In a Guitar World exclusive, Billy Corgan, with some help from Smashing Pumpkins pal James Iha, personally dissects the songs on the band's five-CD collection of singles and B-sides, The Aeroplane Flies High.
Our not-so-innocent obsession with B-sides began innocently enough in 1991, when after recording our debut album, Gish, we were asked if we had any additional songs that could be used as a flipside to a single. Instead of choosing a song I didn't like, I took it as a challenge to put out something special and different. Since then, we have released about 60 extra tracks--or the modern equivalent of five additional albums.
Even I admit that this is excessive, but I just consider it the logical extension of the special things I used to put on tapes for my friends. On this album, we have included everyone in by releasing almost everything we had.
For our new singles collection, The Aeroplane Flies High (Virgin), we put together all 28 Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin, 1995) B-sides in one package. There is no filler and no live tracks--just more and more and more songs. Recorded between the cracks of touring in literally every available moment and ever possible situation, these songs are very much a labor of love.
Here is a track-by-track insight with James explaining his songs and me trying to explain mine.
The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)
A brief snippet of this tune, which was originally entitled "Disconnected," is found in the "Pastichio Medley." This is a Mellon Collie riff that I could never seem to find a change for. [Producer] Flood didn't like this one much ("too heavy metal"--a common complaint), and I never finished it until right before it was recorded. Essentially a new song with an old riff, with spoken word bits courtesy of my friends. The solo, funnily enough, was quickly thrown down because I had to go to a funeral. It was supposed to be a reference for where to pick up when I came back. But when I returned, I was surprised with how much I like it.
James Iha: This was another song recorded the day after the music for the album was done. It's supposed to be an uplifting song, but it has the undercurrent of longing, depression, sadness, etc.... The opening guitar was played on a Gibson J-100XTRA, which has got this great, wide-open sound, and there's a clean electric guitar doubling it but mixed way back to give a chorusing "sparkle." There are also two bass tracks on most of the song, played on a weird Epiphone bass that I bought for a hundred dollars at a pawn shop, and which also got used a lot on Siamese Dream. On the track, one plays chords high up and the other just plays the root notes to give it some weight.
James Iha: I wrote "The Bells" two or three years ago, and each instrument was seemingly recorded about six or seven months apart--not really on purpose, but just as a demo that kept growing. I recorded the acoustic guitars at my old apartment, and then, after I moved, I recorded Eric Remschneider's cello part in my basement. Then, for this single, I had another friend, Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy), play piano, and then D'arcy and I did the vocals. I like the song because it is very simple but has a twist in the time signatures--sort of in the Nick Drake style.
A home demo recorded in my bedroom the day it was written, this one was never supposed to come out. I never really liked it much, but a lot of my friends said it was one of their favorite songs. At the last minute it replaced a song called "Towers of Rabble", because I think I liked that one even less.
James Iha: This is a New Wave song that has the power-pop Jazzmaster sound. I have this late-Sixties Jazzmaster with a warped neck that looks cool but isn't really good to play. There's also this funny guitar-drum break in the middle of the song where I hang a chord and use my whammy bar. Flood liked this song but it just didn't fit the album.
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Believe it or not, the original riff from this song came to me during one of the Siamese Dream recording sessions. Somewhere, I have a tape of us from 1993 endlessly playing the "world is a vampire" part over and over. But it wasn't until a year and a half later that I finished the song, writing the "rat in the cage" part on an acoustic guitar at the BBC studios in London on the same day that "Landslide" was recorded.
Of all the B-sides, this song is probably my biggest regret. I never spent as much time on it as it probably deserved, with this version showing very little improvement from the demo. This one probably should have made the album. I love its feeling and atmosphere, the warbly guitar courtesy of an effect that changes the oscillation in ration to signal input (the harder you hit it, the faster it goes). The basic tracks were recorded during the Mellon Collie sessions.
Clones (We're All)
A fairly obscure Alice Cooper song from his early-Eighties New Waver period. It was rehearsed and recorded in about an hour. I first heard this song when a Chicago band called Radio Fashion used to play it in the late Eighties.
