Music education always & always looking forward.

Changing Meter in The Smashing Pumpkins' "Set the Ray to Jerry"

There are hundreds of thousands of popular songs that can be used to teach & reinforce basic music theory concepts, and I suppose that everyone who thinks about these things (we're out there!) has a pet song that does something cool (theoretically speaking).

This would be a pet song of mine.  A B-side from my all-time favorite band, it brings back memories of being about 17 and learning basic conducting patterns -- going on long walks through my neighborhood, listening to this song on repeat on my discman.  I tried to coordinate my footsteps with the meter and tried to conduct it as I walked, too.  Obviously, I was not a normal 17-year-old.  

This may just be my favorite song of all time.

“Set the Ray to Jerry” - The Smashing Pumpkins

Intro: One of the most successful rock bands of the 1990s, The Smashing Pumpkins were also extremely prolific, releasing an album a year from 1993-1996. In 1995, they released the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which was nominated for several Grammy awards, including Album of the Year, and is to date is the best selling double album of all time. In 1996, the band, led by frontman Billy Corgan, put together a five-disc box set of extended singles entitled The Aeroplane Flies High, which featured the five singles released from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and their respective B-sides. “Set the Ray to Jerry” can be found as a B-side on the disc for the single of “1979” (which was also the band's most successfully charting single to date) as well as on other compilation discs released by the band.

Analysis: For a band famous for using up to 60 guitar tracks mixed into a single song, “Set the Ray to Jerry” is a fairly simple song. Starting with a sparkling, esoteric guitar notes, followed by a bassline and drums arriving and later the vocal line, there is not a lot to this song – except for the fact that from the very start all the way until the first chorus, it works in a pattern of two measures of 4/4 followed by one measure of 2/4. During the choruses as well as the bridge, the song switches back into a straight 4/4. This pattern continues in the second and third verses, switching at the choruses. The metrical interest adds to a song that is otherwise very simple and reminiscent of The Smashing Pumpkins early days, highly influenced by shoegaze rock.

Considerations for Teaching: The subject material of the song is not offensive, as it is a love song in which the narrator confesses some of his own fears as well as his devotion to his love. However, in the third verse, Corgan makes a poetic plea to “let roar these fears / to the whore in my tears”. Although he appears to be making a metaphoric reference instead of discussing a sex worker, it is not a term to be used lightly in a classroom setting. To get the point of the changing meter across, however, a shorter sample of the song could be played for a class, leaving the word “whore” out.

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