The great Smashing Pumpkins fantasy draft: An introduction

 

Look who’s back in the news! All over it, in fact.

billy corgan holding cats

In the last couple of weeks, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has announced that he’s working on not one but two albums of new material, including one with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee laying down the drum tracks.

He’s supervising the remastering and re-releases of deluxe versions of the Pumpkins’ Adore and MACHINA/The Machines of God, the latter in its original intended form – remixed and resequenced along with the internet-only release MACHINA II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music to finally realize its destiny as a conceptual double album.

He’s had his AMC reality show about professional wrestling greenlit. Hopefully it will be as entertaining as his wrestling-themed furniture store commercial:

And then, in case you’ve already forgotten, there was this:

billy corgan holding cats

Any self-respecting MoSS? reader knows that the Smashing Pumpkins breathe rarified air around these parts. In their respective lists of the undisputed greatest albums of all time, the Pumpkins were everywhere, so there’s no reason for Todd or Chris to explain that again when they already did it here. And here and here. And here. Oh yeah, and here.

For the record, since my only role back then was as a loyal reader, my top 5 undisputed albums of all time include the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Slayer’s Reign in Blood and I’d probably round out the top 5 with Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. OK, that’s four.

See, I can do that because my No. 1 album of all time is Gish AND Siamese Dream. I can’t separate them. One day it’s Gish, the next day it’s Dream. But they are interchangeable to the point I stopped interchanging them years ago and count them as a single entity. But if Chris and Todd would have forced me to choose at gunpoint, I would have put them at 1 and 2 and bumped Zeppelin. That’s right … I’d bump Zeppelin. That’s how much I love those Pumpkins records.

Now, in all honesty, all three of us, at one point or another, have fallen in and out of love with this band. I remember the day I bought Adore and loaned it to Chris before I even had a chance to hear it myself. An hour later, I asked him what he thought and he looked at me like I’d just cupped a fart in my hand and stuck it in his face. And I’m sure I probably made that face myself after I first heard MACHINA.

Years later, the strength of the post-breakup lineup (and their fine 2012 album Oceania) has me excited for what’s on the horizon. But no matter what the future brings us, the strength of the Smashing Pumpkins’ early catalog – starting with 1991’s Gish through their 1995 magnum-opus double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – can always suck us back in.

Look at the finite catalog of, say, Zeppelin. Those first five records – I, II, III, IV and Houses of the Holy – are followed by a double album, Physical Graffiti. After Graffiti, the remaining catalog is really hit or miss. Some great tracks sprinkled around but the complete albums were not as strong. But those first albums and the double album? Near perfection (even with the liberal “borrowing” from the blues legends of the past).

Now … take Gish and Siamese Dream, the excellent rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot, the myriad remaining non-album tracks and B-sides from that era, and follow it with Mellon Collie … in the humble opinion of this Gen-X writer, you have a fair comparison. The later records have some excellent songs, for sure, but the complete albums don’t hold up like the first ones do.

Pumpkins 1993Let’s pretend the Pumpkins had died in a plane crash in mid-1995 (with Mellon Collie in the can but before it was released … hopefully, they’d have an Eddie Kramer-style overseer saying, “Hey, you know what? Let’s just release this as a kickass single disc instead,” which would have meant a second disc of material was still out there along with what would later become The Aeroplane Flies High box set of outtakes, ensuring years of Hendrix/Tupac-type posthumous releases). Leaving behind that above-mentioned songbook and recordings as their legacy, they might have been the greatest band of all time. At least in my book.

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So, with the Pumpkins on the brain, the three of us decided to have a little fantasy draft, with each guy trying to compile the ultimate playlist.

Fifteen songs each. But certain criteria had to be met. Each guy had to pick nine songs fulfilling these requirements:

  • A “Track 1” song
  • An album-closing song
  • A song that is at least 8 minutes long
  • A cover song
  • A James Iha song
  • A song featuring a girls’ name in the title
  • A Pisces Iscariot song
  • At least one Adore or MACHINA song
  • At least one song released after the original lineup’s breakup in 2000

Then, after those requirements were met, there were six wild-card slots. Fill them however you like.

We all missed out on songs we coveted. Then again, there were a few songs that weren’t even on the other guys’ radars when they were picked. But even so, if I had gotten the five or so songs I missed out on, I don’t know what I would have bumped to fit them in.

In the end, it was astonishing that all three of us walked away thinking we’d won the draft. And when we looked at what was left on the board, we agreed that had there been a fourth person, it would have gotten a little dicier since, guaranteed, there was no way we would’ve have ended up with the picks that we did.

