 90′s output of my favorite band of all time (Radiohead) doesn’t compare. That’s right… MCIS > OK Computer. Argue with me all you want, but I’ll fight to the death behind that statement.

        May Billy continue to surprise us henceforth, whether it be as a Pumpkin or otherwise.

        • KidChair, you’re dead on with your sentiment. (or should I say ”dead first” haha). The Pumpkins to me as well were the defining band of the 90s generation in which I grew up. They epitomized the ethos, pathos and angst of being a lonely teenager in the burned out wastelands of small town suburbia. Billy gave voice to us in a compelling way, also managing to change the game of rock and roll with each and every record. He gave us ”The Wall” of our generation as well as defining what Alternative Rock could mean to the mainstream, crafting albums of personal intimacy like none other.
          And yeah KidChair, I’ll defend that MCIS vs OK Computer wager. While both records shook up the music world with their offering, MCIS managed to do it with even brighter and multivaried colours spread over 2 hours of the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. It managed to also make an impact on our generation in a way few bands, even great great ones, could ever hope.
          So thanks Stereogum for listening to the people and doing such a terrific job letting the newbies or the young hipsters a shot at looking into a band that us in our young semi-jaded 30′s grew up and helped make sense of the hell and confusion that was our adolescence.

        • Oasis, for me.

  3. I’m a massive fan of the band and I’d struggle to make a list of best and worst as I regularly can find good tracks in all albums, even when they are weak as a collection. I don’t envy you and this is pretty much a very fair assessment.

    RE: Zeitgeist, I think it was something Corgan and Chamberlin needed to get out of their system, it feels like an album where the pent-up anger displayed in all previous albums permeates from the lyrics into the musical aspect, kicking all subtlety aside and becoming too brash for some. I like some songs but wouldn’t fool myself into thinking it’s as great as Machina or Oceania. FWIW, I love Starz and it’s a great “guitar vs drum” track. United States apes a lot of Black Sabbath, a band Corgan said he loves and it’s a good one live, something that happened to a lot of the tracks from Teargarden.

    Oceania is a very good step forward, Pumpkins for 2012. There will always be resistance to change and there’s parallels between Dr. Who fandom and Smashing Pumpkins, where factions will always split.

    I enjoyed this piece.

  4. There was slight worry Siamese Dream was somehow not going to be your number one before I opened this up, but you handled it well, SG.. Well played. Well played. This list is correct.

  5. Awesome list. I think a case could’ve been made for including the Aeroplane Flies High box set which I would rate higher than Gish (but not Pisces).

    • I love this article and being able to connect with other fans who were also so moved by that which is all things Pumpkins.
      IMHO, the true raw nature of GISH…..not over produced and venturing out (D’Arcy on vocals) it still my number one.
      Thank you for bringing me back to a place where I fell in love with music.

  6. My Siamese Dream “moment” is probably Rocket. That riff is just wonderful, and the moment that Billy drops that “ah” or whatever and the bass and drums kick in is bliss.

    Other contenders for the crown would be the intro for Cherub Rock and all of Spaceboy, which is a beautifully realized song. Billy wrote it for his brother, who was disabled. My sister is autistic, and Spaceboy is a song that just… gets it. It knows what it is like for the person who is disabled and the people who love that person.

    Finally, the guitar outro for Hummer is pretty much perfect.

    The list is good overall. I LOVE Adore and would bump it right up behind Mellon Collie, maybe even ahead of it. I would also divide the Machinas. Otherwise, I mostly agree with the order and the author’s reasonings for that order.

  7. Gish the second
    MC+IS the third

  8. Siamese Dream is the reason I’m a music fan today. I didn’t have an older sibling and my parents didn’t really listen to music. Somehow I got a copy of Siamese Dream and that opening of “Cherub Rock” came on. It was like a scene in a movie where a character tries drugs for the first time. My eyes dilated and there was nothing else in the world.

    For that reason if no other (and there are others) I will always adore Smashing Pumpkins.

    You nailed the list too, so that’s a good thing. (Sure I could argue Oceania above Machina and Adore above Pisces, but meh…)

    • Same thing for me. I grew up in an extremely religious household and there wasn’t much secular music allowed. I got my hands on Siamese Dream pretty much by accident and it was my “aha” moment. It opened me up to rock and alternative music. I am who I am today because this record broadened my horizons so much.

      • “Siamese Dream” saved my life. Period.

        So grateful for this writeup. It helps me remember my roots, as I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if it weren’t for the Pumpkins. I really owe Billy Corgan my rock journalism career and musical ambitions.

