This weekend (May 28) sees the 25-year anniversary of the debut album from one of the finest alt-rock bands to ever grace planet Earth.
The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Gish hit record stores a quarter of a century ago, and kick-started an influential career.
The band would become hugely successful with 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but they were perfecting their gigantic, overdriven sound years before that.
Here are 25 things you (probably) didn’t know about Gish:
1. It took ten years to release the ‘I Am One’ video
Originally shot in 1991, clips were included in 1994’s long-from music video Vieuphoria (the #Lemonade of its day?), but the full version was not released until 2001 compilation DVD The Smashing Pumpkins – Greatest Hits Video Collection (1991–2000).
2. The track also had a ‘rant section’
Frontman Billy Corgan would often insert improvised speeches into the track’s bass break section, sometimes running 4 – 6 minutes in length. Abrasive in nature, some of the rants contained lyrics for future songs, and the section became known among fans as “the ‘I Am One’ rant”.
3. And it was one of the few Pumpkins tracks to feature a shared credit
Original guitarist James Iha contributed to ‘I Am One’, and was actually credited for the help. Shared credits are relatively rare in the Pumpkins’ discography, with Corgan usually taking all the glory.
4. Corgan was obsessed with the name ‘Siva’
He came up with the word before even writing the track, labeled dozens of tapes with its name, and even considered naming the band ‘Siva’.
5. Though it had a few tricky connections
The song was originally titled ‘Shiva’, referring to the Tantric concepts of Shiva and Shakti. But upon realising that the name was more readily connected with the Hindu god Shiva, he removed the letter “h” from the title to lessen this association.
6. Not all of the band liked ‘Rhinocerous’
Despite it being one of the Pumpkins’ finer tracks in hindsight, not all of the members were on board with ‘Rhinocerous’, with bassist D’arcy Wretzky audibly protesting playing “that real slow one” on an early radio performance.
7. The video for ‘Rhinoceros’ references Corgan’s pre-Pumpkins tastes
Before Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan and guitarist James Iha’s first band featured just the two of them and a drum machine, making synth-pop music influenced by The Cure and New Order. The ‘Rhinoceros’ video is heavily inspired by The Cure’s ‘Close to Me‘ promo.
8. And it features the band in London’s Hyde Park
Some live footage is also used in the video, but it didn’t turn out as planned. The solution? Grab a camera and pose in Hyde Park to make up for it.
9. Corgan liked his feedback
Of course, getting that trademark big, overdriven guitar sound isn’t easy, with studio sessions involving countless overdubs to get everything sounding just thick enough. Reportedly, ‘Rhinoceros’ features 17 tracks of feedback within the finished mix.
10. The recording sessions nearly ended the band
The sessions put an intense strain on them, with bassist D’arcy Wretzky later commenting that she did not know how the band survived it, and Corgan explaining he suffered a nervous breakdown.
11. Corgan considers the record a ‘spiritual’ album
During an MTV Rockumentary special on band, Corgan explained:
“The album is about pain and spiritual ascension. People ask if it’s a political album. It’s not a political album, it’s a personal album.”
12. He also felt the vocals were the least important element
From the same ‘Rockumentary’:
“In a weird kind of way, Gish is almost like an instrumental album – it just happens to have singing on it, but the music overpowers the band in a lot of places.”
13. The album was named after a silent film icon
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1990, Corgan said:
“My grandmother used to tell me that one of the biggest things that ever happened was when Lillian Gish rode through town on a train, my grandmother lived in the middle of nowhere, so that was a big deal…”
14. Though he did offer a jokier explanation too
During a fan Q&A on the Rockline Radio Show in 1998, Corgan joked that the album was originally going to be called Fish, but was changed to Gish to avoid comparisons to jam band Phish.
15. It was the highest-selling independently released album of all time
…until The Offspring’s 1994 album Smash came along.
16. ‘Tristessa’ saw the band flirt with Sub Pop
Before the Pumpkins signed to Caroline Records, their one and only release with Sub Pop came with ‘Tristessa’, released as the label’s single of the month, and arguably the track that began it all for the band.
17. They picked some strange anniversaries
In 2008 the band announced they would be celebrating the album’s anniversary with a special edition box-set re-release. Confusingly, the release was set to commemorate the album’s 17th birthday. Delays to the process meant the set was finally released on the much more logical 20th anniversary in 2011.
18. It was a grower
Upon its release, Gish only reached number 195 on America’s Billboard chart, but it has since gone on to be certified platinum, and is one of the most beloved cult albums of all time.
19. They took their time over it
Producer Butch Vig, speaking to EQ Magazine in 2008, said:
“[Corgan] wanted to make everything sound amazing and see how far he could take it; really spend time on the production and the performances.That was a godsend… Having that luxury to spend hours on a guitar tone or tuning the drums…”
20. It sounded ahead of the curve
Countless bands have emulated the Smashing Pumpkins’ big guitar sound since, but for the time, Gish sounded unlike anything else out there, using unprocessed drum recordings (the trend at the time was to use samples in the studio) and an exacting, unique guitar sound.
21. But it had to sound that way to counteract drunk fans
In an interview with Uncut, Corgan recalled the thinking behind the album’s production:
“In Chicago… on a Thursday, if people are there, they’re drinking and they’re talking, and the music has to be really focused. So with Butch Vig we said, ‘Can you make this have a kind of kinetic power?'”
22. Corgan commanded its creation
Even back in 1991 the imposing front man was stamping his authority over everything, playing many of the guitar and bass parts on the record.
23. It was an instant critical success
And it inspired some pretentious reviews too. The Toronto Star said it contained “either galloping riffs or trippy feedback hazes”, and Rolling Stone praised its “meticulously calculated chaos”.
24. But not everyone liked it
Despite the record being a resounding critical hit, veteran rock writer (and noted music curmudgeon) Robert Christgau gave the album a paltry one star, saying “hey, why not?”
25. It could’ve been way longer
The 10 tracks on Gish (11 if you count hidden track ‘I’m Going Crazy’) could’ve been joined by more if an additional 10 had made the cut. Those tracks were released as B-sides to the singles.