So once we were done, we did an impromptu pick’em with the remaining songs for a hypothetical fourth man at the table. Here’s how that ended up:

  1. “1979”
  2. “Today”
  3. “Slunk”
  4. “Disarm”
  5. “Galapagos”
  6. “Blue”
  7. “Muzzle”
  8. “Geek U.S.A.”
  9. “Zero”
  10. “Thirty-Three”
  11. “Bodies”
  12. “For Martha”
  13. “Plume”
  14. “Tristessa”
  15. “By Starlight”

Notice something? Almost every single big radio and MTV staple the band put out was NOT chosen in the draft. And a few – such as “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Perfect” – didn’t even make this “best of the rest” top 15 list. A stronger, deeper catalog than one might remember, eh?

All three of our drafts are tip-top. You can’t lose.

But still, I don’t think there’s any question that when you get a chance to analyze the results, you’ll agree that I won. Handily. And I’ll take the fuckin’ Pepsi Challenge with either of these clowns to prove it. Bring it on.

Come back to Music or Space Shuttle? on Monday, June 2, for the playlists and self-analysis of the draft. What song would you have taken #1? What song(s) in the “best of the rest” list above should have made one of our playlists? Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.

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MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: May 2014

may 14

Side A : Todd’s‘ Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks

BMCJMMC: The Outfield

Here’s a fact: my cousin Josh is cooler than your cousins. He’s cooler than you.

OK, although those statements are most likely true, I don’t have evidence to back them up. (For all I know, our audience is really cool.) This one, however, we know is true: my cousin Josh is cooler than me.

josh power, gentlemen rogues drummer

I found this photo of my cousin Josh on Brooklyn Vegan. It was taken by Glen Brown last year at Stubb’s in Austin. His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/glen.brown.14.

Let’s compare our current musical careers. This month, I sang karaoke at The Red Lion in Cedar Rapids. I performed Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” Two of my friends danced behind me as if they were robots. We were a big hit, I think.

This was around the same time that my cousin Josh and his band, Gentlemen Rogues, were in the midst of their first UK tour. On May 2, they played the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Yes, THAT Cavern Club. My cousin Josh played drums where John & Paul & George & Ringo (& Pete) performed hundreds of times.

My side of the ledger: I sang karaoke in the same space as some guy who played a mean harmonica during his sing-alongs.

(Which, by the way, isn’t that cheating, bringing your own instrument to karaoke? Open Mic Night, sure. Karaoke? GTFO. I wanted to call bullshit, but I also didn’t want a nasty confrontation to prevent me from being allowed to later sing “A Boy Named Sue,” so I held my tongue.)

 

So yes, my cousin Josh is cool. And there was a time in 1987 when he made me cooler, giving me Memorex tapes full of good music at a time when I was listening to a good deal of not-so-good music. The era preceding this moment is known as BMCJMMC (Before My Cousin Josh Made Me Cooler).

I wrote about this once before. In the days of BMCJMMC, I was into Wham! Nowhere to go but up, I suppose.

Anyway, thinking about my cousin Josh and thinking about the UK…

(Quick sidebar: Queens Park Rangers are 90 minutes away from returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking! Yesterday’s cracker of a match saw Rangers deal with Wigan Athletic, 2-1 in extra time, at Loftus Road in the second leg of their Playoff Semi-Final. A brace from striker Charlie Austin put the Latics to the sword. Now it’s on to Wembley to face Derby County; it always had to be Steve McLaren’s squad standing between the Super Hoops and Premier League promotion ecstasy. NOTE: most of this terminology I’ve lifted straight from UK newspaper articles and my Football Manager computer game.)

So yeah, I was thinking about Josh and the UK, and it made me wonder: what other British artists did I like in the BMCJMMC era that make me cringe now?

I still love Duran Duran. I’ve already made an example of Wham!

Howard Jones? Nah, I never bought any of his stuff…

How about the Outfield?

There was a point in my life when “Your Love” was pretty much the greatest song ever. By the time this song came out, I had my own boom box/ghetto blaster/insert lame name for boxy cassette player, and the Play Deep album found itself in constant play. Of course, seeing as I hardly ever listened to any other song (I honestly don’t know that I ever flipped the cassette to Side Two), I probably should have just bought the 45 RPM of “Your Love” and thrown the song on a blank tape, along with Paul Young and Julian Lennon and Jan Hammer (fuck yeah, Miami Vice) and whatever else I was listening to that year. But whatever. It was worth the full album price to have that song at the ready at all times.

