Article by Arthur van Pelt
Welcome back, dear Smashing Pumpkins fans and collectors, to the ‘extreme collecting’ series! Let’s continue our journey in 2013 with even more rarities and highly sought after memorabilia from our favorite band. This episode will take us back to the first full album Smashing Pumpkins released. Indeed, the commercial release of the album itself is not rare… But wait until you have seen all the rare artwork from all the CD pressings come together… With an extremely rare pressing to top it off!
Gish, the worldwide releases from the 1990s
Now, who thought all those different Zeitgeist album covers were over the top? When they were released in 2007, there was nothing new about them, at least not for the world of Smashing Pumpkins. In the first half of the 1990s, Smashing Pumpkins did exactly the same thing with their debut album Gish, although on a more subtle scale. And it was most probably unintentional and not part of a marketing strategy, as it was with Zeitgeist.
First a brief history of the making of the album, and the intense touring that supported its release. Most of the information below is taken from Starla.org and Wikipedia.org.
The album was named after silent film icon Lillian Gish. In an interview, Billy Corgan said, “My grandmother used to tell me that one of the biggest things that ever happened to her was when Lillian Gish rode through town on a train. My grandmother lived in the middle of nowhere, so that was a big deal…”. Later, Corgan joked that the album was originally going to be called Fish, but was changed to Gish to avoid comparisons to jam band Phish.
Gish was recorded from December 1990 to March 1991 in Butch Vig’s Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, on a budget of $20,000. Vig and Corgan worked together as co-producers. The longer recording time and larger budget were unprecedented for Vig, who later remembered:
‘[Corgan] wanted to make everything sound amazing and see how far he could take it; really spend time on the production and the performances. For me that was a godsend because I was used to doing records for all the indie labels and we only had budgets for three or four days. Having that luxury to spend hours on a guitar tone or tuning the drums or working on harmonies and textural things… I was over the moon to think I had found a comrade-in-arms who wanted to push me, and who really wanted me to push him.’
The album’s sessions, lasting 30 working days, were brisk by Pumpkins’ standards, largely because of the group’s inexperience. The recording sessions put an intense strain on the band, 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 tracks made it to the album that was released to most countries on May 24, 1991, although Asia had to wait till September 21, 1991 before they could slide the album into their CD players. “I Am One”, the opening track (the only song written by Billy Corgan in collaboration with James Iha; all other songs were written by Corgan alone), is followed by “Siva”, “Rhinoceros”, “Bury Me”, “Crush”, “Suffer”, “Snail”, “Tristessa”, “Window Paine”, “Daydream” (with D’Arcy Wretzky on vocals), with the hidden track “I’m Going Crazy” closing the album. Four of these album tracks, being “I Am One”, “Rhinoceros”, “Bury Me” and “Daydream”, were previously recorded by the band in 1989, but all four songs were re-recorded for Gish. This is the reason why the 1990 7” vinyl version of “I Am One” lasts 11 seconds longer, and sounds slightly different from the Gish album version.
Lots of other songs were written and recorded for the Gish album in this period, but they did not make it to the final cut. Amongst them, “Pulseczar” (released on Earphoria in 1994 (limited promo CD) and 2002 (album release)), “Smiley” (released on the Peel Sessions EP, and a demo version also appears on the 2011 deluxe reissue of Gish), “Crawl” (released on the 2012 deluxe reissue of Pisces Iscariot) and “Purr Snickety” (released as a “B-Sides Session Outtake” from the Gish sessions on the 2012 deluxe reissue of Pisces Iscariot, after it was used as B-side to the 7” clear vinyl single of “Cherub Rock” in 1993 in a limited, numbered, release of 5,000 copies. 12 months later the song also appeared on the “Cherub Rock” 7” black vinyl in the Siamese Singles box set.).
We also know about the songs “Blue” (released on the Lull EP in 1991, and on the Pisces Iscariot album in 1994), “Obscured” (B-side of the Today single in 1993, re-released on Pisces Iscariot), “Slunk” (so far only released on the Lull EP), “Why Am I So Tired?” (much later released on the Earphoria promo CD in 1994, and in 2002 on its official album release, and more recently it appeared on the 2012 deluxe reissue of Pisces Iscariot again as a track on its bonus CD), “Jesus Loves His Babies” (appears on Mashed Potatoes, and a rough mix was also released on the 2012 deluxe reissue of Pisces Iscariot as a bonus track), “La Dolly Vita” (originally the B-side to Tristessa, it appeared on the 1994 release of Pisces Iscariot, was re-released on the 2012 deluxe version of Pisces Iscariot, and a slightly different mixed version was released on the 2011 deluxe reissue of Gish).
Once the band had unleashed Gish, they embarked upon a gruelling 18-month world tour. Billy Corgan later recalled: “Back then I felt we’d really hit on something. When we toured, the band became ultra-aggressive. By early ’92 we had become this lean, mean, on the edge, completely rockin’ machine. With a little bit of wizardry and a little bit of sheer will, we were either blowing people’s minds, or they hated us.”