    • Same. I had seen their videos on MTV and thought they were ok, but I didn’t think much of it. I got Siamese Dream just on a whim…I needed some new music that weekend I suppose. My first thought was, “Where has this been my whole life?” I am an audiophile because of that album alone. How it could be so heavy and so melodic at the same time was beyond me. I also had to know how he did it, so it also inspired me to pick up a guitar…I practiced until I could play every track. I still love playing those songs, too.

  9. I don’t think Zeitgeist was all that great, but I’ll be damned if we forgo mentioning how “That’s the Way My Love Is” as one of their best singles.

    Also, you completely forgot an album (EP technically, but past lists have included EPs) in the form of American Gothic, which I’d probably place above Teargarden.

    • In the category of post-classic rock guitar solos that ape the main vocal melody, I’d put “That’s The Way My Love Is” at #1 (and Weezer’s “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” at #2).

  10. Man, I haven’t listened to Cherub Rock in a long time. Everything you said about it is correct and now I’m blasting Siamese Dream on this beautiful fall day.

  11. I know they technically weren’t SP, but I always considered Zwan in the mix with the Pumpkins albums. But then what would you do about Billy’s solo album (and James and Jimmy’s solo joints, i guess), so I get it. That being said, If i was throwing it into the ranking, i’d put it in one spot ahead of Oceania.

    • Putting Zwan in = Fine

      Putting TheFutureEmbrace in = OK, but it would be only just ahead of Zeitgeist, I think. Or maybe necessarily last, because I love Billy, but NO ONE MAKES ROBERT PLANT SING BACKUP. Especially on a cover. On a Bee Gees cover.

      Putting either Iha solo record in = this is Pumpkinland, we’re talking about. Iha was a visiting bishop.

      But, on the placement of Mary, Star of the Sea…I think I’d agree: right ahead of Oceania. Fun, cool, but not that great. Who but Billy Corgan would have the taste to wrangle members of Slint and Chavez, and who but Billy Corgan would be idiot enough to totally muck it up.

  12. I also agree with the order! It’s kind of surprising.

    I first heard Smashing Pumpkins when Bullet With Butterfly Wings was on the radio, so I asked for it for my birthday. My sister got me Siamese Dream instead of Mellon Collie and I was pissed.. until I actually heard the album. It’s been an all time favorite of mine for so long now. And when I got around to buying Mellon Collie it was kind of too much to digest. I always loved the singles (even the dumb ones), but more recently the whole thing has grown on me.

  13. I disagree with Siamese Dream over Mellon Collie but other than that, spot on.

    • I thought I disagreed too, but I have since changed my mind. Siamese Dream is just such a pure specimen of a rock album. It is a faultless essay of who the Pumpkins are, and what they were ready and willing to achieve. I enjoy Mellon Collie, and I think it is the biggest statement of what the Pumpkins were capable of, but Siamese Dream is the body that all of their other albums seem to just decorate in different clothes. They would go on to become different things through out their career, but Siamese shows that first and foremost they defeated the Rock Gods at their own game, and earned the right to play games with it from there.

      It’s still hard for me to decide though, because I can’t objectively get past my massive love for Mellon Collie, and all of the amazing memories I have with that album.

  14. There hasn’t been an album like Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness in like 18 years.

    • It’s one of my favorite albums of all time, but it’s so much about the contextual musical landscape. I’d be willing to bet that Reflektor will become some 13-year-old kid’s Mellon Collie when they approach thirty (or Thirty-Three). It’s similar in length, with some toss-away moments that add to the whole.

      Still, it don’t think Reflektor will speak to 13-year-old kids as much as Mellon Collie still speaks to 30-year-old me.

    • It didn’t exist on the same level (not that it could; totally different musical/cultural landscape), but I thought M83′s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming was a pretty good argument for a new millennium answer to Mellon Collie.

      • Totally. It’s got that whole cinematic beauty, childlike wonder vibe going on. Lacks those angsty moments, but by the same token it ain’t the 90s anymore. Good call.

    • There hasn’t been an album like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in like 30+ years, if you ask me.

    • There never will be, even centuries from now.

    • That may very well be true, but it’s interesting to watch the Alternative Nation engage in the nostalgia the boomers were so savaged for as in, “There will never be an album like Sgt. Pepper/Blonde on Blonde/Dark Side of the Moon” etc.

      • Each generation has their time capsule record. For me, that album will always be Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and will always be irreplaceable.

  15. You didn’t really provide much of an explanation as to why you snubbed ‘Aeroplane.’ It is also “one that many fans hold in high regard.”