The song actually came in handy when I transferred to Iowa State and needed to make friends all over again. One night, some guy was blaring the song from his dorm room, so I wandered in, as OBVIOUSLY this is where the party is. In a matter of seconds, I took a seat and started air-drumming the shit out of the song. (In particular, the part with a bunch of sweet fills and what not.) By the time I was air-drumming into the chorus, I had new best friends. (Amazingly, I wasn’t able to convert the moment into a girlfriend situation.)

Anyway, that was AMCJMMC. In my days of youth, I taped the video one night, likely during the WTBS show Night Tracks. (Unfortunate kids who didn’t grow up with MTV thought Night Tracks was incredible.) If you are unfamiliar with the cinematic vision for this song, I have embedded the video below.

 

Naturally, talking points come to the forefront after reviewing this video…

I can’t believe the headless bass guitar never really caught on. Must have been ahead of its time. (Nearly 30 years later, it’s still apparently ahead of its time.)

Some of the players are really into looking all ’80s. Which makes sense, since this was released in the mid-’80s. The blond big-hair dudes seem to recognize the look of the era, especially the guitarist who goes for a stroll to get a closer look at the painter girl’s masterpiece. The others just kind of look like normal joes (although the blind keyboard guy, who apparently wasn’t really in the band, is a nice touch). So NOT ’80s, non-blond dudes. Although the singer’s attempt at ’80s hair is very ’80s, just not cool ’80s, which isn’t all that cool, but…well, you get it.

I always liked “The Girl.” (Not sure why I put that in quotes.) She was cute, for sure. Not a knockout, I suppose. Nor was she doing cartwheels on car hoods or whatever it was that Tawny Kitaen used to do in those Whitesnake videos. But she was pretty, and she basically smiled politely at the nerds in the Outfield before leaving the warehouse with her painting, presumably to find cooler dudes to hang with (like, say, Van Halen or Prince or Motley Crue).

She ended up playing one of the girls on Just the Ten of Us. She recently did an interview about the “Your Love” video. I still like “The Girl.”

Perhaps the greatest takeaway after going down Memory Lane is that not everything I listened to in the BMCJMMC era was cringeworthy, even if said band was flirting with one-hit wonder territory. (“Since You’ve Been Gone” was a modest hit, and “Say It Isn’t So” was actually a decent song, too. But that’s about it.) Look past the “One Night in Bangkok” purchase, ignore the Billy Ocean “Loverboy” 45, pretend I didn’t fool myself into thinking that Eddie Murphy “Party All the Time” song was cool. There were moments where good taste entered the equation. After all, I loved the Purple Rain singles, and I thought Van Halen was great. And for one near-chart-topping moment, I was able to see the legitimate pop power of the Outfield.

Only one thing left for me to do: work out my “Your Love” routine for the next karaoke night.

An Iowa kid’s salvation in angry rap music

Let me tell you a little story about how the world’s most dangerous groups helped a kid from Iowa keep his sanity …

NWA

When I was a kid, I was short. Scrawny. Maybe a bit too impressionable. Forcefully extroverted and overly demonstrative, often to the point of showing off. Maybe I still am a little bit. But I’ve never been in a fight in my entire life … well, unless you count with my older brother, which I don’t, because said “brawls” (mostly pushing and shoving from both of us, maybe an occasional punch in the arm, and I think I spit on him once) always consisted of the same move – him grabbing me by my shirt, shoving me into a wall, and then pulling me off the wall and throwing me about three feet to the ground. I’m seriously still stunned he never followed it with a bound off the ropes and a flying leg drop. It was very pro wrestling. But that’s really about it.

But yeah, because I was that guy, I got picked on. A lot. But never physically. I would never say I got bullied. That’s a word that gets thrown around far too easily these days, but I got scapegoated. Often made to feel inferior. And most of the time, it was by my own friends. Sometimes I brought it on myself. Many times, I didn’t. You see, kids can be mean. And one day, you (and they) grow out of it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t still scars. You just can’t see them.

But back then, what was I going to do? I couldn’t fight unless I was OK with getting my ass kicked every single time I tried. So inside, I burned. All the time. I was full of helplessness and rage. Blind rage. With no outlet. And if you bottle that up for too long, you might explode. Hurt yourself or somebody else. There has to be a release. Some people cry. For some reason, I never really did. I just put on a dopey grin and pushed through it the best I could.

I finally found an outlet in angry music. At first, it was heavy metal. I can remember multiple times, lying in my bed, pounding my fists on the mattress and punching the hell out of a pillow, banging my head until my neck hurt to Reign in Blood. Or Master of Puppets. Or Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Or Among the Living. Just releasing mental anguish.