Billy Corgan had a positive take on the new album. A few years after its release, he told Guitar School Magazine: “I think Gish is a pretty good album. It definitely defined our band’s sound. I’m not proud of it in some ways – I think I could have been a more original in places – but in terms of some things, the guitars for example, I think it’s pretty cool.”
The band played at the Reading Festival in Reading, UK on August the 29th. It proved to be a disastrous show and nearly led to a break-up. On the In Conversation interview CD, Corgan describes the show, saying: “when fifty-thousand people talk, you can definitely notice, so there’s that pressure to really be good. And then you know, you don’t get a sound check, you’re walking onto a big, huge stage, you have people working there who normally don’t work, your stuff, instead of being ten feet away is twenty feet away, so it makes the sound different. And that’s nobody’s fault, but if you get used to working under similar conditions, it all gets thrown to the dogs.”
During an ill-tempered set, Corgan smashed up his equipment. This included his guitar, which apparently struck the record company president in the head. Halfway up the bill, the Pumpkins had been expected to “do a Nirvana” and liven up the event as the Seattle-based band had done the year before. However, the Pumpkins failed to do as was hoped, and sadly the atmosphere reeked of failure, increased by the presence of Nirvana who were headlining the following day. Corgan later admitted that the band was upset at each other and “it was one of a handful of times where we’ve let each other down”.
By September of 1992, the toll of touring was even more clearly evident. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was hitting the bottle. D’Arcy Wretzky and James Iha, who had been dating, had now broken up and were finding life in a band intolerable. And Billy Corgan was going completely mad…
Despite the internal issues, the album was made, and released worldwide. We would like to give a quick run-down of the Gish CD album artwork, as it was originally released in 1991 and for the re-mastered version released in 1994. Sometimes it pays to just open the jewel case, and check what is inside. A Smashing Pumpkins collector that owns all the Gish CD versions from the list below, and also owns all the rare Asian Gish pressings from Japan, Korea and Taiwan (released with a white obi, and with a green obi) that are not presented here, can proudly consider him or herself to be an ‘Extreme Collector ’.
On a side-note, the five main coloured versions of the Zeitgeist album release (red, yellow, purple, green and silver) include (slightly) different track listings for each colour with the exception of the green-colored Zeitgeist (it contains the same tracks as the red version). With the Gish album releases in the 1990s, this was not the case; it never came with additional and/or bonus tracks (apart from ”I’m Going Crazy”) or a different track listing anywhere in the world, at least not as far as we know.
Gish silver CD, as released in Australia (left) and in The Netherlands (right) in 1991
This type of silver CD, with different designs, can also be found in Germany, the United Kingdom and South Africa (with the infamous typo on the CD for the song “Tristessa”: Fristessa). At the moment, we can only presume there was no official artwork designed for the CD disc itself when the album was released in 1991 (first with the Caroline Records label, quickly followed by a Virgin Records/Hut Recordings release when Gish was just released). As a result, it appears every CD manufacturer worldwide was allowed to come up with their own design for the CD disc.
Gish purple CD, as released in the US (left, with band photo) and in Japan (right) in 1991
Two other types of CD appeared in the US and in Japan: a purple CD. Japan kept it rather straightforward, with a text-only CD, whereas in the US those purchasing Gish were treated to a CD featuring a band photo , and the name of the band and the album in the album font. Note that there is no track listing printed on the CD, and that the image of the Japanese CD on the right is from the promotional release. It contains the text “SAMPLE” and some Japanese symbols on the inner ring of the CD.
Gish re-mastered red CD, as released in Australia (left) and Brazil (right) in 1994
In 1994, the Gish album was (slightly) re-mastered and reissued for the first time. The design of the CD artwork for this re-mastered release became somewhat more uniform, as demonstrated in the images above and below. Japan also followed this design for the CD in 1994.
Colour variations on the Gish re-mastered CD, as released in Italy (left) and United Kingdom (right)
Gish re-mastered purple CD, as released in Canada (left, with band photo), and United States (right, with the promo release pictured . The commercial release came without the stamped promo text).
This list closes with what is undoubtedly the most beautiful colour the Gish CD album has been featured in. However, it is an extremely limited pressing, and (almost) impossible to find.
Gish limited gold CD, released in United States in 1994 to commemorate the RIAA Gold sales status
No more than 200 of these gold Gish CDs are known to have been pressed for the band and label employees, and relatives/media partners. They came with a little note, that states:
‘Hey Caroline Working Stiff!!!*
As you probably know, Smashing Pumpkins Gish has been certified “gold” (sales in excess of 500,000 units) by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
In commemoration of this achievement – the first gold record in Caroline Label’s history – we would like you to have this special extremely rare (less than 200) gold disc copy of Gish.
Thanks for all your efforts. Let’s go platinum.
And Gish did indeed go platinum, certified by the RIAA on February 5, 1999 for reaching 1,000,000 albums shipped and sold in the US.
Discovering and hunting down all these rare pressings of The Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album, from all over the world, is what makes collecting fun. Great fun! See you again next week, when we will look at an extremely rare promotional CD containing a live concert of Smashing Pumpkins that was played and recorded in a very, very unusual place!
*The note really says ‘Stiff’.