Rolling Stone magazine best sums up ‘1979’ as “a mid tempo tune that looks back on the aimless fun of adolescene with a touch of melancholy and longing.” It is a song that still stands the test of time, no matter what generation of youth choose to listen to it. Though, I don’t think you have to be young to appreciate its sentiment. I often find myself nowadays cranking up the volume on 1979, simply because it is a beautiful song. And so while I’m thinking about it, that hypnotic rollercoaster of chord changes (on guitar) and the effortless drumbeat, always seems to set my mood, in recalling the vivid memories of my youth, that helped me become the person that I am today.
Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan chose 1979 for the title, not necessarily to represent a time of youth in the late seventies, but because it sounded good in a rhyme scheme. Corgan also confesses that 1979 was a year as good as any other.
Like all good songwriters, Corban captures the essence of life as a teen. He reflects upon his own experiences, but also highlights some of the typical feelings associated around insecurity, unease and longing of youth. We are reminded also that as young people, we often feel that living in the moment will never end, only to discover that all good things sometimes do come to an end.
Interestingly, the song almost didn’t make it onto the album ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ because co- producer Mark “Flood” Ellis thought that it wasn’t “good enough”. Here’s what Billy Corgan said years ago when asked about its troubled birth: “(Flood) just said, ‘Not good enough,’ and was ready to drop it, but I had a gut feeling about this song from the very beginning. It was almost like I was afraid to go where this song was taking me. It’s the kind of song that if I thought about doing it on the previous albums, I’d have questions about whether I’d sound shitty doing it. It’s just not the typical Pumpkins song. So when he was hesitating about putting it on, it riled me. I thought, ‘No fucking way, this is not another toss-off song.’ It really inspired me to finish it and prove him wrong. So that night I wrote the entire song in about four hours. The next day Flood heard it one time and said, ‘It’s on the album.”
The song would go on to become a successful single, peaking at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1996. Today, it stands as one of the great songs of the nineties, and easily in anyone’s top 5 list of Smashing Pumpkin songs.
*This article was originally published in September 2016. It has been updated here with a new introduction and some additional quotes.