Set the Ray to Jerry by The Smashing Pumpkins: Great B-Sides

I’m just the right age to have accumulated a collection of friends who were obsessed by The Smashing Pumpkins. One friend went for at least two years where he listened to at least one Pumpkins song every single day. Another spent much of a 1995 Boys’ Brigade camp listening to the just-released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that he’d just had time to copy onto cassettes for his Walkman before the camp. A third opined that Corgan lost his powers where he shaved his head shortly after releasing Mellon Collie.

Chief Pumpkin Billy Corgan was certainly on a creative streak in the early to mid-1990s. Between Siamese Dream, the outtakes collection Pisces Iscariot, the triple-LP length Mellon Collie, and the collection of b-sides compiled on 1996’s The Aeroplane Flies High (which showcased almost 30 new outtakes, although some were covers or written by guitarist James Iha). In this era, The Smashing Pumpkins released about 7 hours of new music recorded between December 1992 and August 1995, much of it written by Corgan, while even more music would surface on later reissues of Mellon Collie and The Aeroplane Flies High.

‘Set the Ray to Jerry’ is one of many Pumpkins outtakes that surfaced on The Aeroplane Flies High, as a b-side to 1989. It shares the gentle insistence of ‘1979’, moodily intense but never launching into a full-blooded rocker. It’s simple, with just drums, a simple James Iha guitar lead, and Corgan on bass. It was apparently written during the Gish tour, and dates back to the Siamese Dream sessions – Corgan told Guitar World that producer Flood vetoed the song.

There are different explanations for the meaning of ‘Set the Ray to Jerry’. In a fan Ask Me Anything on Reddit, Corgan claimed that it was an inside joke, where he sometimes referred to himself as Jerry. Bassist D’arcy Wretzky had an alternative story, where the title referred to the intensity of her father. ‘Set the Ray to Jerry’ was the equivalent of putting your raygun on a high power setting.

The Smashing Pumpkins lost momentum from their creative streak after Mellon Collie – I attribute this to the loss of gifted drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, fired after touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died from a drug overdose, rather than male pattern baldness.

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. I agree with the importance of the drummer – when I think of my favourite tunes from Mellon Collie, Chamberlain’s parts are usually the highlight.
    Muzzle remains among my all-time favourites!

      • Similar theories have been explored in trying to determine the reasons for =w=eezer’s decline – there’s probably a % attributable to a few things.
        Like the Smashing Pumpkins, I think it’s mainly due to a departed band member there as well (bassist Matt Sharp) that was more vital to the band than initially realized.

        • I covered a Weezer bside recently as well. Another commenter pointed out that one with Weezer was that Cuomo changed his writing style after Pinkerton, because Pinkerton was initially panned.

          • I believe that’s true – and I’ve started to realize that Rivers has always been aiming to write hits.
            I think I just prefer what 1994/1996 hits sounded like!

  2. Good tune. I wasn’t anywhere near that level of Pumpkins fan but I liked them. As to the Melvoin thing, a little mind-blowing blogger synchronicity here. Last night I watched a documentary (of sorts) about musical sidemen, hosted (or narrated) by Bowie guitarist Earl Slick. Two of the “sidemen” featured Lisa and Wendy from Prince’s band Revolution. Wendy, of course, was Wendy Melvoin and it was her brother Jonathan who checked out too soon. Never put two-and-two together till, like, 10 minutes ago.

  3. Good song…I like it better than some of their other music. When I first heard it I thought “1979.” I think your friend is right about his hair.
    They are a band that I separate the art from the artist…something about Billy rubs me the wrong way. I do like some of their songs though.
    The post is worth reading just for the last sentence!

      • Oh there is no doubt about that. I agree totally. Do you think the drummer had a lot to do with with them falling?
        I never seemed them out…I didn’t know if it was partly to do with tastes changing around that time. They just dropped.

        • I don’t think they were really that similar to other contemporary acts – Corgan was angsty and they had heavy guitars but they had some different things in there than most grunge-era bands. My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, and progressive rock are all in mix I think. Corgan had a few things all change at once – his mother died and he divorced as well. I haven’t listened to 1998’s Adore all that much, but it seems like a valiant effort in a different direction.

          • Ok… I read one critic called them “The Grunge Monkees” which I thought was funny but I never put them with Grunge as much as other people. Stone Temple Pilots either…but I don’t know their first album well.

          • Grunge is kind of a wide umbrella since it mixed punk and arena rock, but I don’t think either Pumpkins or Stone Temple Pilots really fit. Both are angsty enough to kind of be close enough though.

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