The Smashing Pumpkins' 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'

The Smashing Pumpkins 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' album cover
The Smashing Pumpkins 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' album cover. Virgin Records

On October 24th, 1995, The Smashing Pumpkins released their best selling third album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The double album was the last album completely recorded with the Pumpkins' original lineup of singer/guitarist Billy Corgan, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, guitarist James Iha, and bassist D'arcy Wretzky. The band challenged themselves by breaking new ground sonically and challenged their audience by releasing a 28-song two disc set which sold for over $20 at most stores at the time.

Four years earlier Guns N' Roses released their two albums, Use Your Illusion I and II, as their third and fourth albums. Guns N' Roses gave buyers the option to buy their two simultaneously released albums separately. The Smashing Pumpkins were at the peak of their popularity when Mellon Collie was released and they chose to release the two discs as a single piece of work. The week Mellon Collie was released it immediately claimed the number 1 spot on the Billboard chart.

"The Wall for Generation X"

Inspired by The Beatles two record set The White Album Billy Corgan described Mellon Collie at the time to the press as "The Wall for Generation X" — referring to Pink Floyd's 1979 classic double album. On Smashing Pumpkins breakthrough second album Siamese Dream Corgan took the reins in the studio playing the majority of the guitar and bass parts himself. On Mellon Collie James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky were more involved in recording the album.

 Seeking a fresh sound the band parted ways with producer Butch Vig — who produced their first two albums — and brought in co-producers Flood and Alan Moulder. Flood had the band rehearse in one room prior to entering the studio seeking to capture more of The Smashing Pumpkins' live sound. Corgan approached the album as if it were the band's last and they ultimately recorded 56 songs — which they whittled down to the 28 tracks that made the double album.

Five Singles That Showcase The Smashing Pumpkins' Musical Diversity

Mellon Collie's first single "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" contains the quiet verse/loud chorus guitar oriented style which Smashing Pumpkins were known for and the song was an immediate hit. The song's chorus: "Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage" captured the angst of the times. The song became The Smashing Pumpkins' first Top 40 single reaching number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Second single "1979" showcases the band's musical growth and experimentation with drum machines and synthesizers augmenting the song's clean guitars and sung, not screamed, vocals. "1979" contains catchy lyrics are about Corgan's transition into adolescence at age 12. The song became an unlikely hit and ironically reached number 12 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart becoming The Smashing Pumpkins highest charting single ever.

For their third single "Tonight, Tonight" the band recorded with the 30-piece Chicago Symphony Orchestra string-section creating a grandiose, symphonic rock song in which Corgan asks listeners, "Believe in me as I believe in you." Fourth single "Zero" was a return to the Pumpkin's heavy wall of guitars sound with Corgan proclaiming "I'm in love with my sadness." Fifth single "Thirty-Three" is a stripped-down piano and acoustic guitar song which features no drums or percussion and further highlights Mellon Collie's musical diversity.

Mellon Collie Set The Smashing Pumpkins Apart From Grunge 

With the Mellon Collie album The Smashing Pumpkins distanced themselves musically from the Seattle grunge bands they were sometimes categorized with. The album set the Pumpkin's apart musically with musical adventurous song arrangements that went well beyond the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals arrangements that were popular at the time. By putting out a double album in an era were the last successful double album was by Guns N' Roses, The Smashing Pumpkins also showed that they disregarded what other bands considered cool at the time. Twenty years later Mellon Collie has stood the test of time is best listened to in its entirety. Although Nine Inch Nails' 1999 The Fragile double album has since gone double platinum in the U.S., no rock double album had the same cultural or sales impact as Mellon Collie in the 90s.

 

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness earned The Smashing Pumpkins seven 1997 Grammy nominations and a Grammy win for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal for "Bullet with Butterfly Wings". The Pumpkin's "Tonight, Tonight" video, inspired by French "Cinemagician" Georges Méliès's 1902 silent film A Trip to the Moon, won six awards at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1996 including: Video of the Year, Best Direction, Best Special Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Breakthrough Video. Mellon Collie went on to sell over 9 million copies in the U.S. alone. The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness remains a groundbreaking creative accomplishment and is the best selling rock double album of the 90s.