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HU’s Favorite Lists of Music Lists 2010 6:01 am // Saturday, January 1, 2011

Posted by jjb in amusing, listmaking.
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We the music bloggers of Hipsters United, a blog about the Smashing Pumpkins, wish you the most pleasant of new years — and with no further delay we will fulfill our duty to look back on the year in lists of music lists that was 2010.  Here are our favorites in six made-up categories.

Most benevolently dominant: Largehearted Boy’s 2010 Year-End Online Music Lists

For the fifth year running, the list-of-lists maker’s list-of-lists maker put in a massive effort — and, for the third year in a row, the “A-C” subsection of his list contains roughly 500 links. Has our music blogosphere reached a steady state?

Best mission integration: AOL Radio Blog’s Top 10 Music Lists A to Z

Lazy writers will often trot out a “listicle,” or article comprised primarily of a list, when they are temporarily out of story ideas but still paid by the word. But the bloggers at AOL Radio use lists not to rehash news as filler but to augment the news with song suggestions that move us away from reading and toward listening to music AOL Radio. And with 350 stations to promote, the blog has a pluralistic, accepting style: lists have been made of reggaeton songs, Elvis songs, K-pop songs…no list of Smashing Pumpkins songs yet, but I bet the day comes.

Fizziest: New York Magazine’s Vulture blog’s The 50 Greatest Vulture Slideshows of 2010

For staying power, many items on this list rival the champagne you opened last night.

Most dispiriting: Wikipedia’s Category:Music-related lists

List-of-lists makers prone to hubris are well advised to spend a little time drilling down here (e.g., by clicking on “Lists of anthems”) and taking notice of how insensibly scattershot is the coverage. There just ain’t no ‘ultimate directory’ to be made of this world.

Strongest proof of concept: Ranker

In the race to generate revenue from Internet users’ propensity to make lists, Ranker looks to be succeeding where Rank ’em is failing. Venture capital and a sense of humor 1, social fundraising and “fanstanding” 0.

Worst copy: The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog’s The Best Music Lists of 2010

This site’s list from last year was a good indication it would pop up again in the worst of 2010 file. If you’re like most people, you may enjoy trash talking this good, straightforward, really nice, wide-ranging and surprising list while sounding both witty and knowledgeable about music. Make fun of it with your hipster friends.

HU’s Favorite Lists of Music Lists 2009 11:46 am // Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Posted by jjb in amusing, listmaking.
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If you were worried that we of Hipsters United would neglect our music-blogging duty to wrap up the year that was 2009, return your mind to ease.  We have again scoured the Internet for the very best lists of music lists, and here are our favorites in three categories:

Most comprehensive: Largehearted Boy’s 2009 Year-End Online Music Lists

With nary a real challenger for this title, the Boy has for the fourth time indexed literally thousands of these precious, precious lists.  Judging from the “A-C” subsections from 2009 and 2008, each of which contain about 500 links, he appears to have found about as many this year as last.  (Is our music blogosphere dying?!)

Most faithful: Rank ‘em

However deeply you believe in music lists, the founders of Rank ‘em probably have you beat.  On a budget of $2,342, they “hope to accelerate music discovery by helping sort through the catalogues of every musical artist of all-time.” Rank ‘em believes it can do this by quantifying the opinions of grandstanding fans: “When we put your favorites together with everyone else’s favorites, we believe the catalogues will become sorted from best to worst material.” Remember, kids — if you see your favorites near the bottom, you like the worst material!

Worst explanation of a #1 pick: The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog’s Lists of Lists: The Best and Worst Music Lists of 2009

Doing a list of lists is so cheeky that some list-of-listmakers can’t just get on with it.  Here’s the staff of the Wall Street Journal trying to kick off its effort:

1) Largehearted Boy: The best music list we saw in 2009 was this music blog’s aggregation of other lists. By putting it atop our list, we’ve created a list of lists of lists that M.C. Escher would love.

NO, YOU HAVEN’T.  You have included one list of lists as an item in your list of lists, whereas all the items on a list of lists of lists would be lists of lists. Obviously. Sheesh.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #10 1:44 am // Friday, October 2, 2009

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, mashed potatoes.
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[Ed. note: It's been a long time since I wrote #11 in this opinion-laced series of posts, which is primarily meant to prompt discussion and expose my ignorance. Who knows if or when #9 will be written...]

