Pearl Jam - Ten
So how should we start the story of this masterpiece album?
An album that was part of the beginning of an amazing and phenomenal music scene called Grunge!
A band made up of many, rare and extraordinary talents.
"Pearl Jam's" album "Ten" was released on August 27, 1991, and it is an essential part of our review series on the class of '91 albums.
We brought to you many stories which began with tragedy, a characteristic that very much represents the essence of the grunge scene.
Today's story is no different...
In 1990, when "Alice in Chains" released their first album, "Soundgarden" was about to release their second album, and "Nirvana" was a step before the release of their meteoric album. "Mother Love Bone", one of the biggest and most promising bands in the scene, has lost its main protagonist, Andrew Wood. Just before the release of its first album, "Apple". Andrew's death created a very strong shock wave that hit quite a few of those musicians and talents in Seattle. Anyone who has seen the movie "Singles" and the documentaries "Hype!" and "Pearl Jam Twenty" will immediately be impressed by the family, friendly and collaborative vibe that was in Seattle at the time. It made us envious and passionate to live in the same Seattle apartments and neighborhoods. As far as the grunge scene is concerned, we can continue telling that story, but let's get back to our main theme.
With the death of Andrew, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard, who were part of "Mother Love Bone", went through a very difficult time. They literally fell apart and were unable to hold themselves or any musical instruments whatsoever. They were sure that for them it was the end of the road, but after a few months the urge to play and create did not let go of them and they felt they had to go back to creating music. Stone joined Mike McCready, whose band "Shadow" broke up, and they began playing together, all that time Mike did not let go of Stone and kept trying to persuade him to back to playing with Jeff. The three did join forces and entered the studio. Backed by their "Soundgarden" friend, drummer Matt Cameron, and additional support from drummer Chris Friel from Mike's previous band, they recorded a number of instrumental pieces. Five tracks were recorded in that session and were called: "Dollar Short", "Agytian Crave", "Footsteps", "Richard's E" and "E Ballad" (you will soon understand why this demo is so important).
The tracks were recorded on a tape called "Stone Gossard Demos '91". The three created this demo to try to find a drummer and singer for a band that might develop into something later on, with no solid intentions or action plan to form a new rock band.
In September 1990, after many trips to Seattle, this tape found its way to a city called San Diego. A journey of more than two thousand miles made this cute tape from the hands of the first drummer of "Red Hot Chili Peppers", who is none other than Jack Irons, straight into the hands of an anonymous guy named Eddie Vedder. The graceful guy, who had nothing to do with what had happened in the meantime in the grunge scene in Seattle, listened to the tape, finished, took his surfboard, and went surfing in the ocean. It may sound like a very sticky Hollywood movie, but Eddie himself testified that after listening to the tape he went surfing and while riding the waves he "wrote" the lyrics.
Immediately after finishing the surf Eddie ran to his apartment, wrote the lyrics to three tracks from the tape, and recorded the melody for each of the three: "Dollar Short", "Agytian Crave", "Footsteps". These tracks are what we know today as "Footsteps" (released as a B-side on the single "Jeremy"), and the songs "Once" and "Alive".
Let's dwell a little on these three songs. Here we begin to understand that Eddie is not only a singer with a phenomenal voice that hurts your soul and manages to penetrate into the small capillaries of the soul, but he is first and foremost what is called in professional parlance Songwriter. His ability to write lyrics to tunes is simply amazing. He is able to write lyrics to a song while listening to a melody for the first time and not just any lyrics but penetrating, tearing, exciting, and even disturbing lyrics. He claims he always walks around with a notebook and pencil and always writes about the here and now, so he is very connected to what he is creating.
Eddie Vedder created a trilogy of rock opera from the three songs and called it "Momma-Son". The trilogy begins with the song "Alive", in which a child discovers that his father is a stepfather and feels that he has been living a lie all his life. It continues with "Once", in which the boy loses his sanity and puts out all his aggression in murder. The trilogy ends with "Footsteps", in which he is sentenced to death and looks back on his life from a prison cell.