(There’s a tremendous scene in the brilliant VH1 documentary series Metal Evolution that explains this phenomenon much better than I ever could (skip to the 5:55 to 7:55 mark). But rest assured when watching this, I was this kid.)

But eventually, I branched out. I never thought I would. I remember thinking, at age 14 and 15, that the only CDs I would ever buy would be metal of the extreme variety. I can still, off the top of my head, tell you the first 10 to 15 CDs I ever bought … Anthrax, Maiden, Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, Forbidden, King Diamond, Sepultura, S.O.D., Kreator, Exodus, and on down the line.

Eventually, I broke that streak with Led Zeppelin IV. Then, for some reason, it was the Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

FOABP But then I got It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, followed quickly by Fear of a Black Planet.

And then it was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.

Why did these prophets of rage enthrall me so much? It certainly wasn’t because of what they were saying.

No, it was just … how they said it.

SOCLet’s be honest here: I didn’t necessarily identify with what these guys were preaching about. I was a mid-to-lower middle-class white kid. From Iowa. What the hell did I know about gang violence and turf wars, oppressive police violating my civil rights, selling crack to survive, or gentrification in the ’hood?

I’ll tell you – nothing.

And although I always considered myself to be a sensitive and intelligent human being with an open mind, it didn’t change the fact that I didn’t come from the most diverse community growing up (I can still probably count the amount of black kids I went to school with from K through 12 on two hands).

Truth be told, it didn’t matter how many think pieces I read in Rolling Stone or how many times I watched Boyz N The Hood growing up in an attempt to “educate” myself – it didn’t change three very distinctive facts about myself: I’m straight. I’m white. I’m male.

Because of the way those three things work together in unison, I was probably going to have more opportunities than most people, and there would probably be people who didn’t even know me who resented or hated me for these “privileges” alone. In a very general, stereotypical way, I was probably part of the very problem these guys were railing against.

But I didn’t care. And I still don’t care. The rage spoke to me. So while I can’t say I personally identified with the vast majority of the content in the rhymes they were spitting, I still respected it. Chuck D. Ice Cube. MC Ren. Standing at a pulpit, pointing their fingers at me and everyone like me, declaring, “You may not know me. You may not be like me. But you will respect me, motherfucker!” And I did.

Public EnemyMore importantly, I identified with the conviction and the piss & vinegar they used when saying it. The anger. The authority. Listen to “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck Tha Police” and “Burn Hollywood Burn” and “Fight The Power” and “When Will They Shoot” (cheating there … that’s just Ice Cube) and tell me that the power with which they are presenting these “cases,” on top of those back-breaking beats, doesn’t make you want to march down the street with your middle fingers in the air. It provided another outlet for releasing my own pent-up frustrations. I just had to venture out on a different branch to do it.

Make no mistake, I’ve always been a rock guy first and foremost. Guitars, more guitars (preferably with Big Muff distortion pedals) and big-ass drums. So when I started discovering rap music, I subconsciously always equated it to the rock music I loved. Public Enemy was like CNN … well, at least CNN before MH370 (much like Metallica and Anthrax): buried within this earphoria, you felt like you learned something. But N.W.A.? It’s just pure “fuck you.” They were Slayer. Just unapologetic in the frenzy.

(Worth mentioning: It’s no surprise that once I branched out to more introspective music, coinciding with the alt-rock explosion of the ‘90s, that I discovered and gravitated toward A Tribe Called Quest.)

But time passes. Anger and resentment subsides. Even so, I still love their storytelling. Something that gets lost is that underneath their message, these guys had a sense of humor. God bless Flavor Flav. Tell me that at least once in your life, you didn’t use “you got a rip in your couch,” “your mother got gold nipples” or “wash your butt” as a snappy one-line comeback.

And Cube, my favorite, I just want you to know that if a new girl moves on my street, I’ma introduce her to my meat, know what I’m sayin’? And you best believe that if I ever get busted, I’ma go to jail in my muthafuckin’ drawers.

This past fall, my buddies and I were tailgating at Kinnick Stadium, the home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, in the heartland of Iowa. And our song of choice on this particular day was “My Summer Vacation” off of Cube’s Death Certificate. Some woman walked up to us and said there were kids nearby and could we please turn it down.

I think we said “tough shit.”


Some of this angry shit made Music or Space Shuttle’s “Undisputed Top Albums Ever” list way back in the day (2012). Read about them below:

Chris’ #8 and Todd’s #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Todd’s #39: N.W.A., Niggaz4Life

Chris’ #52: N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton