Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
. . .
The thing, of course, about sprawling double-albums — especially in the CD era where they were off the equivalent of a 3-disc vinyl record — is that you get a chance to stretch out, do tracks that aren’t necessarily what the fans expect.
And so with that freedom Billy Corgan wrote an absolutely tremendous pop single, which literally sounded like nothing his band had yet done, a song that was comparable to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” especially in how it restricted a world-class inventive drummer to playing the simplest 4/4.
Featuring drum loops, keyboards, ghostly sampled vocals and a lyric that was a pure instant nostalgia play on the level of “Night Moves” or “In The Street,” “1979” was one of those songs that could burrow into your soul. Especially if you were anywhere near a radio in 1995. Or 2005. Or 2015. Or, I’m guessing, 2025.
Cool kids never have the time
On a live wire right up off the street
You and I should meet
Junebug skippin’ like a stone
With the headlights pointed at the dawn
We were sure we’d never see an end
To it all
I’m a few years older than Billy Corgan, and I remember 1979 as the year I tried — and mostly failed — to get as many of my friends as was humanly possible to get into The Clash, a band that knew about subverting their fans’ expectations, and also the year my lifelong love for both Bob Dylan and Neil Young kicked into gear.
Anyways, “1979” basically loped along at a mid-tempo pace, quiet guitars pushing it along, and picked up just enough momentum during the keyboard decorated chorus so you knew it was the chorus.
And I don’t even care
To shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know
Just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed
Into the earth below
It also picked up momentum — and an almost-crunchy guitar — during the bridge, when he’s talking about being in a car “faster than we thought we’d go” which puts me in mind of being in that older dude’s Trans Am when he hit 120 on Herndon Ave, back when you could actually drive that fast on Herndon between Blackstone Ave and Highway 99.
I also love that, in the end, when Corgan has run out of things to say, “1979” just ends.
“1979” was the second single from Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, after “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” which made it to #22 on the Billboard pop charts, but was much more of a typical Pumpkins song, starting with Corgan’s acapella “the world is a vampire” and climaxing the the infamous “despite all my rage / I’m still just a rat in a cage” chorus.
I wasn’t the only person who loved “1979,” of course: it made all the way to #12 on the Billboard pop charts and #16 in the U.K. and has not only never left the radio, between Spotify and YouTube, has been streamed half a billion times in the past decade or so. That’s staying power.
And in fact, Billy Corgan liked it so much, he spent the entire next Smashing Pumpkins album — 1998’s Adore — trying to recapture it. To my ears, he failed, though I did enjoy it more a few years ago when I revisited it. After that, things got weird, as Billy Corgan went from being a lovable crank to just a crank. And so, I disliked 2000 Machina, but actually quite liked the free download follow-up Machina II.
After that, Corgan broke up The Smashing Pumpkins for the first time, and while I quite liked 2003’s Mary, Star of the Sea by his next project, Zwan, pretty much nothing he’s done since then, either as a solo artist, or under The Smashing Pumpkins moniker (it was inevitable he’d revive it) has affected me. With one exception: 2012’s Oceania, with only Billy as an original member, is pretty good.
“1979” Official Music Video
“1979” Live at Eurokeenes, 1997
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Ed Arenstein says
Where are all the other comments?! There’s got to be a bunch of people loving the nostalgia swamp you’ve provided.
Completely agree that 1979 is an earworm, but I’ve always thought it was a weak Pumpkins song. I also agree that it seemed to shift Corgan’s focus away from the power and noise that I expected from his band. This song changed the band the way Iris changed the Goo Goo Dolls.
I knew the band when they used to rock and roll.
Oceania was pretty good. Thanks for Certain Songs – truly appreciated.
Jim Connelly says
Thanks!!!! Also: I love “nostalgia swamp.”