When alternative rock took over the world, the airwaves, and MTV during the 1990s, few bands garnered more press or sold more records than the Smashing Pumpkins — you’d almost think they were from Seattle! But, no, the Smashing Pumpkins hailed from Chicago, Illinois, where bandleader, vocalist and guitarist Billy Corgan began working with fellow guitarist James Iha in 1988, then recruited bassist D’arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain to complete the lineup. Over the next two years, the quartet cut several demos while performing local shows, prior to landing a deal with Caroline Records and recording their debut album, Gish, in 1991 with Steve Albini producing. A relative success, the album established the band’s unique blueprint, combining college rock, psychedelia, dream pop and heavy metal, just in time to join the alternative rock revolution spearheaded by Nirvana the following year. Like many of the independent bands now associated with grunge, in one way or another, the Smashing Pumpkins duly graduated to a major label (Virgin) and were catapulted into the mainstream by 1993’s Siamese Dream. The group then reached absolute ubiquity via 1995’s gargantuan, two-CD magnum opus, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, only to deal with tragedy when tour keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin suffered a fatal heroin overdose in July of 1996. Drummer Chamberlain was also busted for drug possession and replaced by committee on the band’s 1997 follow-up, Adore -- a detour into electronica that alienated many fans, especially after Corgan blamed them for “not getting it.” 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God, fared somewhat better, but the Smashing Pumpkins (now reunited with Chamberlain) were, by all appearances, past their commercial prime, along with ‘90s alt-rock, so Corgan decided to break up the band to work with Zwan between 2001 and 2003. Corgan would inevitably backpedal and record once again under the Pumpkins banner, via 2007’s Zeitgeist, then initiate a so-called “ongoing studio album” with 2009’s Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, followed in 2012 by the more traditionally self-contained Oceania and 2014’s Monuments to an Elegy. So, however unlikely it may be that the Smashing Pumpkins will once again enjoy their world-conquering success of yester year, one should never count out the prolific Billy Corgan.
- Selected Discography: Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), Machina/The Machines of God (2000)
- Related Artists: Billy Corgan, Zwan
- Further Reading: Billy Corgan: ‘Smashing Pumpkins Dies When I Die, and Maybe Not Even Then’