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Music

Billy Corgan once named the greatest band of the 1990s

@josephtaysom

Billy Corgan played a central role in shaping the culture of the 1990s, and there is a strong case to be made for The Smashing Pumpkins being the most influential band of their era. However, when asked, Corgan instead elected to choose one of their fiercest rivals to take that title.

Corgan’s fortunes changed completely throughout the decade, and although The Smashing Pumpkins formed in 1988, it wasn’t until 1991 that they released their Butch Vig-produced debut album, Gish. It was an unprecedented success for an indie record, but the goalposts were on the brink of shifting. 

When the band finally managed to make their commercial breakthrough with Siamese Dream in 1993, everything had changed, and they took advantage of the traditional fabric of the mainstream dissipating.

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The landscape had entered what is now seen as a seismic and historical change. The trailblazing emergence of Nirvana made it possible for alternative acts like The Smashing Pumpkins to also become success stories without compromising their integrity. 

Corgan is under no illusions that Nirvana defined the period, and during an Instagram Q&A held in 2018, he said they were the best band of the decade. They single-handedly made The Smashing Pumpkins push themselves after the trio made being weirdos chic, and the sky became the limit.

“To give you context, our record Gish, which was on an independent label called Caroline, at the time was the largest-selling independent record ever released,” Corgan once explained. “I think at that point we had sold about 350,000-400,000 copies, which even today, is still a big number”.

Corgan continued: “Then a little band called Nirvana came out and sold a bazillion copies. Then Pearl Jam sold a bazillion copies, so the standard of what was a successful record, literally changed on us overnight. And here we are, still playing alternative rock. It was a cultural movement, it was a music business movement, it was really a hostile takeover of the systems that existed. Suddenly it was being populated by people who didn’t really care about the perfect photo and the perfect posture. It just felt so different.”

Speaking about Nirvana’s frontman in a separate interview, Corgan remarked: “Kurt Cobain as a lyricist, as a songwriter, as a visionary was a fucking assassin. He was great at what he did and it’s a shame he didn’t do more of it, ’cause he was fucking great at what he did.”

While there was a chasm between both bands, Butch Vig was the clue that aligned them together, with the producer’s fingerprints on GishSiamese Dream, and of course, Nevermind.

The rise of Nirvana made them the voice of rebellion, yet, more impressively, they also acted as a gateway drug into the underground culture and enhanced groups like The Smashing Pumpkins after it became in vogue to wear your unconventionality with pride. 

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