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1979 follows a day in the life of disaffected teenagers living in suburbia. It is based on a concept Corgan created, featuring an idealized version of teenage life, while also trying to capture the feeling of being bored as a teenager. Originally, Corgan wanted a scene of violence, in which the convenience store was trashed by the teenagers at the end of the video, but Dayton and Faris convinced him to go for something more tame. The band members had bit parts in the video; James Iha appears as a convenience store clerk, D'arcy Wretzky as an irate neighbour, and Jimmy Chamberlin as a policeman. Band manager "Gooch" plays Jimmy's partner.

Upon finishing the video shoot, the band flew to New York to perform. However, all tapes of the footage were accidentally left sitting on top of a car, and were lost as the driver departed. The group later flew back to reshoot the entire video again.

Originally, the band approached another director to film the video . His idea was that all the band members were residents in an alien hotel and they were all going to have specially made alien-elephant masks. This video would have cost over a million dollars.

The video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Alternative Video in 1996.