The Smashing Pumpkins
Mashed Potatoes

Tracklist (spfc.org)

The most ‘legendary bootleg’ of Smashing Pumpkins music, Mashed Potatoes was little more than a rumor for years before it emerged into circulation over the last decade. SmashingPumpkins.com published a satisfactory article on the relevant history last year.

Even by Billy Corgan’s standards (cough), Mashed Potatoes is massive and bizarrely sequenced.  Its five discs contain a seemingly random ordering of live tracks, studio cuts, and snippets of talk, all of it dating from 1988 to 1993. Were Mashed Potatoes reordered sensibly — and personally, I can only listen to it that way — it could yield up a unique double live album plus a double-disc set of demos and loopy outtakes.

Probably the most notable Mashed Potatoes live material documents the Pumpkins of 1990, caught between their new-wavey 1988 demos and their psych-rock 1991 album Gish. The 1990 band rocked hard, kind of oppressively and maybe not too impressively, on never-released originals “Opal,” “Try to Try”, “365″, “I Am My End”, and “Over You”. I prefer the handful of fun covers from this time — the Who’s “I’m Free”, the Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues”, and yes, absolutely yes, “Godzilla.” There’s also a very listenable album’s worth of live material from 1992, not to mention that “are you ready to fuckin’ rock?” version of “Geek U.S.A.” that Billy once got aired on Q101.

Among the studio material are the best-quality-available versions of a few songs from 1988′s The Smashing Pumpkins and the proof that Mellon Collie vinyl bonus track “Infinite Sadness” did indeed date to 1993. There’s a cool acoustic rendition of “Blue” and a goofy seven-minute electric take on “Hello Kitty Kat.” There are several silly toss-offs, including two Jesus songs. And there’s the one track I’d keep if the rest of Mashed Potatoes had to go, a Gish outtake called “STP” that I’d always hated on the few live recordings I’d heard…

Below: …but what Smashing Pumpkins fan could hate this? (There’s got to be one!)

Led by Pitchfork, blogosphere unites on top song of decade 4:26 am // Saturday, August 22, 2009

Posted by jjb in idolator, listmaking, maura johnston, news, outkast, pitchfork, stereogum.
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If there must be a “song of the decade”, everybody — critics included — knows that song is OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” But as the music-news site Stereogum notes today, Pitchfork Media has refused to certify the obvious at the pinnacle of its listicle “The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s”:

The top track’s by a group you might expect at the top spot but via a different song.

Yes, Pitchfork did choose an OutKast song for #1, but it was lesser known single “B.O.B.” And, interestingly, influential blogger Maura Johnston of Idolator quickly lined up behind the indie titans’ choice:

Listening to Pitchfork’s No. 1 song of the decade with @jamiattenberg. I kind of love this pick!

I must say that the “B.O.B.” selection is a brilliant out for the critics.  For their readers, it means that the keut guy/girl they’re hitting on does correctly recognize the greatness of OutKast but simply prefers the less edgy of their two most awesome songs! Nothing very wrong with that!  And for the critics themselves, it means keeping the rest of us securely in thrall to their slightly superior taste.

UPDATE: Well-known New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones has signed on.

GameInformer mag ranks top 10 videogame dorks of 2008 1:15 pm // Saturday, January 17, 2009

Posted by jjb in amusing, criticism, gaming, listmaking.
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But it’s not the top 10 videogame-playing dorks of 2008 (can’t insult the readers!) — it’s actually the top 10 videogame-inhabiting dorks.  Yes, a listicle in the latest issue of The World’s #1 Computer and Video Game Magazine(tm) tries to answer that burning question: “Of all the characters in videogames released last year, with whom would you least want to have a fantasy beer?”

The only non-imaginary entity to make the list? Why, it’s Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, slotted in at #10:

Remember when Billy Corgan was cool?  Neither do we, but he was on The Simpsons once, so that’s something.  In a less impressive cameo, he also appears in Guitar Hero World Tour as a kilt-wearing nancyboy.  Despite all his rage, he is still just a dork in a cage.

(Thanks to HU reader Stace for the submission!)

