Formed in 1988, Smashing Pumpkins is one of the most influential alternative rock bands of the ‘90s. Disavowing the punk rock roots of many alternative rock contemporaries, the Smashing Pumpkins offered a diverse, guitar-heavy, densely layered sound containing heavy metal, dream pop, and goth rock, progressive rock, and psychedelia.
Formation and Early History
Founded in 1988, the Smashing Pumpkins is formed by frontman Billy Corgan, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, guitarist James Iha, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The band first performed on record with a compilation album Light Into Dark in 1989, featuring several Chicago alternative bands. In 1990, the group released their first single “I Am One” on local Chicago label Limited Potential. Eventually, they recorded their 1991 debut studio album, Gish, in 1991. It became a minor success and received some airplay on modern rock radio. The album featured arena-ready anthems, high melodrama, and multitracked guitars that helped transform the rock landscape in the 1990s.
Mainstream Breakout Success
With the popularity of grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins were ready for major commercial success. However, the recording environment for the album was marred by discord within the band. As with the case with the first album, Corgan and the band’s producer, Vig decided that Corgan should play almost all of the guitar and bass parts on the album, spawning an air of resentment. The contemporary music press began portraying Corgan as a tyrant.
Despite the problems in their recording, the 1993 album Siamese Dream debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold more than four million copies in the US alone. It featured the hits “Cherub Rock,” “Today,” and “Disarm.”
In 1995, the band released a double album of 28 songs, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It became the band’s most successful album, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200. The album was certified ten times platinum in the United States, garnered seven Grammy Award nominations in 1997, and became the best-selling double album of the decade. The album created five singles, including “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” Tonight, Tonight,” “1979,” and “Thirty-Three.”
In 1996, touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and Chamberlin overdosed on heroin in a hotel room in New York City. It was fatal for Melvoin, while Chamberlin ended up getting arrested for drug possession. Chamberlin was fired from the band due to the incident. The Smashing Pumpkins chose to finish the tour and hired keyboardist Dennis Flemion, and drummer Matt Walker. Chamberlin admitted that their decision to continue touring despite what happened was the worst decision they ever made, damaging both their music and their reputation.
Music Shift and Breakup
After the Mellon Collie release and tour, the Pumpkins contributed a number of songs to different compilations. They started recording for a new album after the death of Corgan’s mother and his divorce.
In 1998, the band released Adore, an album representing the change in style from the Pumpkins’ previous style of guitar-based rock to electronica. The record was infused with a darker aesthetic than much of their earlier songs. They also modified their public image and shed their alternative rock look for a more subdued appearance.
In 2000, Machina/The Machines of God was released as the band’s return to a more traditional rock sound. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts. It garnered a new wave of young fans, as the previous youth has turned a deaf ear towards alternative rock. In September the same year, the group released their final album before breaking up – the Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music.
After breaking up, some of the members of the band began working on their own. Corgan and Chamberlin reunited as members of a short-lived group Zwan, which released only one album. Chamberlin also formed his own alternative rock/jazz fusion band called the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. After the breakup of Zwan, Corgan insisted that the Smashing Pumpkins would not reform. However, his heart was in it.
By 2007, the band reformed, with Corgan and Chamberlin as the original members, and they were joined with guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton. They released “Tarantula” as a single for their forthcoming album, Zeitgeist.
Zeitgeist entered the Billboard charts at #2 and sold 145,000 copies in its first week. Since half of the original lineup wasn’t there, the album divided the fanbase of the band.
In March 2009, Chamberlin left the group and was replaced by Spirits in the Sky drummer Mike Byrne. The group also announced plans to release a 44-track concept album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope one track at a time for free.
In 2010, Ginger Reyes left the band, prompting for an open call for auditions for a new bassist. Nicole Fiorentino eventually joined the group to replace Reyes. During that year, all four members contributed to the third volume of Teargarden.
The Smashing Pumpkins released Oceania in 2012, which was labeled as an album within an album. It debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Billboard Independent.
In 2014, the band released a new album entitled Monuments to an Elegy, which garnered positive reviews. The band toured with Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk as the drummer, and the Killer’s Mark Stoermer as the bassist, after Mike Byrne and Fiorentino left the band.
The band officially announced in 2018 that founding members Iha and Chamberlin rejoined the band. They started on the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour that year, wherein they performed material from their first five studio albums.
In 2018, the Smashing Pumpkins released their album Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun, which debuted at number 54 on the Billboard 200 chart. It was their worst-performing release since their first album Gish.
The grouped toured much of 2019 and noted in January 2020 that the band was working on 21 songs for a future album release.
Unlike other alternative rock bands in their time, the Smashing Pumpkins steered away from their punk rock influence and went on to have a diverse, densely-layered sound that made them different from other popular bands in their time. These are some of the best songs that highlighted their talent:
- Cherub Rock (1993)
- Today (1993)
- Disarm (1993)
- Bullet with Butterfly Wings (1995)
- Zero (1995)
- Tonight, Tonight (1995)
- 1979 (1995)
- Thirty-Three (1995)
- Ava Adore (1998)
- Mayonaise (1993)
- Soma (1993)
- Muzzle (1995)