Let's go back to the main story, tape... Eddie... lyrics... recorded the melody and sent back to Seattle.
The three got the tape back in the mail and were amazed by the voice of the guy who came out of the double-cassette tape speakers. They were shocked by the lyrics written for the tracks they recorded and got captivated by Eddie's charms. They immediately invited Eddie to "audition" in Seattle.
On October 13, Eddie Vedder landed in Seattle. Why is it so important to know on what date he landed?
So this is - very important and thanks for asking!
During that flight, one of the most moving songs (in our opinion) and the toughest and strongest competitor of "Nutshell" (of "Alice") was written, the song "Black"! That instrumental piece from the demo tape called "E Ballad" became on the flight from San Diego to Seattle one of the most famous and moving rock ballads that every time we listen to it a little tear runs down our cheeks.
Okay. Let's go down with Eddie Vedder and his new friends, who now also include new drummer Dave Krusen, to a small underground basement in Seattle. The basement is full of rough and heavy wooden tables and many tools are made of rusty iron that has been sitting there for several years. Eddie said that the atmosphere in the basement, with the smell of wood and rust, with all the tools and tables around, contributed to the atmosphere and the creation of the album. After a week of rehearsals, the group wrote 11 songs. The chemistry between the guys was very reminiscent of a "Harry Potter" or "Strange Things" scene, with blue sparks of electricity flying in space every time the guys played.
Immediately afterwards they signed a contract with the record company "Epic" and entered the "London Bridge Studios" in Seattle with producer Rick Parashar to record the album. The recording of the album lasted only one month and was done on a meager budget of about $ 70,000. This was made possible not only because the chemistry between the members was almost perfect but also because most of the music was already prepared and written by Stone and Jeff, who led the creation of the album. Needless to say, it never occurred to any of the band members that this album would be even a tenth of the success it had.
So what do we have in the album?
The album opens with the song "Once", which is the middle part of the trilogy written by Eddie Vedder. An opening section of percussion and rustling opens the album before the silence is aggressively cut with the rough guitars of Stone and Mike. What a pleasure, what an amazing riff that from the very beginning lifts us up and reflects the madness that grips a child as he slowly loses his sanity and becomes a serial killer. Strong and difficult opening to the album!
We immediately move on to one of the biggest songs on the album, a hit on every scale, with "The Mad Riff", the second single from the album "Even Flow". During rehearsals for the song, the band members felt it was going to be a hit but they did not imagine it would be so difficult to record it. Turns out it was the hardest song to record on the album. They recorded it more than 70 times and rehearsed it so many times that they could no longer stand each other. Dave said he had a very hard time keeping the pace and making the transitions accurately, it got to a point where they even cut some of his drums in the song because he increased the tempo too much.
Speaking of the drummer, the song was recorded again in 1992 for the soundtrack of the movie "Singles" with drummer Dave Abbruzzese (we'll talk about it later). The lyrics of the song describe the life of a homeless man who lives on the street, eats cans, and looks insane. Eddie Vedder is known for his tendency to critique, reflect and bring up social issues that burn in him in the songs. This is one of the three songs for which music videos were filmed, with this clip being composed of the band's footage at gigs.
It does not stop for a moment, but slows down a bit and moves on to "Alive", another undisputed hit from the album that came out as the first single. The song is the first part of the trilogy we mentioned earlier. The song tells the story of a boy who discovers later in life that his father is his stepfather and his biological father actually passed away. Because he is very similar to his biological father, his mother develops feelings for him and sexual attraction because she still maintains a love for his biological father. The first and last parts of the song were taken from the life of Eddie Vedder, who also grew up with a stepfather, but the central part of the song is imaginary. When Mike McCready was asked about the famous solo in the song he was quick to share that he "stole" the piece from guitarist Ace Frehley, who played the solo on "She" and copied the solo from "The Doors" guitarist Robby Krieger, who played the piece on "Five to One". This is the second song for which a music video was filmed and this clip was also composed of the band's footage during gigs.