Top 25 from Illinois Entertainer 3:41 pm // Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Posted by Jill in blogging, listmaking, news.
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Illinois Entertainer has published a new Chicago-centric list of the top 25 tracks in the city’s history.  The Smashing Pumpkins make an appearance at #20 with “Cherub Rock” from Siamese Dream:

Bdddrrddddrrrr-bap! The greatest guitar album of the alt-rock era began with an impish drumroll, followed by rudimentary, clean-tone octave chords. “Cherub Rock” was one of Billy Corgan’s earliest rebukes to a scene that didn’t want him, but the success is in its disarming simplicity, not the textbook rage. The rest of 1993’s Siamese Dream – Corgan’s masterpiece before he latched onto the idea of attempting masterpieces – traversed gauzy textures and pumpkin chords, yet needed a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to focus it. “Cherub Rock,” one of the last songs written for the LP, was its godsend.

Other notables:

  • #1 “Dust My Broom” – Penned by Robert Johnson, performed by Elmore James, covered by Zwan.
  • #2 “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” – Muddy Waters’ biopic and related thoughts were recently covered on HU.
  • #14 “Come Sail Away” – Styx.  This song?  Amazing.

Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin faves Ministry, Material Issue, and Cheap trick make the cut too.  Click here for the full list.

HU’s Favorite Lists of Music Lists 2008 4:45 pm // Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Posted by jjb in amusing, listmaking.
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To help you wrap up the year in music — a task that everyone must undertake! — we at Hipsters United have scoured the Internet for the very best lists of music lists.  Here are our favorites, in three categories:

Most comprehensive:  Largehearted Boy’s 2008 Year-End Online Music Lists

No list is too irrelevant for this music-loving web developer living deep in the American South, who still sets the standard in the list-of-lists space.  If you love to laugh at dittohead zero-audience bloggers, this is your new directory to lulz.  Pretender to the Boy’s throne: Filmocuous’s Lists: 2008.

Most analytically critical:  Glenn McDonald’s All-Idols 2007

The quasi-legendary semi-retired War Against Silence blogger combines the Village Voice and Idolator.com best-album polls of music critics, applies statistical analysis and publishes the results in an easy-to-use format.  His 2008 work can’t be completed yet, of course, but it’s worth going back to 2007 to see how absurdly few critics honored Zeitgeist. Less critical: Metacritic’s Music Critics’ Year-End Top Ten Lists.

Most amusing:  PasteMagazine.com’s Meta-List: The 10 Best Lists of 2008

“We hope this is the best List of Best Lists that you come across,” wrote Paste’s Josh Jackson, and indeed it is, or at least it’s the most immediately entertaining one that I’ve found.  This list of lists is not entirely music-focused, and thank God (or at least Neo) for that.  Not as amusing: NME’s 32 Most Awesome Music Lists of 2008.

Below the fold: I tried searching Google Images for “it’s so meta” hoping I would find some appropriate clip art to illustrate this post, but the ironic first result will have to do… (more…)

Happy List-Making Season, Part Three! 8:19 am // Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Posted by Jill in amusing, listmaking.
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Spinner.com has listed the Smashing Pumpkins in their roundup of worst Christmas-themed songs this year.  “Christmastime” sits at #10 (of 12… get it?  TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS!) with Paul McCartney and Madonna trailing.  So what’s their beef?

When Billy Corgan shrieks about feeling like a rat in a cage, he’s a voice of authenticity. When he sings about the tender feelings he has for tots fawning over their presents, it’s … creepy. How close are we letting him to these kids, anyway?

Other notables include No Doubt’s “Oi to the World” (#3) and John Denver’s “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” (#2).

In related news, is HU coverage of lists beginning to feel like a painfully prolonged list itself?

Oh, the existential crisis.

Happy List-Making Season, Part Two! 10:23 am // Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Posted by Jill in amusing, listmaking.
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If you’re just joining us today for our celebration of list-making season, yesterday I made this post about Shawn Amos’ ode to self-indulgent albums.  Because I am totally humorless and soooo self-indulgent, we’re back for round two.

Amos claims that there are five key criteria that are the hallmarks of a self-indulgent record.  To paraphrase:

  • medieval lyrics
  • epic 10-minute-plus songs
  • Dungeons and Dragons artwork
  • multiple disc release
  • loads of piano solos

The lyrics to Machina are admittedly sophisticated (They use big words like immutable!  Incalculable!), but there are more tongue-in-cheek mentions of “cherry cola” and pop tarts than medieval magick.  Not one of the tracks on Machina is more than ten minutes.  It’s only one disc.

