Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.


Posted on 18 December 2012 6 comments

Article illustration for Thirty-three

Do you ever hear a song that takes you back to a particular moment in time? Opening notes or chords so deeply ingrained in your subconscious that you can almost ‘become’ a past version of yourself in an instant? I can think of a few songs that have that effect on me and most are seasonal. This time of year, December specifically, there’s a song that’s been playing in my head since I was fifteen. That song is ‘Thirty-Three’ by The Smashing Pumpkins (Spotify / Rdio / YouTube).

So I’m 15 again. Christmas 1996 is approaching. On my Christmas list is ‘Melon Collie and The Infinite Sadness’, the Pumpkins’ epic landmark two-disc album. ‘Thirty-Three’ is a song on disc two, but at this point I’ve yet to hear it — I have to wait until Christmas Day for that. But here I am on a cold Saturday morning, thumbing through CDs in a small independent (and ultimately doomed) record store in my hometown of Orpington, Kent, about to hear the song for the first time. In the ‘singles’ section, ‘Thirty-Three’ is a new release. There are two versions available, each with different b-sides. I buy the version that includes ‘The Last Song’ — an absolutely beautiful track that features a guitar solo from Billy Corgan’s father — ‘The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)’, and ‘Transformer’.

Of the days that followed that purchase, I have no specific memory. I assume I played the single a lot — especially the first two songs — in the run-up to Christmas, and I know that I did indeed receive the full album on Christmas Day. But the specifics are irrelevant: the residual feeling is what mattered (to me, at least).

At that time in my life, I’d recently broken up with my first girlfriend and, being a rather emotional and — let’s face it — somewhat pathetic fifteen year-old (long before the term ‘emo’ was coined, of course), life was filled with a sense of bittersweet melancholy, fueled by the discovery of music that remains poignant to this day. Life also had an air of innocence: I lived at home with my parents, I was mid-way through high school, and I’d yet to start my first job. The web had just started to turn into ‘a thing’, but I wasn’t aware of it.

This little bout of reminiscing has no point. There’s no deeper meaning hidden behind the story of me buying ‘Thirty-Three’ just over half my life ago. The number is not even relevant to my age (I won’t be thirty-three for another couple of years yet). It’s simply that I’ve been asked to provide a thought for December, and this is what’s in my head. ‘Thirty-Three’ is playing on perpetual internal repeat because it’s cold and it’s December and Christmas is approaching. And all of those factors combined offer me a gateway back to 1996.

That’s been the case every year since I first heard that song. I wonder if that’ll always be the case?

This post was originally published on The Pastry Box.


  1. Bojan


    18 December 2012 @ 11:28AM #

    That’s such a good album. Still one of my faves and it also takes me back through time. I was 15 also at that time :)

  2. Pedro Moreira

    Pedro Moreira

    18 December 2012 @ 11:32AM #

    Funny thing, every time I hear that song the line “So I turn my collar up and face the cold/On my own” always takes me back to a very similar moment (and age) that you describe. Through the years, I’ve come to look at “Mellon Collie” as a beautiful farewell to being a teenager, to putting those years to sleep in the most bittersweet and delicate matter. It’s “goodnight, always” to so many different places, people and feelings.



    18 December 2012 @ 11:49AM #

    I was in Chicago when I first discovered this album (around halloween 1995, got given something of a music education from family over there), it was also the same time I discovered Filter. The following year I saw them at the nia with Filter as support, completely changed my life, fantastic times. Funny how music evokes familiar feelings like that :)

  4. Michael Dunbar

    Michael Dunbar

    19 December 2012 @ 01:57PM #

    I was 17 or 18 and in sixth form back in 1995 when I first heard that album. The track that reminds me of those days most is 1979.

    With regards to a track that takes you back somewhere, for me it is the song History by the Verve – 1996 (by the time I heard it) – and I am back in my student digs, just split from my first serious girlfriend, with a hangover and feeling sorry for myself. Teenage angst I salute you!

  5. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    20 December 2012 @ 11:03AM #

    Thanks for your comments, guys! I’m glad to hear my reminiscing didn’t happen in a vacuum. :)

  6. Jose Trujillo

    Jose Trujillo

    20 December 2012 @ 07:17PM #

    Wonderful an helpfull site, love the SP call out.

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