"Why Go" begins with the bouncy drumming and bass that accompanies straight into Eddie's nervous and defiant muzzle. His voice sounds so nervous and attacking here that it's hard to ignore the story the young guy throws at us. "Why go home?" He asks. Why go home when you can be hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital? The insurance company is celebrating the hospitalization when the poor young girl just smoked some marijuana. The young woman spent two years in the hospital trying to prove her sanity. According to interviews with Eddie Vedder, her name is Heather.
Now let's stop for a moment, take a break and move on to one of the most exciting songs on the album.
"Black", Mike McCready's caressing guitar with the fingering floating over the strings and Eddie's gentle voice just envelops your whole body. Throughout the song, you range from suffocation and dryness in the throat to cuddling and total release. It's hard to put into words what this song conveys. The song talks about a relationship, doubt related to separation, and doubt related to death. Without a doubt, this is a difficult, complex and painful relationship, which at some point crashes and creates a longing and desire for another life. The song begins quiet, calm, and caressing and slowly intensifies and continues to its last part as the guitar burns the broken heart throughout the end of the song. Eddie Vedder emphatically insisted that this song would not become a single because he did not want the "industry" to ruin this emotional song and turn it into a superficial and cold hit. It's also hard not to comment on the show's versions, which have brought this song to much greater heights than the album's version.
Another big hit and a third single from the album is the song "Jeremy". The main riff of the song was written by Jeff on bass guitar with 12 strings. Although the parts of the song were built and sat well it was very difficult to connect them. The transitions between the parts to the chorus and then to the breakup were complex and challenged the band members. The lyrics of the song are based on two incidents that occurred in reality. In one case, a 15-year-old boy named Jeremy shot himself in front of the teacher and his classmates. It was on the same evening Eddie Vedder wrote the song. The second case is one that happened to Eddie in his youth when a classmate started shooting inside a classroom at school. Eddie wanted to give these events meaning beyond a paragraph and a half article on the back page of the newspaper. This is what opens and closes the music video of the song: a picture of a small paragraph on a piece of newspaper. Speaking of music videos, the clip of this song is what changed the band's attitude towards music videos and is the only clip that tells a story. It's worth mentioning that the known version of the clip was censored and did not include the scene where the boy puts a gun in his mouth. Only in 2020 did the band release the full, uncensored version on the occasion of "National Gun Violence Awareness Day" in the USA.
After the clip came out on MTV and was aired non-stop, one of Jeff's friends told him that he was very disappointed with the clip because it was completely different from the meaning of the song as he imagined it. The band members were very affected by this feedback and since then they have decided that they avoid releasing music videos to their songs, mainly because they want the listeners to give the songs their interpretation and the band or industry will not dictate the interpretation to the listeners through video clips.
Now let's try to relax a bit with "Oceans", which takes us on a cruise in the great ocean or rather in the great flood, a flood of torrential rain. Imagine a scene where Eddie Vedder comes standing in the street, in shorts, locked outside the rehearsal room. Since no one hears him, he decides to take out a piece of paper and a pen and write a song. He listens to the sounds and vibrations of the bass through the door and window and writes the song "Oceans" (did we mention he is a phenomenal songwriter?). Of course, as soon as the bass stopped playing he immediately knocked on the door and the boys let him in. This song was the fourth single from the album, after Eddie vehemently refused to release "Black" as a single.
Have you relaxed a bit? good. Now let's get upset again. "Porch" is the only song on the album written entirely by Eddie Vedder the music and lyrics. Although Eddie's tone sounds aggressive and nervous, it's a kind of love song that comes to convey a message that if you love someone then tell him that. Really poetic! By the way, this is usually the song that when played in performances Eddie begins to climb on all sorts of constructions and jump from them to the audience (when he was young).
Again we relax, but this time in the "Garden". The name of the song is related to a cemetery and the song goes out against wars and against harsh political measures that lead to severe losses. The solo in the song feels like a cry to heaven.