    //Even if (or maybe especially if) the Smashing Pumpkins had only recorded Gish and Siamese Dream, this album would probably still be legendary//

    The word “probably” has no business being in that sentence. Why would the legendary status of ‘Siamese Dream’ be contingent upon what came after it? A legendary album is a legendary album, period.

  16. this would be my list. I feel somewhat qualified to speak on this one (

    1. MCIS
    2. Siamese Dream
    3. Adore
    5. Gish
    6. Pieces Iscariot
    7. Oceania
    8. Machina

    I don’t really consider Teagarden a proper album and Zeitgeist with the possible exception of “neverlost” is JUST AWFUL.

    • This is my exact order as well. Although I could switch up Oceania and Iscariot depending on my mood. I really loved Oceania.

    • All I’m going to say in defense of Zeitgeist is that I just got stood up on a date, and it was exactly what I needed on my pissed off walk back home. Loud, heavy, not interested in anything but guitar and drums. I actually listen to it more than a lot of SP albums.

        • Ha, sorry, I couldn’t resist creating another account just to pay tribute to this thread. My earliest memories of Smashing Pumpkins are hearing “1979″ as a kid (and at the time assuming that that’s when the song was from) and Smashing Pumpkins’ appearance on the “Hullabalooza” episode of The Simpsons (I’d forgotten that Billy Corgan still had hair when that episode aired). I didn’t really get into them until later, right around when Zeitgeist was coming out. I’ve still only heard Gish, Siamese Dream, MCIS, Adore, and Zeitgeist, so I’ll have to check out some of their other stuff still. Siamese Dream is one of my all-time favorites though, while “1979″ remains my favorite song of theirs.

  17. This was a beautiful write up on their entire catalogue. As a die hard fan, I agree with all of this. Thank you, Ryan.

  18. I know it’s an unpopular opinion (although seeing other people say it here makes me think otherwise), but I think Mellon Collie is heads and shoulders better than Siamese Dream. Better songs, richer production, more variation, heavier, lighter, more aggressive, more melodic. More everything. And my god, it’s one of the only double albums of its era that actually WORKS, front to back. I like Siamese Dream, but if I could only have one SP album for the rest of my life, I’d choose Mellon Collie without a second thought.

    • I’m with you! I was originally gonna write this feature (though I’m thrilled Ryan did it instead) and my list would’ve had Mellon Collie at 1, Siamese Dream at 2. And everyone would’ve hated me.

      • I wouldn’t have hated you. Mellon Collie is an album I will always consider one of my favorites. It’s all encompassing in its beauty. I think it truly does encompass the breadth of human emotion on those two discs (or four LPs). I feel that Mellon Collie towers over the rest of their catalog. There is a reason every release after it was compared to it.

        • Yeah for me it almost feels like a fairytale world that has somehow been captured in this one. I’ve lived with that album for 18 years and it still doesn’t seem like a thing I actually own and can listen to whenever I want; it feels like something I experienced in an amazing dream that I can’t quite remember, that I’m always trying to get back to. I really think it’s miraculous.

          • Can’t disagree with anything any of you (or anyone else in the comments) said regarding the strengths of MCIS. Had I written this two years ago, I probably would’ve had it at #1, too, but Siamese Dream has just sounded really perfect to me recently. I love what you said about the album Michael, but it might also get at why I ranked Siamese Dream at #1. It feels like Corgan’s carefully crafted world, but one that I can slip back into and understand (that bit I went on about it being “shelter”). It can still be hard to wrap your head around the entirety of MCIS; it inspires awe more than anything else. That’s great in of itself, but a different experience, so I suppose it depends on where you’d be leaning when approaching their catalog. I wouldn’t fault anyone putting MCIS in the top position.

          • I know I’m chiming in late here, but I would also put Mellon Collie at No. 1.

    • Also, I feel like Mellon Collie is almost entirely devoid of influence. It is 100% a Smashing Pumpkins album, and sounds like nothing other than Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness. Siamese Dream (and Gish), while still quite ‘unique’ sounding, still has a whiff of some of its contemporaries like Hum or Dinosaur Jr or Slint or My Bloody Valentine or Jawbreaker, whatever. Mellon Collie to me was SP melding completely into their own, which really only lasted for one glorious double album.

    • Oh, and lastly (not like anybody is even reading this), despite all that, I do think “Cherub Rock” is their best single song.

    • May the gods praise thee! I agree thusly

  19. I don’t get lumping the two MACHINAs together … one is a proper album, the other is an essentially unfinished work, it’s got a bunch of great songs but they’re all basically demo-quality.

