Smashing Pumpkins

  • Alternative rock band formed in 1988 from Chicago Illinois. The band members during the 90s were Billy Corgan (frontman, lead vocals, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, songwriting), James Iha (guitars, bass guitar, backing vocals, occasional songwriting), Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), and D’arcy Wretzky (bass guitar, backing vocals).
  • Corgan was a member of a goth rock band in Florida. When it broke up in the mid 80s, he moved back to his native Chicago to work in a record store. Iha also worked at the store, and they began to write songs together, influenced by the British alt rock bands The Cure and New Order. Corgan already had decided that they would be known as Smashing Pumpkins (or alternatively, The Smashing Pumpkins) – “Smashing” being an adjective, not a verb (in other words, “Great Pumpkins”). Using a drum machine for percussion, Corgan and Iha performed their first show at a Chicago bar in July 1988. Soon after this, Corgan met Wretzky at a different band’s concert that they were attending, and they debated about the band’s performance. During the debate, Corgan learned that Wretzky played the bass guitar, and Corgan invited her to join Smashing Pumpkins. They soon decided they needed a drummer, and Chamberlin joined, giving them much more of a rock sound. This foursome performed for the first time in October 1988, and they were set as a group for their first 3 albums.
  • They recorded 3 demos tapes in 1988 and 1989, and one of their songs ended up on a Chicago-based alternative compilation album. In 1990, 2 singles were released by independent labels, which generated interest in the band from several record labels. They were signed and their debut studio album, Gish, was released in 1991. Corgan played nearly all the instrumental parts except drums, which created some tension in the band – the album was a combo of heavy metal and dream pop. It barely charted, but the future success of the band led to steady sales over the years, and ultimately it was certified platinum, even though the single Rhinoceros only reached #27 on the Alternative songs and did not chart on the Hot 100.
  • Later in 1991, an EP titled Lull was released, and they opened for bands including Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. During the tour, Chamberlin got hooked on drugs, Wretzky and Iha broke off their romantic relationship, and Corgan entered into a depression period, living in a parking garage.
  • They moved to the Atlanta area to record their next album – mostly to get Chamberlin away from his drug contacts. They recorded Siamese Dream over 4 months in late 1992 and early 1993, under much strife, with Corgan again handling most of the instrumentation, and Chamberlin missing for days looking for drugs. Despite the issues, the album debuted at #10 on the album chart, and ultimately sold over 4 million copies in the U.S.  Singles that broke into the top 10 of the Alternative Songs chart were Cherub Rock, Today and Disarm – Cherub Rock won their first Grammy award, for Best Hard Rock Performance.
  • Smashing Pumpkins became mega-stars with their 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. A double album with 28 songs, it was certified diamond, and it was nominated for 7 Grammy awards, winning 1 for Best Hard Rock Performance for the single Bullet With Butterfly Wings. That song was their first to hit the Hot 100 chart, reaching #22, and it was #2 on the Alt Songs chart. Their next single, 1979, reached #12 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the Alt Songs chart. Other charting singles were Zero, Tonight Tonight and Thirty-Three. Despite the success, they endured difficulties – a fan was trampled to death in a mosh pit at a concert in Ireland, and a touring keyboardist died of a heroin overdose, which led to the immediate firing of Chamberlin.
  • In 1997, they contributed The End Is the Beginning Is the End to the soundtrack for the film Batman and Robin. The song reached #4 on the Alt Songs chart, and won them their final Grammy award.
  • Their final hit album, Adore, was released in 1998. It peaked at #2 and was certified platinum. Session drummers and drum machines were used to replace Chamberlin, and it had a significant change in style, with guitar rock replaced by electronica. Two singles reached #3 on the Alt Songs chart – Ava Adore and Perfect. 
  • More Smashing Pumpkins drama in 1999 – a rehabbed Chamberlin returned to the band, and while recording their next album, Wretzky was kicked out of the band for drug addiction – Corgan performed most of the bass guitar parts to the Machina album (actually 2 albums – the first, called Machina/The Machines of God was released in February 2000, while the sequel album Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music was released as a free download in September). Two singles were top 5 on the Alt Songs chart – The Everlasting Gaze and Stand Inside Your Love. In May 2000, Corgan decided that the band had to break up, and a final concert was performed in December at the Chicago club where they started.
  • In 2005, Corgan announced that he was reforming the band with Chamberlin and new members on guitar and bass. Their seventh studio album, Zeitgeist, was released in 2007, and 3 more studio albums have been released since then. Their most recent, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. was released in 2018. Over this time, Chamberlin again left the group (in 2009) and rejoined again (in 2015), and Iha rejoined the group in 2018.
  • Smashing Pumpkins was an alt rock force in the 90s. Corgan clearly is the pulse of the band. It’s another classic band that has been snubbed by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, for some unknown reason. Their video for Tonight, Tonight won 7 MTV Music Video Awards in 1996, including Video of the Year. Enjoy it here!

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