So far, we’re 0/3.

Machina artwork doesn’t look like any Hogwarts homage I’ve seen, but I’ll give him the medieval influence here – half a point.  And really, can the fifth criteria stand on its own?  I know Mike Garson’s work is all over “Glass and the Ghost Children,” but by that logic, David Bowie should’ve made the list alongside Jim Brickman.  I’ll be generous.  Another half a point.  So we’re 1/5.

But oh noes, Amos editorializes!  He throws me a wrench:

Beyond these characteristics, there’s just the vibe of a self-indulgent album. It reeks of self-importance and humorlessness. There’s no sense of irony, humility, or humanity. Ultimately lifeless, these projects feel more like musical dissertations than real rock ’n’ roll.

Well, gee, I forgot my ‘vibe-ometer’ at home this morning, so I guess I’ll just have to take his word for it.  Fortunately, I did remember how to hyperlink to the vibes that surround the band, so let’s see:

So, after careful consideration, my conclusion is as follows:  Yep, it’s totally self-indulgent.  And awesome.

For those of you opposed to intelligent, self-indulgent albums, make sure to check out the MySpace stylings of Mr. Amos.  And if you’re not down with the musak, I hear he’s available for list-making ventures everywhere.

Happy List-Making Season, Part One! 2:21 pm // Monday, December 1, 2008

Posted by Jill in amusing, listmaking.
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Ho, ho, ho and Happy December, dear HU readers!  We hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and a shoptastic Black Friday.  If you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, you must be one of our lovely international readers.  Hola, bienvenue, and guten tag.  For further reading on our cherished holiday traditions, check out this article (ed. update: and this one!) to see how people in Real America celebrate their blessings.

Now that we’ve come to the last month of the year, it’s time to laud the annual list-making season, in which lazy editors and bloggers all over the world generously try to pass off their own opinions as proven fact!

The first December entry comes from Yahoo and GetBack’s own Shawn Amos, a self-proclaimed “astute social critic, observer, and musical chameleon.”  He indulges us with this hilariously-titled-and-capitalized gem:

The Most Self-Indulgent Albums EVER!

As you might wager, the Smashing Pumpkins’ album Machina/The Machines of God made the cut.

Why, though, would it make this list alongside Styx, Dream Theatre, Queensrÿche and Sting?

Funny you should ask.  Amos grants us another list — of the totally objective qualifications for a ‘self-indulgent album’:

  1. Lyrics with lots of medieval words, such as tempest, screed, manor, shire, cloister, parchment, and pilgrimage.
  2. Songs that run more than ten minutes on at least half the album.
  3. Covers that look like a Harry Potter book or a Dungeons and Dragons game.
  4. Packaging that includes two or three discs.
  5. Tracks that feature at least one keyboard solo.

What?!  You expect me to tear this article apart right away?  Because I am so self-indulgent, you will see part two of my rebuttal…

TOMORROW.

(Thanks to HU reader Ivan for the article tip!)

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #11 1:42 am // Saturday, September 6, 2008

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, live, mary star of the sea, zwan.
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[Ed. note: Now that the news is slow again, I am resuming this series of posts.]

Zwan
June 13, 2003
Pielachtal Festivalgelaende, St. Poelten, Austria

Lyric / Declarations of Faith / For Your Love / Honestly / El Sol / Jesus, I > God’s Gonna Set This World on Fire / Desire / Don’t Let Me Down [Beatles] / Settle Down / Endless Summer / Of a Broken Heart / Mary Star of the Sea

Zwan’s last concert was not a landmark event lasting 4 1/2 hours, and tickets were not resold for $1,000. This was because the fans did not know in advance that it was going to be the last show, that it took place as part of “Nuke Festival” in Austria, and that, uh, Zwan hadn’t sold many albums or much dented popular culture. It’s even doubtful whether band members knew this was it; their banter seems unconcerned.

That said, purely on a musico-aesthetic level (i.e., the joy I derive from hearing it), this happens to be my favorite recording of the band — yes, I’ll take it over any of the earliest shows, any of the few “Djali Zwan” gigs, or Mary Star of the Sea — and its factoidal significance as the last zhow gives me an extra excuse to slot it into the list. Like many Pumpkins tours, I find the Zwan world tour to be one on which the band was improving as it went along (but sure, there were off nights such as their final American show at the Aragon Ballroom). The pacing of Zwan’s sets on this tour was mostly determined by the placement of the excursions “Jesus, I” and “Mary Star of the Sea”; on this night the setlist happened to conform to my ideal, with “Jesus, I” playing the crushing-centerpiece role and “Mary Star of the Sea” closing.