Back up on the roller coaster to "Deep", with the scorching guitars and Dave's bouncing rhythm! On this occasion, we will note that "Deep", "Porch", "Why Go" and "Garden" are the only songs on the album that were written during the recording of the album and were not part of the demo recordings of Stone and Jeff.
Finish with one of the other songs that are so moving on this album and that is "Release". The song is one of the first songs Eddie Vedder wrote with the band and is actually the first song that helped them connect and find a common denominator. The song was recorded when the band members improvised and played together and Eddie joined in, inventing the lyrics as he did so. Eddie claimed that he did not agree to write the lyrics on paper, not even in the release of the album because it was so improvised and spiritual. It's not clear exactly why, some speculate it's because of the story with his real father, but it's one of the most moving songs for Eddie.
So what's your story with the drummer?
Immediately after the recordings ended, Dave (the drummer) left the band and hospitalized himself in an alcohol rehab facility. Dave said the band gave him a lot of opportunities and tried to support him in every way possible but it didn’t work out. He was unable to function and express himself in sessions with the band. Upon his departure, he was replaced by Matt Chamberlain, who went on tour with the band and left them in late 1991, as a result of other commitments. Then Matt was replaced by Dave Abbruzzese. We talked about how Dave was the perfect drummer for "Pearl Jam" in the "Ten" era and co-created "Vs" and then "Vitalogy". In our opinion, after he left, the band changed completely and lost all connection to what was on the album we are talking about here.
Why is the name of the album "Ten"?
The band's name before "Pearl Jam" was "Mookie Blaylock", after a famous basketball player. Since the record company feared exposure to lawsuits, especially because at the time the player was signing a major contract with "Nike", they asked the band members to change the name, and thus Pearl Jam was formed. Fine, but what's the connection you ask? The connection is that the number that was on Mookie's shirt was the number 10!
What is the story of the cover?
The album cover shows the band members photographed during the recording, standing in front of a wooden sign of the band's name "Pearl jam", with their hands raised high and holding each other. The woodcut was constructed by Jeff Ament who explained that the original concept was to convey the message that the band members are united and entering the world of music as a real band. Something that was supposed to convey the concept of "all for one".
Many of you are wondering why the CD cover folds into a poster. So it turns out that the band members were really upset that the record company did not release the album on vinyl. Eddie Vedder said that when they realized that wasn't going to happen, they insisted that the cover at least be reminiscent of the record days, and that's how the idea of the poster was born. The problem was that the poster was too complex to fold and the band members had to help assemble the first discs.
The album did not sell many copies immediately upon its release. To be honest, the album started very slowly, and only in the second half of 1992 did it gain momentum along with the whole grunge scene. Just a year after its release, the album reached number eight on the Billboard 200, when it eventually went on to climb to second place. The album lasted for 261 weeks on the chart and became one of the only 15 albums of all time that lasted so many weeks on the chart.
"Jeremy" is one of the most popular songs on the album and it gave the band two nominations for the Grammy Award in 1993.
Despite the album's insane success, the band members have often been heard saying that they are very unhappy with the sound of the album. Stone said they used a lot of reverb and a lot of dubbing, which made the sound very "over-rocked" in his words. Eddie even claimed he was able to listen to all of the band's previous albums except for this album!
The band members did not expect the album to be so hugely successful. Not only did they not expect it, but they also did not really want it (here we are moving uncomfortably in the chair). Like "Nirvana", "Pearl Jam" did not like all the success and what accompanies it, but Eddie, unlike Kurt Cobain, expressed his opinion publicly and defied the industry and what it produces from the success.
In March 2009 the album was released in a new version and was called "Ten Redux". The album came out in four different versions, which included a vinyl version (which was not released in 1991), a version with an unplugged DVD, and a version with a remix of all the songs as well as six more songs.
An Exemplary album...
A timeless album Album...
Now Obviously, you want to listen to it now, so here it is, please listen on: Spotify, Apple Music