“Flood said, ‘Finish the song or it’s off the record’”: the near-miss story of Smashing Pumpkins’ classic hit 1979

Smashing Pumpkins in 1993
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

1979 was a song that sent the Smashing Pumpkins into a whole new realm, one that joined the worlds of alt-rock, mainsteam pop and 80s electronic grooves, but it nearly never was. As documented in the sleeve notes to the 2012 deluxe box set edition of the Chicago quartet’s third album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, the song was almost discarded and it was down to an ultimatum from producer Flood that it finally found it’s form.

Frontman and band leader Billy Corgan explains that it went through numerous, less successful incarnations to get there. “Every time we tried to play it, it sounded like The Rolling Stones – and not a good way,” he says in the sleeve notes. “It came out too bluesy. We were running out of time. Finally, Flood said, “what’s going on with this song? Tomorrow is D-Day, we either finish this song or it’s off the record’.”

Corgan says that he went home that night, finished the lyrics and came in the next day with a demo version that was remarkably close to the finished song – this take can be heard on disc one of box set’s bonus material, titled 1979 (Sadlands demo)

“Flood said, ‘I love it. Now make it happen’,” Corgan says. “We went in the room and cut it one day. There are all sorts of weird influences on that track: there’s a little Can, obviously some Europop, New Order, there’s even something Sonic Youth-y in the riff. And Flood added that percolating Tangerine Dream thing in the back too. There’s all sorts of weird little pieces of influence that somehow come together and create one of those beautiful synchronicities where everything lined up perfectly.”

It was the last song the Pumpkins recorded for their 1995 double-disc opus, the record that made them 90s megastars. 1979 was released as Mellon Collie...'s second single in January 1996, becoming one of the Pumpkins’ most successful hits. Praise be to Flood for cracking the whip. Watch the video for 1979 below.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.