    • Machina 2 was released to vinyl through Billy’s vanity label, but the album proper was never a demo. It was simply produced without the gloss and glitter of Machina 1. They’re remixing BOTH Machinas however and I imagine Machina 2 will get a sonic overhaul.
      The mastering/pressing was done on analog and from an actual vinyl so that’s why it sounds ”rough” compared to the heavily digitized Machina 1. Sorry if you already knew that. But Machina 2 was indeed produced at optimum level, just intentionally pressed lo-fi.

  20. Glad someone finally made this list!
    SP still gets a lot of flack, but they were probably one of the most unique and diverse bands of the alternative 90s, and as far as I’m concerned, the best.
    The order is spot on as well, though I might have included Aeroplane Flies High.

  21. It’s such a shame a proper album was never made of all the 2007 residency songs. Easily the best work Corgan’s done since reforming the Pumpkins.

    • OK, I’m going to play along, and do Corgan-related albums, not just SP, and include all b-side comps, if Pisces makes the cut:

      1. Adore
      2. Siamese Dream
      3. Mellon Collie
      4. Pisces Iscariot
      5. Gish
      6. Aeroplane Flies High
      7. Oceania
      8. Machina
      9. Mary, Star of the Sea
      10. Machina II
      11. Teargarden
      12. Future Embrace
      13. Zeitgiest
      14. Judas O’

      It’s probably just a matter of taste, but I’ve always been more into the softer side of Pumpkins, so Adore has been #1 for me for a long time. I’m counting Judas O’ because the name alone seems to want to be taken seriously as a counterpart to Pisces, and it’s nice to not have Zeitgiest last, as Z. is far from perfect but no where near as bad as people would have you believe.

  22. For moi it’s:

    1. Siamese Dream (my favourite album ever)
    2. Mellon Collie (During the end of my secondary school exams, this became my angst-ridden soundtrack of anger, aimless resentment and hormones. It worked)
    3. Adore (super underrated)
    4. Pisces Iscariot
    5. Gish
    6. Oceania
    7. Machina II
    8. Zeitgeist (also super underrated. There’s an energy there that’s missing from a lot of popular music at the time and I reckon if it were released as the follow-up to Oceania it’d be better received)
    9. Teargarden by Zaleidyscope
    10. Machina (I hated it for years after hearing it first, but it’s started to grow on me quite a bit in the past year or so)

    I could go on for ages about this band’s discography and how mad and genius and supremely and wonderfully flawed but beautiful it all is.

    For what it’s worth, my perfect moment in Siamese Dream is Chamberlin’s performance in Geek USA. I have never heard a better drum performance anywhere else.

  23. Mashed Potatoes bootlegs.

  24. Great writeup. I like that you detail your thought process for including Pisces Iscariot and combining the Machina albums, though I also would have included Aeroplane Flies High. It blows my mind that there are enough leftovers from the Mellon Collie era to release an entire other double album’s worth of material. And it’s mostly excellent. Mellon Collie should have been a triple album.

    I don’t have any major qualms with your list, but I’d definitely bump Adore up and maybe even Oceania.

    My List (1-6 are all essential, in my opinion):

    1. Siamese Dream
    2. Mellon Collie
    3. Adore
    4. Aeroplane Flies High
    5. Gish
    6. Pisces Iscariot
    7. Oceania
    8. Teargarden
    9. Machina 1 & 2
    10. Zeitgeist

  25. So wait, we don’t consider TAFH but we consider Pisces? They’re both b-sides collections.

    I’ve seen a few people rank TAFH over MCIS. They’re incorrect but it’s at least arguable, and to leave out an absolutely crucial collection of songs from when Billy was at his most prolific, and gave us the widest variety in terms of sounds, seems unfathomable to me.

    And both Machina albums together? Give me a break.

  26. billy corgan antics from worst to best

    6. starting that religion website
    5. pseudo dating jessica simpson
    4. starting a wrestling league
    3. arguing FOR the livenation and ticketmaster merger
    2. breaking up ZWAN – who were awesome and you suck for not agreeing
    1. saying the next thing in rock music is “God.”

  27. top Billy archive/remaster projects I’m looking forward to:

    (1) The Metro show, as if we’ll ever get it;
    (2) Machina remastered and even retracked – putting a new mix on these songs on this album, compared to any in the SP discography, could reveal the greatness that was partially buried in the mix.
    (3) Chicago songs.
    (4) Studio Zwan cuts that weren’t on MSOTS – we all know the album is brickwalled to death, but Billy also, in typical Billy fashion, left most of Zwan’s best songs off of the album.

