In a battle of Smashing Pumpkins vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who did “Zero” better?

“Zero” – Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995

We all know music is subjective, and if the internet is any indication, this song can be interpreted in many many different ways. Is it about love? Drugs? Or both? This song came out during a time where the music you listened to really defined who you were, and where I went to school, music was everything.

Mellon Collie was a double album that followed 1993’s massive Siamese Dream. It shows a softer side of the Pumpkins, as well as their heavy rock sound. At barely 3 minutes, “Zero” was one of the many incredible tracks that came from this album; the type of song that brings out our insecurities, and makes us feel like we never lived up to anything.

The grungy and grimy sounds evoke that feeling of disgust and self-loathing; at the same time, the repetition of that guitar riff throughout nearly the entire track, is both melodic and comforting in a way. But then you get to James Iha’s bananas chaotic guitar solo which brings your mind back into a state of disarray.

Bonus points for lead singer Billy Corgan’s long-sleeved tee (I still want one.)

“Zero” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz!, 2009

Just to get this out of the way: Karen O’s voice is peculiar, versatile and overall exceptional. Now to this track: the lead single off 2009’s It’s Blitz! – one fantastic album (the acoustic version of “Skeleton” is to die for.)

Contrary to the Pumpkins’ iteration, this one is much more upbeat. The music is fun and loud; just makes you feel like running and dancing and jumping in the air and spinning around (or something like that.) It’s energetic, vibrant and full of life.

It seems to be about someone encouraging a friend or loved one to get out of their shell, to go from a zero to the top; to climb that ladder (of life? of stardom? of….?) and make an impact. Be heard, be seen, be free. It’s motivating and empowering, and sure to get you out of whatever funk in which you’ve found yourself.

The Verdict

Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Mostly because it just makes you feel good.


Different band. Different song. Same song title.

“Creep” by Radiohead, 1993

Emos, this track is for you. Here’s the story: you’re completely in awe of another person, so much so, you want to be around them all the time, you want them to see you as you see them. Except you know you have zero chance, because you know you’re not good enough. You’re obviously flawed, so why would they even know you exist?

It’s angering, frustrating, and hurts like hell. So you retreat to your imperfect self, and try and figure out what to do. You’re confused, and sad, then apathetic and disdainful; you can’t stop questioning your self worth. What’s the point anyway? Except, they’re the point; they’re perfect to you, and you can’t help yourself, so the cycle starts all over again.

The lyrics, Yorke’s vocals, and the music, all together take the listener on a journey through all the conflicting emotions; the overthinking, the back and forth, the pain, the admiration. Radiohead does it all effortlessly, even listlessly almost; like they too have given up and resigned to the fact that they’re a lost cause. It’s a timeless track.

“Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots, 1992

I’ll confess right off the bat that I have a soft spot for this track: it’s one of the first I learned on guitar, so I know and understand it in a much more intimate way. As a result, I’m much more drawn to this song musically.

It’s definitely heavier, darker and more somber than the Radiohead version. Here’s the story: someone trying to be better, do better. Someone who’s trying to put their life back together and make it normal again, but doesn’t know how. It’s filled with that all-too-familiar tortured soul vibe (my fave!), a highlight of the grunge scene, and whenever I hear it, I’m brought back to that time.

Lead singer Scott Weiland’s (RIP) raw vocals were – and still are – some of the best to have come out of the early 90s. You can hear the desperation and strain in his voice, like a guy with nothing left to lose. It’s a solid, honest track, capable of making us all look at our own demons.


A tight race, but Radiohead wins mostly because of lyrics like these:

“I want you to notice,
When I’m not around,
You’re so fuckin’ special,
I wish I was special”



90s Irish rockers The Cranberries, had an inimitable lead singer in Dolores O’Riordan. She was cool, badass, and had a voice with many textures, and nuances. Their music was ever present while I was growing up, and they will always be synonymous with that time in my life. Earlier this week, O’Riordan passed away; here’s a look at some of her best work.

“Zombie” – No Need to Argue, 1994

Picutre this: a co-ed birthday party in grade 7ish, circa 1994. Everyone was hanging out in the basement, no parents were home. Some kids were smoking, others were drinking. Some were playing spin the bottle, others were flirting behind closed doors. The Cranberries’ sophomore album, No Need to Argue, had just been released, and copies of the album were in abundance. This song became the official soundtrack of that night, including head banging and slow dancing.

“Liar” – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993

My first memory of this song is hearing it off the timeless Empire Records soundtrack (it’s track 2 in case you’re wondering.) It’s a movie about a bunch of teens working in a record store, trying to figure out where they belong. It’s about friendship, love, heartache, community, and music. It hit home on so many levels as a teenager, and continues to do so, because it’s always relevant. Thankfully, The Cranberries were along for the ride.

“Dreams” – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993

Since we’re on soundtracks here, the first time I recall hearing this track was – believe it or not – on the Mission: Impossible soundtrack. I bought it (yes, bought) because in 1996, I was in a deeply loving relationship with U2 and they were responsible for the theme music. Lucky for me, this track also appeared on the album. It’s positive, uplifting, and hopeful; destined to make any listener feel like anything is possible. As a teenager – and even as and adult – this is the kind of music that stays with you.

“Ode to My Family” – No Need to Argue, 1994

This song has so many layers, I don’t even know where to start. The longing, the sadness, the memories, the history; the black and white video, the honesty and depth of the music and the lyrics. It’s so complex, but also so simple.

“I Can’t Be With You” – No Need to Argue, 1994

A completely underrated break-up song. The lyrics are sad and full of confusion, but the music seems more angry. It’s exemplary of all the feelings involved in a broken relationship.

“Free to Decide” – To the Faithful Departed, 1996

A tune for the angsty teenager who just wants to be their own person. The one who refuses to accept things as they are, and listen to nonsensical opinions. The one who, in spite of all the crap that’s happening around them, doesn’t give up. This one was all of us.

“Linger” – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993

If you’ve ever been betrayed by a loved one, this is your anthem. It’s just so heartbreaking, and makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry. let’s be honest, we’ve all been there.

“Salvation” – To The Faithful Departed, 1996

The first single off their follow up to the hugely successful No Need to Argue, this track amped up The Cranberries’ sound. Rocking short hair (which I may or may not have tried to copy,) O’Riordan was perfect on this track: pleading desperately to listeners to pay attention, so they’d stay away from the perils of doing drugs. My favourite line: “Inject your soul with liberty, it’s free, it’s free.”

“When You’re Gone” – To The Faithful Departed, 1996

This song perfectly describes the confusion one feels, when someone near and dear isn’t around anymore. With all the musicians who have left us over the past couple of years, it feels like my adolescence is slowly dying, and I am filled with this ominous feeling of “who’s next”? To those we’ve lost, and now Dolores O’Riordan too – this one’s for all of you. RIP.