Thirty years ago today, on August 27, 1991, Pearl Jam released their debut album “Ten” – and my musical world was never the same again. “Ten” became the soundtrack of my youth, and the rest of my life. It was a momentous moment, from that first guitar tone and the first time I heard Eddie Vedder sing and Pearl Jam play on TV. I probably heard the single “Alive” at MTV’s Headbangers Ball in the summer or autumn of 1991. Although the album has since been called one of the best debut albums ever, Pearl Jam themselves did not experience any immediate success with the album, it was not until almost a year later that sales figures began to rise on the release of the single “Jeremy” in the fall of 1992. It must be mentioned, of course, that a little less than a month later Nirvana released “Nevermind” and the world was quite become the same side. The last great shift in music. With “Ten,” Pearl Jam would begin a slow but secure path towards stardom together with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, all from Seattle, and no one knew then that only Pearl Jam would be left as lonely kings on the hill 30 years later.
The core of the band that started recording “Ten” at London Bridge Studios in Seattle in March 1991 was the same as it is today: Eddie Vedder on vocals (all the lyrics on “Ten” are solely written by him), Jeff Ament on bass (check out the 12-string bass bonanza on “Why Go?” and at the end of “Jeremy”), Mike McCready on sologitar is already on his way to becoming a conquering axe slinger on par with Henrix and Townsend, and on “Ten” there are plenty of amazing guitar solos, who said grunge did not have guitar solos? Stone Gossard is the rhythmic guitar guru, and the riff on “Alive” is his. Dave Krusen was the drummer on the recording of the album and on the video for “Alive” but was replaced by Dave Abbruzzese before the album was released in August 1991.
Picking out highlights from “Ten” is like choosing candy in the big candy store that only sells excellent Willy Wonka candy. Side 1 (if you, like me, belong to the old hipster peaople who still listen to vinyl format) is perhaps the best side 1 on any album on this side of the Gulf War. It is as good as cold beer on a warm summer day, freshly cooked crabs on the rocks, golden nugget after golden nugget of extasy. Big fat choruses that can be sung in unison at concerts, guitar solos that set fire to the sunset, lyrics that tear deep holes in the soul and a band that fires on every cylinder in the studio, less than six months after they played their first concert together. The lyrics are from a young man who leaves his soul open to his audience, the words are in some places exceptionally raw and brutal. On “Alive” he deals with the betrayal of his mother and the loss of his unknown father he never got to meet.
The story from “Alive” goes on in the song “Release” where he reflects on how he would measure up to a father he never knew.
On “Black,” he mourns a lost love, perhaps one of my absolute favorite lyrics from Eddie Vedder. And neither Black or Release was a single! When I’m with my Strangest Tribe at a Pearl Jam concert, it gives me goosebumps every time we sing “Release” together with our high priest Eddie Vedder.
“Jeremy” is the first taste of a political band that takes a political stand, and has done so for years now, a brutal song based on a boy in elementary school in the United States who shot himself in front of the class. And when you throw in rock classics like “Even Flow,” “Once” and “Porch” with more killer guitar solos from Mike McCready, you have gold. “Ten” is an album that should be in any record collection, it is a classic, a monument to the last golden age of rock and album format. The birth of a giant, a band that still releases music 30 years later. “Ten” stayed on the Billboard 200 for nearly five years, sold 13X platinum in the United States, and is one of the best-selling rock albums in history, with 13 million copies sold in the United States alone. Since “Ten” was released in August 1991, Pearl Jam has continued to release albums, through tragedies and triumphs, drummers and rehab, there have been 11 albums and 85 million units sold. Pearl Jam is still considered one of the all-time best live bands, they are the grunge godfathers, and they still play concerts for packed stadiums around the world. They are still, and will forever be, my favorite band.