  28. i posted earlier to say how happy i was by the ranking for this list because, well, i was just happy stereogum didn’t fuck this up. but now i’m struck by the prose of each section included. i’ve always felt that countless other subjective writers have failed to match both my unbridled enthusiasm for this band and my recognition of their shortcomings. stereogum manages to piss me off from time to time with awkward writing and ugly cynicism, but i don’t find any of that here.

    i’d just like to say this author writes about my favorite band beautifully and does great justice to sp’s catalogue. it’s a great critical analysis of their records. many writers haven’t been particularly kind to this band over the past 20 years, and even the sympathetic ones have sometimes come off as rude and clumsy. i usually roll my eyes when one of these lists gets posted on this site, but this was an incredibly entertaining and fulfilling read. thanks.

  29. “Of course, there’s something romantic about that tortured genius archetype, and I think there’s something inherent to American culture that draws us to a visionary. It’s only later, when the products diminish but the ego doesn’t, when we turn on them, and that’s happened with Corgan over the years, when his arrogance seemed wholly out of touch with how uneven his legacy has become. You know what, though? I don’t even care.”

    ^This, exactly this. The Pumpkins were my first “oh my god favorite band!”, gushing teenage fanboy implications and all, and this is the most perfect retrospective statement about them I’ve ever read.

  30. Thank you Stereogum! Been waiting for this. The ranking of those albums is debatably downright perfect.

    I apologise for the imminent, biased and over-zealous fan-boy comments I will make:

    Without a doubt, ‘Zeitgeist’ is SP’s weakest album. It is metallic and dour but I don’t think its “comically heavy” as NME described it as. The sound is very murky and muddy. And Corgan’s glam-rock idiosyncrasies are present in a lot of the songs (e.g. ‘Tarantuala). Some of the songs in my opinion kinda lack a huge, tangible chorus to counter the marauding guitars. Maybe some songs could have been cut and some songs from the precluding EPs (like ‘Death From Above’ and ‘Stellar’) could have supplemented the album. But Chamberlain’s drums are just assaulting to the ears as ever. I think ‘Doomsday Clock’ is still a badass ballad just with the drum intro alone.

    ‘Oceania’ is just a great album, a total surprise. I was half apprehensive buying it after finishing my Leaving Cert Exams (I’m from Ireland) but I put it on and every song really held my attention. I played it to my younger brother and sister and even they enjoy it. Hell, even my folks did too! And ‘Chimera’ should have been on the damn radio. It is so exuberant.

    I agree ‘Machina II’ is a much better structured album then ‘I’. And definitely less downbeat.

    ‘Pisces Iscariot’ is chock-full of gems (blistering rockers like ‘Kitty Kat’, ‘Pissant’ and ‘A Girl Named Sandoz’ and quiet, beautiful tracks like ‘Obscured’ and ‘Whir’). But ,by Odin’s raven, is ‘Starla’ a glorious epic that deserves its 9 mins running length.

    There’s probably no such thing as “The Perfect Album”, but ‘Siamese Dream’ would be a candidate for such a title. There is not one average song on that album. Yes, you have ‘Cherub Rock’ and ‘Today’- and then you’re treated to ‘Quiet’, ‘Geek USA’, ‘Soma’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Silverfuck’, ‘Spaceboy’ and (holy shit) ‘Hummer’ and ‘Mayonnaise’. This album , along with ‘Nevermind’, were bought from a now-closed second hand music store and was also my starting point into the realm of music, introducing me to bands and artists both new and old.
    And yeah, ‘Cherub Rock’ is used as my alarm on my phone to get me out of bed in the morning. It succeeds (90% of the time).

  31. Are there worse Smashing Pumpkins albums than the two MACHINA’s? With those two albums, the band became from ultimate favorite to just another “alternative” act.

    But thanks for all the Mellon Collie love, the soundtrack for my adolescence. I can hear the 28 songs again and I find it just as perfect as it was in 1996, no matter how many lists and reviews I read or how silly Billy Corgan can be sometimes.

    • when they came out, i agreed. revisited them both in the past few years and found some real gems on each. as the reviewer states, a solid album can be culled from those gems!

    • I don’t hate MACHINA. I think it could have been a fantastic album. But I can hardly listen to it because the production is just so horrendous. I have no idea what they did to that thing, but it sounds so awful.