“Lyric” was also my preferred opening song; the FM recording of the show is interesting in that it lacks bass frequencies for the first minute or so, but they happen to kick in at a perfect moment (as if “Lyric” ever needed help in lifting my spirits several levels). And to me it just goes on from there, with practically everything seeming just note-perfect, intense and flat blissful. If there’s a dull moment I think it’s the Beatles cover, but instead of lapsing into indifference the band grabs me right back with “Settle Down” and from there it’s on to the bitter end:

Download:

This performance of “Mary Star of the Sea”, the very last time Zwan ever did anything, is absolutely my favorite single track they recorded — and that is sort of a tough deal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I still find myself missing Zwan from time to time. Jimmy has said that the new Smashing Pumpkins is the best band he’s ever been in, and on some dimensions I agree with him — but every band is unique, and I cannot imagine that either the Pumpkins or anyone else will soon produce anything quite like this.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #12 1:33 am // Friday, January 18, 2008

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, live, mellon collie.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
June 15, 1996
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Bullet with Butterfly Wings / Zero / Tonight, Tonight / Fuck You / Silverfuck

Here we have the Pumpkins, freshly returned from a European tour to play a set at the Tibetan Freedom Concert for by far their largest American audience to date. The “Tonight, Tonight” single has just been released in the U.S.A., following “Zero”, which had followed “1979″, which had followed “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” in an eight-month period of alt-rock radio and MTV dominance. So, see the band at the height of their commercial success! And, uhm…watch the band first embrace and then reject this fame, ripping off three Mellon Collie singles before delivering literal and symbolic fuck-offs in succession to close their set?! A tour of American arenas would launch 10 days later, only to be aborted after two weeks with Jonathan Melvoin dead and Jimmy Chamberlin fired. They would finish out the tour with Matt Walker on drums, then they would go into the studio to create Adore, and VH-1 asks where they are now.

So, I view this show as both pivot point and unparalleled microcosm. Somehow it all goes down in 40 minutes, half of which is comprised of the shit-hot latest hits, and half of which is devoted to tom-tom drums, delay pedals and chunky riffs in the Infinite Sadness Tour reinvention of “Silverfuck”. You’ve gotta love all of it if you’re a fan and you’re at home with your headphones, but I’m not so sure if you’re a New Rock Alternative listener out in the hot sun. Thankfully, by now we are all in the former position.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #13 1:46 am // Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Posted by jjb in b-sides, essential recordings series.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
Pisces Iscariot
released October 4, 1994

Soothe / Frail and Bedazzled / Plume / Whir / Blew Away / Pissant / Hello Kitty Kat / Obscured / Landslide [Nicks] / Starla / Blue / Girl Named Sandoz [Animals] / La Dolly Vita / Spaced

Buy it (amazon.com)

Open up the jewel case, then hold it up to the light and look at the back cover. It’z BIlly!!!112007

Oh, but that’s not the only surprise inside — try playing the CD, a cohesive collection of outtakes from Gish and Siamese Dream! Nice. Pisces is I think much more accessible than Gish; it is more adventurous and fun than either of its parent albums. On these and other bases I declare Pisces Iscariot, an inanimate object, to possess a big heart.

This little non-album starts with the longing “Soothe”. It pivots on the relentlessly awesome awesomely relentless “Hello Kitty Kat”. It should exhaust itself during “Starla”, that 11-minute she with the seven-minute guitar solo, a song I can’t seem to declare overrated despite her legions of very sincere fanboys. But even thereafter, drug-love cover “Girl Named Sandoz” delivers the stuff as rollicking counterpoint to the famed and fine “Landslide”.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #14 1:43 am // Saturday, January 12, 2008

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, gish.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
Gish
released May 28, 1991

I Am One / Siva / Rhinoceros / Bury Me / Crush / Suffer / Snail / Tristessa / Window Paine / Daydream / I’m Going Crazy

Buy it (amazon.com)

The series gets tougher now, as I must begin discussing the hopelessly over-discussed.

