From Brian Eno to Bob Dylan: Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha picks his 15 favourite sleeping songs
As a founding member of the iconic 1990s alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins, James Iha became one of his generation’s most iconic guitarists and a landmark name in the formation of rock as we know it today. Here, the musician delivers an incredible ‘mixtape for dreamers’ as he picks out his favourite songs to sleep to.
The artist, who rejoined the Smashing Pumpkins in 2018 alongside Billy Corgan, clearly has an impeccable ear for the most relaxing music around. Iha, who not only picks some beautifully ethereal pieces as part of his mixtape, also adds texture and gravitas to the theme he’s been given with his selections. A mark of the kind of guitarist he is, not happy to just sit back with a heavy grunge sound, Iha’s tonal playing became synonymous with the Pumpkins’ success.
In 2012, with the reunion some years off, Iha met up with The AV Club to pull together a wonderful selection of songs as part of their ‘I Made You A Mixtape’ feature. The premise is that the artist would be set a theme and create the best mixtape they could for their chosen narrative, which sounds like a joy for any muso to complete. In this case, Iha was given the idea of being a dreamer.
His selections are a varied and nuanced list, playing with the whole idea of what a dreamer can be. Iha selects songs that are peaceful, experimental, pulsating, and life-fulfilling—from Neil Young and Elton John to My Bloody Valentine and The Cure, the image we get of Iha’s dreams is that of a true artist, never standing still and refusing to be confined.
First up on the list is Neil Young’s ‘Sugar Mountain,’ which Young wrote about the desperation of getting old, Iha describes his selection of the 1970 track: “‘Sugar Mountain’ is a song for a dreamer because it is a beatific hippie utopian song, and has a touch of darkness to it as well. It sounds almost like he’s talking about a commune because he’s saying, ‘Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain,’ and, ‘You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain.'”
The ‘Today’ guitarist finds room on his list for the original jingle-jangle jam, Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. Iha says: “This is the granddaddy of them all. Dylan is an amazing lyricist and icon. And I thought this one was a stream-of-consciousness song about some sort of pied-piper kind of man.” The song would capture an entire generation in the nineties as its true context became known.
Ending his mixtape with the perennial moods from Britain, The Cure, Iha reflects on how the band offered recognition for him as a high school kid. He explained: “When I was in high school, I would listen to this song, and it was such a rewarding thing for a sad person to listen to if that makes sense.”
The song concludes a very well constructed and very well thought out playlist for dreamers. While we marvel over the selections we perhaps shouldn’t be so surprised, if there’s one thing that James Iha is, it’s well thought out.
Find below the full list as well as a playlist below that. Happy dreaming.