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“Dolby’s Top 10 Smashing Pumpkins Songs of All Time”

Smashing Pumpkins, around the pivotal turn of the millennium, did what any logical band would do: played a farewell show, and then proceeded to keep cranking out albums for the next 15 years and beyond. And really, thoughts of the world without the Pumps never really made sense, even to me, a 16 year old at the time. I was at the show with my Dad, the band was closing with “Mayonnaise” (or it might have been an encore, one of the two), and I heard someone around me say, “This is the end of one of the greatest bands of all time,” but that seemed to me a leap of faith, like a feeble meteorological proclamation of the end of winter in late February. It just happened that their album sucked at the time.

Here’s an irony I’ve noticed: they were never really the perfect band for playing within record stores. In fact, I even wrote a post about the song “1979,” that it’s unenjoyable if you’re within the presence of others. “Disarm” is too dark and personal, “Today” is too honest and torpid — it’s music for the narcissistic Midwest, zero parts style, 100 parts substance. It’s like when honesty is such a foregone conclusion that it’s like asking whether it gets hot inside a steel mill, or a pizzeria kitchen. But now, though, with the casual, earth-toned Monuments to an Elegy, the Smashing Pumpkins are pretty palatable record store music, and are relevant to the world the approximate extent to which record stores are.
Looking ahead to this summer’s Lollapalooza, I can’t help but fantasize over a Pumpkins set, some much needed hubris and rock machismo to spice things up a bit, Chicagoans to all the more appropriate it. The main headliners are Radiohead and Grimes, established electro-pop nice-guys… Billy Corgan had affairs with other people’s girlfriends, kicked out band members, and wrote songs that were dark and undeniably real, though at the same time able to make your ears bleed. He’s a versatile songwriter capable of spontaneous transcendence, and it’s just like humanity to overdo it with the reaction to its own pestilence, and usher in this rock-rap revival phase. I’ll take rock and roll over that crap any day.

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Top 10 Pumpkins Tracks:

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10 “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
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It doesn’t quite take an archeology degree to excavate and extract all the choice songs on this bloated double album, but let’s just say it’s not that damn far from it. And nothing against the singles, they all happen to be pretty good in my book, but some of them are so attached to archetypal music videos that it can be hard to separate the attributes of the audio itself, and I didn’t want to make this list too obvious. Like budding album track “Soma,” this one splays its feathers with heterogeneous versatility, tiptoeing in like a dainty ballad before going for the visceral rock attack, about midway through.
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9 “Being Beige” (Monuments to an Elegy)
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Just a contemplative melody here sounding very natural, almost effortless, an irony given that it’s not overly conventional, and does leave the listener somewhat guessing about what its phrases, verses and choruses are going to do next.
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8 “Muzzle” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
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This is probably a song a lot of people wouldn’t think to pick, but recognize once they hear it (the obvious barrier being its obtuse title). One of its many strong facets is that it offers a lyrical glimpse into Billy Corgan’s psyche of almost unprecedented depth (which ends up being an exercise of circular reasoning, appropriately enough).
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7 “Mayonnaise” (Siamese Dream)
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Kurt Cobain defined grunge as “hard music played to a slow tempo,” but I’d like to modify it to “rock music played by angry dudes who have done acid and hate the state of California.” That “Mayonnaise” comes from a non-music Mecca [1] is typified by its anthemic, underdog quality, again with substance over style, but at the same time, its light and lithe sense of riffage nods to the very nomadic worldliness bespoken in its gushing lyrics: “Pick a pocket full of sorrow / Run away with me tomorrow”.
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6 “Starz” (Zeitgeist)
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I have to admit, I was FULLY in my indie phase in 2007, even discarding my beloved Pearl Jam for a while. I even considered Battles – “Atlas” a poppy song. And with the Pumpkins, it was like, what’s in it for them? People are just going to download this for free, nobody’s gonna want this giant blood-red ocean cover on vinyl spooking their living room or bedroom. The chances of Zeitgeist ever being a collector’s item are almost untraceable, but the chances of it pretty worthily rocking out a backyard summer barbecue are a little better.
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5 “Thirty-Three” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
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One listen to Gish should remind you that stately melody takes fervid precedence over punk rock groove for primary Smashing Pumpkins modus operandi. I actually heard this song on Road Rules one time, and was like, oh yeah, this was that other, other, other, other great song on Mellon Collie no one knows the title of. Akin to the Stone Temple Pilots who likewise played grunge outside the city of Seattle, the Pumpkins just grafted songs on top of songs, which sometimes seemed to speak to each other in conversation, and scoff at the idea of separating one from the rest, at a given time.
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4 “Disarm” (Siamese Dream)
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This is kind of what Nirvana opened the door to — not so much the musical qualities of the material that would come after, but just the ability to have such dark, foreboding lyrical themes dominate on mainstream radio. It was a coming out party for the holistic entity of men’s psyches, a time in popular music when the only inappropriate diatribe was a dishonest or phony one.
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3 “Ava Adore” (Adore)
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This is one of those tricky situations — and I mean, the fourth Pumpkins album was going to generate a litany of scrutiny, no matter what it was. If they’d gone a smaller, scrappier route with a garage-y sound and goofy songs, people would just always be comparing them to other bands, so they did something only they could do — made an album that SOUNDED like the work of multi-millionaires. And if you’re going to offend people, you might as well go all out. This recent Wicker Park documentary accused Adore of being when “Billy Corgan succumbed to his own hubris,” but all that speaks to is the fact that the album is unconventional by “indie” standards. The fact that it’s also unconventional by mainstream standards, I think, speaks for itself.
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2 “Soma” (Siamese Dream)
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This song, more than any, I gathered up in my head when I’d be walking around North Carolina when I lived there a couple summers ago, thinking, Man, I really miss my Midwest. No real reason. I just do. I’d rather clean gum off the bottoms of tables in the Midwest than be a mayor in the South — call it conceit or whatever.
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1 “1979” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
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I still have no idea what that repeated background voice is saying in this song (“Dwell again?” Hmm). Maybe this is part of its charm — it’s something so far from rote or contrived that its very majestic mysteries glue it continually together, to where it can still sound fresh 20 years down the road, haunting, but still emitting its epochal craft as authentic ’90’s alternative rock. This was the prime of the band’s popularity and dominance, and yet, in possibly their best music video, for “1979” there are people in the very throe of juvenility, jerking around like a bunch of kids. Speaking to possibly why this selection wasn’t my favorite when I was a youngster, it was actually more toned to getting older, and the certain wise resignation involved in watching young people live more fervently than you do, provided that you’ve already done all that stuff anyway.
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[1] To be clear, Chicago is inarguably a Mecca of music CRITICISM, and not its base expression (just a sad fact of life I guess).

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