      Seriously, listen to the first 30 seconds of “Rocket” and then compare it to the first 30 seconds of “The Everlasting Gaze”. They wanted it to be LOUD. They wanted rock music to !ROCK!. And what they did was dowse the entire album in gallons and gallons of muddy sizzling oil. There is no depth to the sound, and no warmth. But if you can try to see past that crusty fried outer layer, the meat of the songs underneath are fairly impressive.

      • Awful is a needlessly generous title to afford the production element to Machina. It was certainly processed, but I wouldn’t consider it terrible. But its going to be remixed, so they probably will back off on the sonic polish a tad.

  32. Well this played out exactly as expected

  33. Great piece. I’ve got to proclaim my love of Gish. For me it’s easily my favorite Smashing Pumpkins album.

    Dying to know what other songs besides Eyes of Ruby (fave of mine!) are the authors favorite SP songs.

    • The ones I managed to shout out in the piece are my absolute favorites: “Cherub Rock,” “Soma,” “1979,” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby.” Lots of love for “Jellybelly,” “Rhinoceros,” “Cupid de Locke,” “Thirty-Three,” “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” “Mayonnaise,” “Rocket,” and I’ve always had a thing for “Perfect” and “Ava Adore.” After revisiting everything for this list, I’m currently pretty into “Raindrops + Sunshowers” from MACHINA and “Daphne Descends” from Adore.

      I’m glad to see you and so many others love “Thru the Eyes of Ruby.” Beyond hearing the hits on the radio, that was maybe the first song that really got me hooked on the Smashing Pumpkins.

      • Glad to see another person with love for Daphne Descends; thought I was the only one. Some years ago, I bought a new guitar pedal and it came with a copy of Cubase; I promptly set about trying to record all the different guitar parts of Thru The Eyes of Ruby. Ridiculous!

        Among my favourites, I would have to include Soma, Hummer (I have a thing for their shimmering epics), Stand Inside Your Love, Slow Dawn from Machina II, For Martha (obviously a very personal song for Corgan and one which appropriately features one of his tenderest vocal performances) and Drown (which gets its due in the Singles soundtrack article elsewhere on this sight). Also, I think Untitled from Rotten Apples is worthy of a mention; one of the few occasions an obligatory new recording appearing on a “Best Of” is actually capable of holding its own.

  34. 1. Siamese Dream
    2. Pisces Iscariot
    3. Mellon Collie
    4. Zeitgeist
    5. Gish
    6. Adore
    7. Oceania
    8. Aeroplane Flies High
    9. Machina 1 & 2
    10. Teargarden

    I remember being really disappointed when MCIS came out. We were really into Pisces Iscariot and the songs 1979, Cupid, we only come out at night, and all the love songs and strings really just bothered me. I don’t think I got into it until later, and I think I’ve only played the first disc like twice. I also seem to like Zeitgeist more than everyone on here which is weird. I think tarantula, USA and orchid are great rockers. I need to check out Machina II, somehow i missed that. Billy writes a whole lot of stuff, damn!

  35. Well done for this great piece. The thing with the Smashing Pumpkins is that I think they are the last rock band of their kind who were/are capable of creating such an obsessive fanbase of that kind of scale. The very reason Corgan rankles even his most devoted followers at times is because his opinions, actions and music still matter that much to them.

    I can’t really argue with the order you’ve ranked them though Mellon Collie will always be my favourite (again, a product of the fan-delirium they are so good at generating: even that album’s inherent flaws seem endearing, almost strengths, when viewed as part of the massive picture Corgan was deftly painting). For me, Thru The Eye of Ruby is less a contender, more outright winner, of the greatest Pumpkins song. To think what that album could’ve been had they swapped some of the songs for superior ones off The Aeroplane Flies High boggles the mind; in fact I remember burning an alternate version of Mellon Collie (there’s that obsessive fandom again) where disc 2 was closed out by Medellia Of The Gray Skies and Tonite Reprise, for me the perfect counterpoints to disc 1′s Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans and Tonight, Tonight, respectively.

    From an objective viewpoint, however, Siamese Dream is undoubtedly their best. Gish was a terrific debut, and in hindsight almost seemed a warmup run to Siamese Dream, which ultimately perfected everything that was so sood about Gish. What I love about those early Butch Vig releases is the unusual warmth that comes from them, even during the most scathing tracks (the honey-like multi-tracked vocals go some way towards erasing Corgan’s less desirable vocal attributes). One thing you brushed upon several times, but cannot be understated, is Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming; I cannot think of another drummer (aside from maybe Meg White, albeit for all the wrong reasons) with a more distinctive and recognisable style. His work on some of those early songs (hello Geek USA!) is simply breathtaking, and even a song like The Aeroplane Flies High, with its relatively rudimentary rhythm (try saying that ten times quickly) is lifted immeasurably by his expertly placed fills.

