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.