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The 11 best songs by The Smashing Pumpkins

Why have a top 10 when you can have one more? Here are the 11 best songs by The Smashing Pumpkins, ranked

In the vast and varied landscape of the 1990s music scene, The Smashing Pumpkins emerged from the underground alternative scene of Chicago as a beacon of creativity, innovation and raw emotional power.

Led by the enigmatic and often controversial frontman Billy Corgan, the band carved their niche in the alt rock genre with a unique blend of moody ballads, feverish rock anthems, and unshakeable hooks – breaking through to mainstream success with their 1993 album, Siamese Dream. Sparking a meteoric rise to fame – peaking in 1995 with the release of their diamond-selling magnum opus, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness – throughout the decade they became one of the biggest alternative rock bands in the world, captivating audiences with their poetic lyricism and spell-binding performances.

Bridging the gap between grunge, goth, and industrial rock (adding countless distinctive flourishes of their own) whilst the band’s line-up has shifted over three decades, their creative force has remained guided by Corgan’s tormented genius. Drawing upon his personal traumas with an outsider perspective, The Smashing Pumpkins have influenced multiple generations of rock fans. 

Releasing the final acts of their ambitious rock opera, ATUM, earlier in 2023 – a sequel to Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and the band’s 2000 album, Machina/The Machines Of God – 35 years on from their formation, The Smashing Pumpkins are as prolific as ever. Ahead of the band’s recently announced 2024 UK tour with Weezer, we ranked their top 11 songs.

11. ‘Starla’

(I Am One, B-side, 1992)

It’s hard to believe that this fan-favourite setlist staple started out life relegated to B-side status. Released alongside Gish’s second single ‘I Am One’, ‘Starla’ was Billy Corgan’s first true epic musical number. A slow-burning meditative cut that builds into a ripping guitar solo laden with distortion, across its sprawling 11-minute length it serves up a slab of classic Smashing Pumpkins magic. Whisking its listener on a sonic journey – one that’s loud, quiet, tender, and epic all at once – a masterclass like no other.  

10. ‘Ava Adore

(Adore, 1998)

With rap rock entering its golden age and industrial rock dominating the airwaves, when The Smashing Pumpkins released their fourth studio album in 1998, heavy music was threatening to move on without them. Returning with a more subdued, electronica-tinged release, its sort-of title-track sees Corgan subtly riffing on the brooding darkness of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson with a synth rock anthem. A troubled love song with a deeply ingrained Madonna-whore complex, it’s equal parts hopeful and downright hopeless – in true Pumpkins style.

9. ‘Siva

(Gish, 1991)

You might not generally associate the Smashing Pumpkins with classic rock, but this standout track from their debut album pays an incredible tribute to Corgan’s long-standing love of bands such as Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath. Raw, energised, and much more direct than the bulk of their later releases, it’s a thunderous rock song with screeching duelling guitars from Corgan and fellow axeman James Iha. An early introduction to the band’s lofty sonic ambitions, this is The Smashing Pumpkins at their most confrontational.

8. ‘Geek U.S.A.

(Siamese Dream, 1993)

The fierce five-minute centrepiece to 1993’s Siamese Dream, ‘Geek U.S.A.’ is not only a fantastical display of Corgan’s wildly inspired creativity, but a showcase of Jimmy Chamberlin’s boundless percussive skills. Combining intricate guitar noodling with a blissfully melancholic hook, the track sees the drummer transition from pounding beats to jazz fills with remarkable dynamism. Building anticipation before delivering a sweet release in the chorus, it’s a testament to the astonishing musicianship that led the project to greatness.

7. ‘1979

(Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)

A band often defined by Corgan’s rage and anguish; nostalgia is an underrated theme that runs through much of The Smashing Pumpkins’ catalogue. It’s a feeling perhaps best captured on the second single from their 1995 album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, a wistful coming-of-age track that embraces the fleeting wonder of youth. Building upon their churning guitar-heavy rock with drum pads, processors, and synthetic instrumentation, ‘1979’ marks their first and finest attempt at injecting infectious new wave influences into their sound. Released alongside a seminal music video – directed by husband-and-wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (who went on to win an Oscar nod for Little Miss Sunshine) – its title coincidentally also marked the year of birth for many of the then-teenagers who would help propel the band’s second album to its staggering success.

6. ‘Zero

(Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)

Clocking in at 162 seconds, ‘Zero’ is the Smashing Pumpkins at their most economical and immediate. Worlds away from the expansive, slow-building grandiosity of ‘Starla’ and ‘Rhinoceros’, the 1995 track boasts one of the band’s mightiest riffs, two contrasting guitar solos and a bridge breakdown made for arena singalongs (“Emptiness is loneliness / And loneliness is cleanliness / And cleanliness is godliness / And God is empty just like me”). Overflowing with an almost menacing sense of confidence, this is alternative rock at its absolute finest.

5. ‘Tonight, Tonight

(Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)

An anthem of redemption, ‘Tonight, Tonight’ acts as Corgan’s defining plea for self-belief. An emotional track centred around a grandiose sweeping string arrangement recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s looping metronome percussion builds anticipation before the euphoric release of the chorus proclamation: “Believe in me as I believe in you…” Perhaps the most optimistic cut in the band’s catalogue, the track’s Georges Méliès-inspired music video showcases the Chicagoans pioneering style in an equally whimsical affair.

4. ‘Today

(Siamese Dream, 1993)

Beginning with a brilliantly infectious tweedly guitar intro, The Smashing Pumpkins’ breakthrough hit has remained a rock radio essential for three decades. Written by Corgan during a deep depressive episode, the frontman’s unmistakable crooning vocal hook – “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known” – is underpinned by glorious gloom-pop crescendos, whilst the song’s verses document his contemplation of failure and suicide. With Corgan recording everything except the drums on the track himself, it’s a heartbreakingly personal ode to overcoming your darkest days.

3. ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings

(Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)

Harnessing the band’s hard rock tendencies, The Smashing Pumpkins’ biggest hit refreshes the loud-quiet-loud 90s alt rock template in wicked style. With Corgan’s snarling opening refrain of “The world is a vampire / Sent to drain” ushering in an idiosyncratic grunge masterclass, the track is guided by Chamberlin’s pulsating drumbeat before the explosive chorus (“Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage!”). Melodic, miserable, and full of sneering anger, it’s become a rousing anthem for generations of disenfranchised teenagers.

2. ‘Cherub Rock

(Siamese Dream, 1993)

Written at a time when the band had set their sights on arena stardom, the timelessly catchy ‘Cherub Rock’ is arguably one of the greatest album openers of all time. Following Chamberlin’s opening drum roll, the track unfolds into a tornado of swooning riffs, seething lyrics, and thick distortion, as Corgan raises a swift middle finger to the music industry. A signal that the Chicago band were ready to leave the toxicity of the underground scene behind, there’s an unmistakable irony in the frontman penning a diss track about the rock music world he was about to conquer – but it’s hard to deny its brilliance.

1. ‘Mayonaise’

(Siamese Dream, 1993)

A long-time fan favourite, ‘Mayonaise’ (deliberately spelled incorrectly) epitomises the band’s love of contradictions – striking a balance between industrial noise and polished rock, whilst retaining a distinct vulnerability. From the atonal whistling feedback that happens every time Corgan lifts his fingers off the cheap guitar he was playing around with whilst recording, to the sheer ridiculousness of his lyrical choices, ‘Mayonaise’ proudly showcases the weird and wonderful workings of the frontman’s creative mind – culminating in the quintessential Smashing Pumpkins song. 

The Smashing Pumpkins are co-headlining a UK tour with Weezer in June 2024 – find tickets here.