    Thanks also for acknowledging the greatness that lurks amongst their subsequent work; Adore and Machina II are works I particularly enjoy returning to.

  36. The Smashing Pumpkins are hands down my favorite band (see my reply above) so I was very excited to see this list. And the writeup is perfect. Ryan nailed everything about this band. For every up and down I had in my younger days, the Smashing Pumpkins had a song for it. I am not about celebrity worship at all, but if I ever met Billy Corgan I would probably shit my pants. I nearly did when I saw them during the Zeitgeist tour…I was up front and screamed at Billy about how much he rocked during a jam session and he put his hands together and bowed at me. The fact that my childhood idol acknowledged my existence really affected me on a way I had never expected. I was simultaneously thrilled and disappointed with myself. But whatever…I’d do it again.

    As for the ranking…yes, Siamese Dream is their best album, no contest so there are no issues there. I will say that the albums are ranked pretty much exactly how I would expect them to be ranked for your everyday SP fan (it’s probably the same ranking I would use if I were going to recommend any of their albums to a friend). That’s probably how these rankings should work, but of course everyone who dives into these albums will have a different opinion. My ranking would be:

    Siamese Dream > Adore > Mellon Collie >MACHINA I/II > Gish > Pisces Iscariot > Oceania > Zeitgeist > Teargarden EPs

    If TAFH was included it would go between Pisces Iscariot and Oceania.

    Oceania also impressed me, but I think it could still be better. It gives me hope, but I can almost feel the paranoia that the other members feel when working with Billy…almost as if they are too petrified to play an out of place note for fear that they might get sacked. Mike does a respectable Jimmy impersonation…but it’s too mechanical. Jimmy could lay it down and it sounded effortless. After watching “Oceania Live in NYC” and seeing the few moments the other band members were allowed to let loose, I know they all have it in them. I hope they get it out for the next album.

  37. This was so great to read, but I adore Adore. I almost get angry when people don’t appreciate it as much as I do. Part of it’s personal – I remember taking long road trips with my mother and listening to it on our new CD player. We would dissect every line and talk about what it meant to us. I remember the rain hitting the windshield halfway through “To Sheila”. I remember one of the first times I was able to merge our musical interests.

    There really are two fantastic EPs here. This is how I have my alternate playlist set-up.

    Side 1:
    1. To Sheila
    2. Tear
    3. Once Upon A Time
    4. The Tale Of Dusty And Pistol Pete
    5. Annie Dog
    6. Shame
    7. Behold! The Nightmare!
    8. For Martha
    9. Blank Page
    10. 17

    Side 2:
    1. Ava Adore
    2. Perfect
    3. Crestfallen
    4. Daphne Descends
    5. Apples + Oranges
    6. Pug
    7. Eye

    I cut this play list to flow a bit better and added “Eye” from the Lost Highway soundtrack because it seemed like a fitting coda for this era.

  38. credit for having Soma #1 and Ruby #2, that’s my top 2 as well. The rest of the list changes every day.

  39. I’m a bit of a Machina apologist. A lot of the production is atrocious and there is some filler and some failed experiments on there, but “Age of Innocence” is my all-time favorite Smashing Pumpkins song. And “Try Try Try”, “This Time”, “Stand Inside Your Love” and “The Sacred and Profane” are all great songs. I think if the production got cleaned up and some of the filler was swapped out for some of the choice cuts from Machina II like “Real Love” and “Let Me Give the World To You” you could have one awesome album.

    I thought Zeitgeist had a couple good songs on it too, namely “That’s the Way My Love Is” and “Neverlost”. I don’t understand people’s affection for Oceania. To me that album is dull, dull, dull. It’s easily their worst in my opinion, though perhaps I should give it one more chance.

  40. Siamese Dream is their best album, but Mellon Collie is my favourite. Bodies will always make me feel magical.

  41. Is doing a Smashing Pumpkins list this week a very subtle way of acknowledging Halloween being tomorrow?

  42. What? No Machina II?

  43. This is exactly how I ranked them over the summer while discussing SP with some friends. Aren’t you glad I told you that? And I probably don’t even have friends, anyway. See? I wasted your time.