Well, Gish rocks, and it makes the list because it sounds cool. For instance, “I Am One” is one of my very favorite Pumpkins songs, a perfect album-opener because it grabs you from the first moment, because it starts with drums, then adds bass, guitar one, guitar two, vocal. And as…wait, is he taunting the rest of the band with that lyric?

I am one as you are three / Try to find a messiah in your trinity / Yeah, good luck with that / James, D’Arcy, and Jimmy / Your city to burn

Ahem. As the proceedings unfold, there is time for air-guitar and headbanging (e.g., “Siva”), drug-addled reflection (“Suffer”), and some cross-breeds (“Snail”) — and it’s all done in 40 tidy minutes. Gish is a blueprint for the sound of alternative rock, weird and conventional in equal measure. It hits that sweet spot more precisely than anything the band had done in the years leading up to its release, and they knew it. It’s not a coincidence that this was their first music to see wide release.

It is with less enthusiasm that I report Gish also to be a blueprint for the lyrical obscurantism of alternative rock. Billy knew that too, or at least he knows it now. From a 2005 interview, here’s the songwriter screaming his pre-Siamese Dream days from fourteen years away:

Billy Corgan: I think I kind of approached music with this sort of, like, weird thing where I kinda set myself up where I could kinda be myself but not really. I kinda had a backdoor out. So if you criticized me, I kinda had my defenses working. And the problem is that some people seize on that as inauthenticity, which is understandable. So that’s painful because it’s not that you’re being inauthentic…there’s a difference between being a poseur and being someone who’s so emotionally challenged they’re kind of just doing their best to show you what they’ve got.

Pitchfo*k: Oh, totally.

(Can I just leave it here? No? Blah.)

Maybe indie-music bloggers still like Gish a lot (they do, don’t they?) precisely because Billy didn’t know what he was writing about. For my taste, there was a lot of music to come later that sounded about as good but that was also hitched to touching expression, or to a thought-provoking concept or conflict.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #15 6:33 pm // Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Posted by jjb in acoustic, australia, billy corgan, essential recordings series, thefutureembrace.
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Billy Corgan and the Fellowship of Broken Toys
July 28, 2005
The Marquee, Sydney

To Love Somebody [Bee Gees] / DIA / Now (and Then) / TheCameraEye / I’m a King Bee [Moore] / A100 / Walking Shade / Pretty, Pretty Star / Dig [Strawberry] / Bit 5 / Mina Loy (M.O.H.) / I’m Ready / Prairie Song / White Lights / Friends as Lovers, Lovers as Friends / For Your Love / Riverview / Sittin’ on Top of the World [trad'l] / Johanna [Stooges] / It’s a Long Way to the Top [AC/DC] / Of a Broken Heart / You Were Mine

Listen (ozphoria.com)

Maybe more than any other concert recording — though certainly not more than, say, any interview or documentary — this one gives a real sense of who Billy Corgan is as a person. “This is not an uptight rock-and-roll deal,” he says at the outset, and what ensues is indeed loose and interactive. The crowd consists primarily of adoring fans (as their unreserved singing on Zwan song “Of a Broken Heart” attests), and the appreciative dynamic frees Corgan to take chances musically and personally. He tells funny stories and drops some genuinely hilarious one-liners (“If you’ve been insulted by me, you’ve been insulted by…brilliance”), even developing a couple of running gags over the course of the evening.

This back-and-forth banter is so fun that the musical performance is almost secondary, but it does serve to complement and not detract from the…the word intimacy is overused, but here it’s warranted. This is an entirely acoustic show in which, without a great deal of preparation, Corgan takes on not only the main setlist from his current tour (to which his band had been applying high technology) but also a number of songs he had not performed in months or even years; many of the songs are delivered solo, while some have light support from the backing band. The result is a set of unique and casual performances disturbed by an uncharacteristic number of mistakes. I like the acoustic “DIA” quite a bit, and “Bit 5″ appealingly (to me!) swipes the chords from Bob Seger’s “Still the Same”. Covers of “I’m a King Bee” and “Sittin’ on Top of the World” double as serious man-swagger and winking play-blues. The biggest surprise may be that “Of a Broken Heart”, called in to serve as ersatz hit single, comes off as a timeless classic.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #16 6:40 pm // Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Posted by jjb in b-sides, essential recordings series, mellon collie.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
The Aeroplane Flies High singles box set
released November 26, 1996

Buy it (amazon.com)

The most boring and common criticism of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is that it was too long and would be better if it were only one dizzz… Oh, pardon me. Perhaps I missed the memo while growing up, but I was never taught that it is not possible for a small group of people within a year’s time to make more than 65 minutes of worthwhile music. And in this case, fact is that the Smashing Pumpkins recorded well over an hour of interesting, fun music during the Mellon Collie studio sessions. I’m truly sorry for you if your band can’t do that, but you’ll just have to deal with the fact that Corgan and friends did pull it off.

