1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins
By Ron Powers
Halloween is coming up so I thought I’d talk about a song by one of the more spooky bands from the 90s alternative scene. On January 23rd, 1996, The Smashing Pumpkins released “1979” as the second single off their third studio album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. With its use of loops and samples, the song marks a stylistic pivot from anything previously heard by the band. Singer Billy Corgan wrote the song as a nostalgic homage to his 12-year-old self-transitioning into adolescence. The serene and upbeat sound of “1979” bristles with the feeling of being a kid and reaching out into a world full of new and exciting things to explore.
Corgan and the gang begin with a low-fi drum loop textured with metallic sounds that produce a subtle industrial feel. This is followed by the mellow yet bracing guitar work of Corgan and Iha. With quickly played guitar chords and melodic lead line, these brilliant musicians produce a feeling that is simultaneously dark and light. A snappy drum groove, provided by Jimmy Chamberlin, also adds movement and listenability to the music. As a final touch, backing vocals processed with tremolo and reverb effects are added creating a positively ghostly touch to the feeling of “1979”.
Once the band establishes a musical base, we hear a hushed and nasal vocal melody from Billy Corgan. Midway through the first verse section, bass guitar is introduced along with a beefed up drum sound that gives the music depth and richness. This is a subtle but impactful musical move that aligns with the flowing ease of the song yet offers a potent experience to anyone paying attention. At the end of the first verse Corgan sings the lines, “With the headlights pointed at the dawn / We were sure we’d never see an end to it all”. These lyrics accentuate the nostalgic feeling of the song and capture the blissful naivety of youth before learning that nothing shines forever.
The chorus of “1979” is filled with stretching and serene melody notes coupled with poetic lyrics that communicate a feeling that logic wouldn’t dream of touching. Additional musical elements are heard in the background created by processing the guitars with heavy chorus effects and ring modulation. These elements give the song its unique and dreamy shimmer and reflect a sonic prowess that few artists have. Finally, subtle vocal harmonies and percussive elements are added giving the chorus additional lift and contrast from the other song sections.
Unlike many of the top bands of the 1990s, the Smashing Pumpkins have managed to outwit the demons of death and breaking up. The band continues to flex their music making muscles with the release of a three-act rock opera called “ATUM” in May of this year. And just last month they completed The World Is A Vampire Tour with Interpol and Stone Temple Pilots. If you find yourself unable to resist the urge to listen to “1979” or any of The Smashing Pumpkins other epic rock and roll, you can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, and most other places music is streamed or sold. If curiosity is scratching at your brain like a possessed black cat and you need to learn more about the Smashing Pumpkins, have no fear. You can find more info about the band at smashingpumpkins.com, Instagram, X, and Facebook.