  44. Great write-up on the Pumpkins. I have a hard time deciding between melon collie and siamese dream as my top favorite, but like several others have stated, siamese dream was my first accidental introduction to rock – I think i was in the 4th grade, prior to that I was really only into Michael Jackson and Kriss Kross. SD was my inspiration to become a guitar player, and I’m really glad that Ryan gave a special shout-out to “soma.” There hasn’t been anything like it since. The creepy/beautiful guitar work and piano are perfect. To this day I think the lead solo in “Soma” is the best of all time. To me it’s not about how fast it’s played, it’s about the emotion. I’ve never heard a guitar solo sound so angry and sad at the same time. You can literally hear it scream and cry.

  45. As I’ve read through the comments, most agree that either Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie deserve the top spot. It occurred to me that the reason for this is likely age based.

    1. I’m in the Siamese Dream camp. My initial experience with Smashing Pumpkins was back in the Gish days. They came through town, playing a small venue in support of the album. The flyer for SP had a barking pit bull on it, and I assumed they were some ferocious metal band. I collected show flyers religiously, and still have the SP flyer in my files. Not long after that I saw Gish in my local record store, but on my scant allowance, and at the price of a CD, it was way out of my reach. Around that time grunge exploded, and the next summer we were given the Singles soundtrack. To this day I feel Drown was the album’s magnum opus. The following summer, when I had a job, I noticed a new CD by the band. I bought it, and loved it. The little guy blew up, and the following summer (if you’re counting, we started in ’91, now we’re in ’94) they headlined Lollapalooza. Then, that fall, we were given Pisces Iscariot. I disagree with its inclusion in this list, because anyone who’s serious about music would have read Billy Corgan’s notes, and realized the thing was a clearinghouse for B sides; but for whatever reason, people didn’t get this, and thought it was a new album, selling incredibly well.

    2. A year later Mellon Collie came out. If I still remember, the double CD set was less than $20, which in the fall of ’95, was a steal. To my ears, they had lost their sonics. There were some good songs (and in 1979, a great song), but overall I thought it was boring, and I didn’t click with it’s arty turn.

    But regardless the world took notice, and the thing was a monstrous success. Despite the success of Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie turned a lot of people on to their music. A kid I worked with in the fall of ’96 was obsessed with SP, and thought Mellon Collie was superior. It was also clear that he hadn’t been a fan prior to the release of Mellon Collie.

    I’m not saying I’m right about which is better, but when you consider ’94-’95 is about when Gen X and Gen Y split, Siamese Dream was timed better for us Gen Xers, while Mellon Collie seemed to sit better with the oldest of the Gen Yers.

    If there’s anyone out there that was out of high school when Siamese Dream hit, and prefers Mellon Collie, or someone who was in middle school when Mellon Collie hit, and prefers Siamese Dream, I’d be interested in hearing why which album is your favorite.

    • Interesting theory. True or not, my experience fits this suggestion as I prefer MCIS and am probably among the older Gen Y’ers. I didn’t get into the band until MCIS hit, and as a result it was my first true intro to them and forever my favorite. (But only by a little.)

    • I’m a younger Gen Yer, I guess. I would’ve been merely 10 when MCIS came out though, so I wouldn’t say I really fit into either of the contexts you mentioned, since I didn’t start really getting into Smashing Pumpkins until around 2006. Anyway, I prefer Siamese Dream. Part of it is that double albums always feel a bit daunting to me–I still haven’t heard the new Arcade Fire album in full, and when it comes to others like Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, I usually pick and choose between the best tracks after I’ve listened to the whole once or twice. The perfection of a single album like Siamese Dream is just easier for me to grasp as a whole, but even if MCIS were a single album, I’d probably still prefer the former just because I prefer those songs to even the best of MCIS (save for “1979″). So for me, Siamese Dream is less commitment with more reward. I’d even go so far as to say I prefer Adore to MCIS, although it’s close.

    • I was 14 when MCIS hit. I was in Junior High. Need I say more :)

      • 13 for me, but I was 14 before I actually heard it. It’s no wonder MCIS his harder for that generation when you think about it, especially in the context Ryan so wonderfully displayed in the article.

        We are long lost brothers indeed, Luke.

  46. I’m sure this has been said a mil times in the comments (bout to go read) but the slow tracks at the end of Melancholy are the freaking greatest things ever.

  47. So this is more or less the agreed-upon ranking for Pumpkins albums. I think a 10 Best Songs would be much more contentious. Here’s mine (in chron order):

    Cherub Rock
    Geek USA
    Sweet Sweet
    Age of Innocence
    Real Love

  48. 1. Siamese Dream
    2. Mellon Collie
    3. Gish
    4. Pisces Iscariot
    5. Aeroplane Flies High
    6. Machina 1 & 2
    7. Oceania
    8. American Gothic
    9. Teargarden
    10. Zeitgeist

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