The final damning proof came in the form of this box set, which contains many — but, somehow, not all — of the songs that missed the cut for Mellon Collie. Even if you had been able to reduce that album to 65 worthy minutes, there is more than an hour of extra material to sort through on The Aeroplane Flies High.  The “1979″ single alone has three downcast pop numbers that I think measure up to most of what’s on Mellon Collie; the “Zero” single features three intimidating stompers, if you’re still into that whole pummeling rock music thing; the “Tonight, Tonight” single has four little songs all about as good as “Stumbleine”; the “Thirty-three” single features the box’s title track, which I’ll always take over “X. Y. U.”; and if you ever thought Mellon Collie could have used one sparkly cover song or two, the “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” single offers three or four competent options. Whew.

Long story short, I “joke” all the time about how Mellon Collie really should have been three discs, and CD-R technology does make it possible if you have the source material at hand…

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #17 7:05 pm // Monday, December 31, 2007

Posted by jjb in adore, essential recordings series, germany, live.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
May 14, 1998
Spielbudenplatz, Hamburg
(or a similar show)

To Sheila / Tear / Once Upon a Time / Crestfallen / Ava Adore …

… Daphne Descends / Let Me Give the World to You / Tonight, Tonight / Bullet with Butterfly Wings / Shame / 1979 / Thru the Eyes of Ruby / Transmission [Joy Division]

The Smashing Pumpkins played fewer concerts in support of Adore than for any of their other albums, but this still included stops on five continents. After a one-off warmup gig supporting Cheap Trick in Chicago, the band made its way to Hamburg for the first full-band headlining show.

With Jimmy still in time out, the band’s ability to rock was greatly reduced, and they wisely tamped down the sound. Billy and James turned down the gain and put their delay pedals in storage, upping the reverb instead. Mike Garson was brought in and set loose on keys and science. Kenny Aronoff and multiple ancillary percussionists were hired to bang drums and things, but the tempo was kept in check and syncopation was reduced. The result was a live sound that in hindsight appears more in step with 2008 than it was with 1998: more chamber-pop than electronica, more Neon Bible than OK Computer.

As the tour went on, I feel the band stretched out too far, with the talents of Garson being particularly indulged. That makes the Adore tours unusual in Pumpkins history to me; usually I feel the band gets tighter and more powerful as it goes, with the last shows on an album being my favorites, but here I like the first show the best. “Tear” hasn’t yet been ripped in half by a crazy piano solo; instead, it’s a disciplined electric-guitar epic punctuated by a memorable climactic lead from James. “Let Me Give the World to You” practically brings the show to a standstill, for once seeming worthy of the hyperbolic praise it received from Rolling Stone. Among the rejiggered Mellon Collie hits, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is notably reimagined as comic relief, yielding ten minutes of silly joy, while “1979″ is the one song in the set allowed to break free of tempo constraints, hurtling ahead much like a tire down a hillside.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #18 1:24 am // Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Posted by jjb in b-sides, essential recordings series, studio.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
Still Becoming Apart

Hope / Blissed and Gone / Apathy’s Last Kiss / Mayonaise / Eye

This five-track bonus disc given out with some copies of Machina is the shortest recording to make my list. It does so because it captures three of Billy’s most successful really-ditch-the-formula tracks, none of which features a particularly notable contribution from Jimmy Chamberlin:

  • The stately and reflective “Blissed and Gone” was apparently too non-opaque for Adore. A quirky sonic background prevents the song from feeling overly sentimental, and Corgan delivers a detail-attentive and subtlely dynamic drum program, adding in vocal samples and piano.
  • “Apathy’s Last Kiss” could only have been released on a seven-inch in the early days of “alternative rock”, and so it was. Several weird layers and effects take the circularity out of a basic acoustic track, resulting in…something…that’s insistently claustrophobic.
  • As the Pumpkins’ first post-Mellon Collie studio work to be released, “Eye” was a shocker. Not only are there no guitars, and not only was it waaaay electronic…it was kinda sexy, which was not what many people expected as the next thing from that ZERO shirt dude. My landlord’s wife came by once while this was playing and I about dove for the volume control. (To turn it down, you damned fappers.)

