(Credit: Olivia Bee)

The reason why Smashing Pumpkins were banned from Top of the Pops

Following a commercial breakthrough in 1993 with their album Siamese Dream, the Smashing Pumpkins became one of the most influential and critically acclaimed alternative-rock bands of the late 20th century. However, the 1990s was also a time when the members were distraught with conflicts within the band, especially with the pressure of having to break through to widespread popularity. It was one of the most distressing times for the band to be working on an album, but, fortunately, they made it work in the end.

Creating the album, frontman Billy Corgan’s domineering attitude, with him wanting to play all the bass and guitar parts on the album, was met with a lot of repulsion and resentment from the other members. The band’s drummer, Jimmy Chamberlain, was suffering from a severe case of heroin addiction, and guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky had just ended a romantic relationship. On top of that, Corgan was going through his worst bout of writer’s block.

Corgan’s mental health, too, was on a steady decline. Depression and suicidal thoughts plagued him, and Corgan, who was the lead songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the band, spent most of his time in the studio to escape from everything else. The songs that he wrote at this point, ‘Today’ and ‘Disarm’ being a few of them, reflected Corgan’s anxieties quite prominently.

‘Disarm’ was the third single off their second album Siamese Dream, which became a top hit in a number of countries. However, the song’s lyrical content resulted in it being banned by the BBC in the UK. According to Corgan, the song was an echo of the kind of relationship he had with his parents while growing up. The ground for the composition of the song came from Corgan’s anger at his parents for always dispiriting him and making him feel low. He himself said, “I never really had the guts to kill my parents, so I wrote a song about it instead.”

However, the song’s lyrics were interpreted in more than one way. While Corgan’s own explanation sided with the song being about his parents, many amongst the audience, especially in the UK, connected it to being about the gruesome murder of two-year-old James Bulger, who was killed by two ten-year-olds who left his body on the rail tracks to be dismembered by an oncoming train. This was a lesser-known event outside the UK so, most people were unaware of the connotations if that was what it meant at all.

The more common view was that the song’s lyrics pointed to the subject of abortion. With lyrics such as, “Cut that little child/ Inside of me and such a part of you” and “The killer in me is the killer in you”, the song led to controversy as many considered it to be a reference to abortion. It led to ‘Disarm’ being banned by the BBC from its music TV show Top of the Pops because of the song’s implications. In spite of the limited radio time and the ban, the song charted fairly well and became one of the most played tracks by the band.

‘Disarm’ caused a lot of controversy because of its lyrics implying the idea of abortion. Why abortion is still a controversy, though, is something that eludes us. It’s simple. The woman’s body is the woman’s choice, and none of anybody else’s business. As much as times have changed and things have changed for the better, the discourse of pro-life vs pro-choice remains a crucial debate to this day. To say that the song would not face criticism if it were released in the current times would be a naïve conclusion to come to. Abortion, unfortunately, even today, remains a matter of legal and social wrongdoing. And if not a punishable crime, it still exists in the lawbooks with a plethora of clauses surrounding it. The BBC took a rather easy way out by not linking itself to the song that ignited controversies surrounding the topic of abortion. But, here’s something to ponder on – perhaps, it’s not a problem with the song. 

Perhaps, it’s a problem with the society that believes they have a right to exercise control over the body of the woman and dictate the decisions that the woman ought to make regarding her own body. It is vile and cruel, and frankly, all too primitive – a blotch on the society that considers itself to be progressive.