A great nihilistic song; this is the Missing Persons' lament of nothingness. I love the lyrics to this song. The first-grade techno vibe evolved out of boredom with some of the rock and roll-y things that we'd been working on.
This is a cover of the Blondie classic from the late Seventies, with D'arcy handling most of the vocals. We decided to do this with a breezy hippity-hop vibe, with a little Joy Division thrown in for good measure. Interestingly enough, this song was plagued with all sorts of technical problems that made mixing it a technical nightmare--vocals with electrical noises, drum loops with scratch guitars recorded over them, etc.
Forever slated as a Mellon Collie song-to-be, "God" just couldn't cut it in the end. The beat was probably a little too close to "Bullet," but it still rocks hard. It was tracked during the Mellon Collie sessions, with overdubs and vocals added much later.
This was supposed to be the Mellon Collie gospel song, and a rough version even exists with all the band members singing. This version is my home demo, cut on the same morning as "Stumbleine."
The Last Song
This is the only B-side written entirely after Mellon Collie was completed; I always seem to write little burst of songs in the momentum of finishing an album (see "Drown"). I thought for a while about holding this song for our next record, but in the end I decided that it was so in the spirit of Mellon Collie that it was best served as an extra track. I never intended to have a guitar solo, but my father was hanging out with me at the studio, so I asked him to play on it. Every time I hear this song, I burst with pride to hear my father's great, and very influential to me, guitar playing.
Marquis in Spades
The band never really liked this song. They were always snickering at it, but I always liked its sheer brutality. It was recorded live on my 8-track cassette recorder, on which I've done almost all my demos since before Gish.
Medellia of the Grey Skies
Originally entitled "E.P.," this song was briefly considered for Mellon Collie as a companion piece to "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans." I could never seem to finish the lyrics until right before it was recorded, live with my pals from The Frogs. This song turned out much more beautiful then I ever dreamed possible, teaching me yet another lesson in spontaneity.
Another believe it or not, this left-over from Siamese Dream was written in the last-minute crush. Butch Vig never thought much of it, but it is one of my secret favorites. A simple song of innocence that has double-tracked, finger picked acoustic and drum machine, and was recorded at home.
Mouth of Babes
During the year and a half of Siamese Dream touring, we tried to work on all sorts of new songs. From all the endless jams and tapes, this song and "Marquis in Spades" were the only ones that survived. A favorite at soundcheck with non-lyrics forever. Another heavy metal victim, or at least too much like a Siamese Dream track.
My Blue Heaven
I've wanted to cover this song for five years, but found it impossible to learn, as I can't seem to learn anyone else's songs. Written in 1927, this song is a well-known standard. I though about doing this more futuristically, but in the end opted to let it be beautiful in its simplicity.
A Night Like This
James Iha: This is one of my favorite Cure songs, but in doing a cover we always try to change something about it. I decided to make it a slow, acoustic dirge with different drum feels for each part instead of a straight beat through the whole song. There's also a cello, which gives it a gothic feel. At the end it sorta rocks out with some Big Muff and Neil Young & Crazy Horse kind of rhythm guitars.
The most frequently asked question about "1979" is, "What is the 'ooh-ahh-ahh' sound at the end of every phrase?" Flood and I were tracking the song, and I started humming the "oohs" like a melody line. I sang them to tape, we sampled the pertinent ones, electronically manipulated them, and looped them against the drum beat. One of my favorite songs from the album.
This is our growingly infamous riff collection of practically, but not almost, every idea that was attempted for Mellon Collie that didn't even make B-side status. I sorted through hundreds of hours of rehearsal and album tapes, and kind of randomly ran small bits all together to create a pastiche of madness. The original titles were all used.
One of those songs that I write in 10 minutes and can't seem to shake off. I like this song a lot, and find myself humming it about the house, as it is a very rare example of actual Pumpkin humor in a song. Recorded live to the 8-track cassette, with a few acoustic 12-string overdubs just to give it a little zing. This was our second choice for a take; the better was lost when the engineer forgot to press "record."