The other tracks, “Hope” and an acoustic “Mayonaise”, are fine.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #19 2:16 am // Sunday, December 16, 2007

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, live, vieuphoria.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
“Lost ’94 Tapes” (Vieuphoria DVD)

Quiet / Snail / Siva / I Am One / Geek U.S.A. / Soma / Hummer / Silverfuck

Buy it somewhere (google.com)

I used to hold what may be a common belief about the band’s shows from 1994: that they were playing before huge crowds (especially on Lollapalooza) but didn’t yet have the faintest idea how to satisfy huge crowds, “and so the shows sucked.” But after seeing these “lost” recordings (first released in 2002), I laugh at myself for ever having thought that the time between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie could be a low point in Pumpkin history. Yes, the band’s M.O. here seems to be to forget they’re playing for a big audience, but if you can wriggle into their bubble there is some giddy craziness to enjoy.

I do not know which shows these performances come from, and I don’t even know if they’re from Lollapalooza, but it wouldn’t surprise me; there is an intensity that suggests competition afoot. The few shots that take in some of the crowd aren’t too helpful in show identification (has anyone figured it out?). They only reveal that, per usual, some attendees really liked the band’s performance.

Artistically, I think what we see here is the Pumpkins’ 1991-1994 neo-psychedelic period reaching its furthest possible endpoint. I can almost see Billy thinking, “Where is there to go with ‘Snail’ after this? How could we ever top this electric-cello-augmented ‘Soma’ while remaining in this same mode of performance and style?” I also see some of the Mellon Collie Pumpkins peeking out from their shell on a texture-first “I Am One” and, yes, in the noodly “Hummer” coda that features a helpful “Porcelina” chyron.

Most Essential Billy Corgan Recordings: #20 12:47 am // Monday, December 10, 2007

Posted by jjb in essential recordings series, live, mellon collie.
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The Smashing Pumpkins
SOMA, San Diego
January 31, 1996
(or a similar show)

Tonight, Tonight / In the Arms of Sleep / Cupid de Locke / Thirty-three / Today / Soma / Take Me Down / Beautiful / Rhinoceros / Rocket / Disarm / Where Boys Fear to Tread / Zero / Fuck You / Love / To Forgive / Bullet with Butterfly Wings / Thru the Eyes of Ruby / Porcelina of the Vast Oceans / 1979 / Geek U.S.A. / Cherub Rock / Lily / X. Y. U. / Jellybelly / Silverfuck / Farewell and Goodnight

Listen or download (archive.org)

In early 1996, the band played a series of two-set club shows designed to showcase the just-released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in all its variety; the first sets were acoustic, the second sets electric. As if the band wouldn’t feel self-conscious enough playing the sentimental and cheeky Mellon Collie material for its young, cynical audience, they chose to play the already-exposed softer material while wearing pajamas and the knew-your-angst heavier material in over-the-top rock costume. This is the Pumpkins close to their most daring and simultaneously close to their commercial peak, as Mellon Collie and its accompanying antics would eventually cost them the hipsters but immediately win for them the mallrats. Whether or not either demo was interpreting correctly the messages Corgan was sending, densely populated was the shore on which his bottles washed up. I am having fun writing these sentences.

The self-consciousness is particularly palpable before a hipster-dominated crowd on this night, and the band plays up the cheek and irony in its new material until an odd moment after “Beautiful”. Billy picks up a card tossed on the stage and begins to read it aloud in a bemused voice, but then finds himself backed into the unusual position of having to honor a fan request after realizing too late that the card was written in memory of a deceased fan. “That’s so sad,” he says helplessly, before coaxing the band into “Rhinoceros”. The tone of the set turns on a dime, with two passionate numbers from Siamese Dream following to close it out. The electric set is all business until “1979″ loosens things up again. I even find “X. Y. U.” to be sneakily enjoyable. The final encore gives an early look at the delay-pedal madness explored throughout the year on “Silverfuck”.

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