A flurry of recent activity – most notably 2020’s excellent 11th album Cyr – has confirmed that The Smashing Pumpkins are anything but a spent force, over three decades on from their emergence in the Chicago alt. underground. When it comes to ranking their greatest tracks, however, it’s impossible not to be immediately drawn to that extended period in the 1990s where they bridged the grunge, goth and industrial rock phenomena (adding countless esoteric flourishes all their own) to an establish a reputation as one of the biggest and best bands on the planet.
Frontman Billy Corgan has always been the tormented genius force at the heart of everything, plumbing his past traumas and an outsider mindset to endlessly fascinating effect, but the original axis of bassist D’arcy Wretzky, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin deserve credit as one of the most iconic alt.rock line-ups of their generation, effortlessly able to channel the often-understated electricity of their music. Their involvement in so many of the tracks here is particularly telling, while James and Jimmy’s recent return to the fold feels inextricably linked to the past few years’ upturn in form.
With such variety and shape-shifting influence stretched out over a catalogue that’s now close to 400 songs deep, everyone will have a Top 20 to suit their own tastes. The cross-section we’ve chosen is a hell of a showcase, though. If we’ve omitted your favourite, let us hear about it. We’ll be there, smiling politely.