The group gave a voice to disenfranchised people and always did things their way
The universe works in mysterious ways. But sometimes it works more obviously.
Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament may have felt their chance to be successful in music with their band Mother Love Bone was taken from underneath them with the tragic death of frontman Andy Wood just months before the release of their first effort.
Still, a demo of new song ideas they were working on was found at a San Diego gas station called Eddie Vedder, via their mutual connection, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons.
What Vedder heard on this tape would trigger a set of songs that inspired the making of arguably the greatest debut rock of all time, Pearl Jam‘s Ten.
What we heard on that debut album was a singer with a compelling storytelling instinct, a powerful and emotional voice magnified by era-defining, stadium-sized rock anthems.
Listen to Ten on the classic albums above:
‘Alive’ tells a story partly based on Vedder’s personal experience when he was told that the man who raised him was not his biological father.
You feel the desperation and shock and betrayal and then the punch in the dismissive blow in the line ‘sorry you didn’t see it, but I’m glad we talked‘.
Originally written in a place of torment and confusion, “Alive” has evolved into a life-affirming hymn for a generation of disgruntled young people.
Beyond the influence and legacy of Ten, the album endures as a set of stories which give a provocative voice to the voiceless and lend agency to the helpless.
‘Why Go’ protests against the notion of a family home as a safe space, telling the story of a child condemned to hospitalization by parents who disregard the rights or more sensitive needs of their children.
While ‘Even Flow’, led by Dave Krusen‘s banging drums and burning Mike McCready guitar, sympathizes with those who struggle against homelessness and expresses the hope that ‘one day again, he will start his life over again‘.
Perhaps the most amplified voice on Ten is that of ‘Jérémy’.
His neglect, intimidation, anger and pain were such that when he finally ‘spoken in class‘, it was with horrific and tragic results.
After relating Jeremy’s story in such frightening detail for the video of the song, Pearl Jam declined to make a video for the album’s next flagship track.
Instead, they offered a blank screen on which to project our own experiences while Ten‘Black’, an emotional centerpiece, played in the background.
It was a brave move from a then new band on their first release, with pressure from record companies insisting they had to consolidate their success.
But by meeting the expectations of their label and the industry, Pearl Jam showed where their priorities lie. Respect the pure emotion of a song, rather than reducing it to a commodity beholden to a position or number on a sales chart.
Three decades is a long time for a band to make their mark, especially one that emerged from the music industry’s pressure cooker of the ’90s.
But stick Ten today and you still hear and feel the full force wind behind this group of individuals, driven by the thrill of the collision of their creative interests and instincts, and why it caused such a seismic shift in the mainstream of music and in our lives.