A home demo that I just didn't have the heart or energy to go back and record. I like the lyrics a lot, and if I had spent more time on it it probably should have been on the album. It was written in the initial post-Lollapalooza batch ("33," "Jupiter's Lament," "Methusela," "Ugly") of acoustically tinged songs. It has double-tracked fingerpicked guitar--all the better to hide those little mistakes--with a few choice keyboard overdubs bleeding through the vocal mikes.
James Iha: A fun song to write and record. It's sort of my version of a country duet song. I recorded this the day after we finished the music for the album, and had a friend of mine, Nina Gordon (of Veruca Salt), sing with me because she's got great tone and character in her voice. The guitar fills and slide guitar are in the style of Derek & the Dominoes, Clarence Whie, the Byrds and the Allman Brothers. We did one track of guitar fills with a Les Paul through an MXR phaser with a clean sound, as well as another track of Les Paul slide guitar which gives the song kind of a romantic sound, most of which was done in one or two takes.
Set the Ray to Jerry
Another remnant of a distant Siamese Dream past, "Set the Ray to Jerry" was first written somewhere during the Gish tour. It's always been a band favorite, and seemingly only the band's, because no one ever mentions it. A sweet, simple song featuring only bass, drums, and some delayed James guitar. One night Flood and I put everything we had on a coupld of tapes (about 40 songs) and just drove around until 3:30 in the morning deciding what was on or off the album. When we listened to "Set the Ray", it really moved me, but when I looked over to Flood he just shook his head no. That was the end of "Set the Ray" on the album, because I trust Flood's opinion so much.
A simple song in a country tuning, "Thirty-Three" was the first song that I wrote when I came home from all the Siamese Dream touring. I took three days off, and this was literally the first thing that came out of my hands when I sat down. I was living in my new house for the first time, and this song conveys all of that. The "cha-cha-cha" sound is my drum machine through a flanger, and what you hear is the same one right off the demo because I couldn't remember how to recreate it. The stringy sounds are part Vocoder, plus five slide guitars tuned to one note each to create the chords.
When we were still in the middle of Siamese Dream touring, I booked us into a local Chicago studio to put all of our ideas down to tape, without censorship of opinions, etc. "Tonight" was one of those ideas, but it was originally in the key of C instead of G. The only problem was I couldn't sing it in C, so I figured out the version on Mellon Collie to suit my limited range. I never thought "Tonight, Tonight" would be a single. I just didn't think people would get it. Also, I have to say that recording the 30-piece string section was probably one of the most exciting recording experiences I have ever had.
Originally slated to go on towards the end of the Mellon Collie album, this one was hacked off in the name of "When is enough too much?" I had just come back from the Chicago Bulls' tragic loss to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs, and was very depressed. My voice was hoarse from so much shouting. Flood threw up his famous mikes, and I just did it live. I used my trusty Gibson acoustic, with the rusty strings.
Flood though that "Transformer" was almost like a novelty song. But I always liked that crazy go-go beat. Recorded in Sydney, Australia and Chicago, this song has about nine rhythm guitars, all playing the same three notes. Also, many of the guitars were sampled out and destroyed going back in.
Tribute to Johnny
Our tribute to Johnny Winter, circa 1974; a true original, and one of my favorite guitarists.
Slated as an album song until the very last moment, when Mellon Collie was cut from 31 to 28 songs, this is an interesting interpretation of what had essentially been an acoustic song. Flood and I tried about four different versions before settling on this one [see Queen's Hot Space album]. One version that I liked was just me and a distorted guitar. But in the end this version won, only to be mixed into eternal obscurity as a B-side.
You're All I've Got Tonight
A really great Cars song, stripped of everything but the most basic riff to emphasize the heavy double-tracked drumming. Also, we added a Bay City Rollers-style stomp, with me and about eight of my friends stomping along with the third verse nicely out of time.
We like to call his style of our music "cyber metal". "Zero" has six rhythm guitars, with two line-in 12-string acoustics, plus those wacky Iha leads. Tracked live with overdubs added later, this is a true mover as well as the first song that was recorded for Mellon Collie. James has always said this remind him of Judas Priest.