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07th Apr 2017

Pearl Jam join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, we’ve ranked the 5 best tracks from the superb Ten

Paul Moore

“…have I got a little story for you”.

Call it fate, coincidence or destiny but some albums feel like they arrive at the most perfect time imaginable. Ten is one of these records.

There’s an idea that the truly great albums live and die by their ‘lesser’ known songs and with this in mind, Ten is bloody incredible because there’s a rawness, honesty and resonance to every note and word.

Pearl Jam are just one of the six artists that will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this evening and to mark this occasion, we’ve decided to pay tribute to their very first record, the sublime Ten.

To fully appreciate the brilliance of these 11 tracks, it’s important to understand what the rock ‘n roll culture was like at the time of its release.

In many ways, Ten is the antithesis of the hedonistic hair metal craze that engulfed the late ’80s and early ’90s. Bands like Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Motley Crue and Van Halen were bordering on levels of excess that even Spinal Tap would be embarrassed about.

Change was needed and the answer was in Seattle.

After these years of leotards, big hair and excess, Pearl Jam emerged as the band that had the anthems to fill stadiums but more importantly, their songs managed to combine soul-wrenching lyrics with guitar riffs that were dark, dense but still in touch with classic rock sensibilities.

That’s why Ten works. It somehow manages to combine the classic melodies from the ’60s, Led Zeppelin’s stadium rock in the ’70s and the raw energy of a defiant ’80s punk-scene. In doping so, Eddie Vedder and co contributed to a sound the redefined ’90s rock.

Rather than pull the plug on rock ‘n roll’s life-support machine, the grunge scene acted as a much needed defibrillator.

Pearl Jam, or Mookie Blaylock as they were originally known, emerged from the ashes and overflows of bands like Green River, Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog but they stood out and succeeded where others fell short.

In Eddie Vedder, they had a singer whose voice strained for sincerity because every word on Ten still carries an integrity and truth.

The contributions of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready should never be underestimated also because both men have the ability to create more fireworks with their instruments than a million Kiss concerts could ever muster.

There’s countless reviews of this masterpiece but one thing that’s rarely stated is the sheer amount of balls that it took to make. The debut record for any band is always a nervous affair because pressure, expectation and fears can all build, but rather than take a more commercial approach, Pearl Jam went dark. Very dark.

You get the impression that each track on this album is a form of self-therapy because Vedder doesn’t shy away from subjects that other people might never even dwell on.

Why Go? deals with suicide, the homeless community are eulogised in Even Flow, the incredibly raw lyrics of Jeremy still make that high-school tragedy seem current and as for Alive, well that’s for later.

As Pearl Jam take their place among the greats, we’ve tried our best to pick the 5 best tracks from a sublime album where there are no bad songs.

5) Jeremy

It’s testament to Vedder’s skills as a lyricist that he managed to craft a rock anthem from a moment of tragedy.

Many of you know that the song was inspired by a newspaper article he read about a high school student that shot himself in front of his English class.

Vedder said that he felt “the need to take that small article and make something of it—to give that action, to give it reaction, to give it more importance”. In doing so, the band showed that they were capable of marrying lyrics that examined major issues in society with radio friendly riffs.

Jeff Ament’s 12-string Hamer bass guitar on this track is nothing short of brilliant.

Yes, at the time it was overplayed on MTV but along with Smells Like Teen Spirit, this is the track that moved grunge out from the underground and onto the main stage.

Clip via – PearljamVEVO

4) Once

The first of Vedder’s self-proclaimed ‘Momma-Son trilogy’ – the others being Alive and Footsteps – this opening track is ominous, threatening and explosive because it still feels like it’s going to grab you by the throat and scream directly into your face.

There’s a level of aggression and frustration here that Pearl Jam have never quite matched and it’s apparent right from the 0:40 mark when Gossard/McCready lay down a riff that punctures the tranquility of the intro.

This is the sound of  band cutting-lose, going wild and getting ready to f**k shit up. Things get dark, especially when Vedder hushes the lyrics “you think I got my eyes closed, but I’m lookin’ at you the whole fuckin’ time”.

As for those psychedelic guitars at 02:20? Perfection.

Clip via – Yeah.

3) Porch

As mentioned earlier, Ten is a heavy and serious album but this track always stood out for me because I can’t help but get the impression that on this song, the five men are absolutely loving what they’re doing right there, right then.

There’s a ragged, meandering and uninhibited feel to Porch because the guitars swirl around the room, drums kick-in at the most unexpected moment and when one riff ends, Vedder’s voice comes in and takes the song onto a completely different octave and direction.

It’s almost like each member of Pearl Jam is looking into the eyes of the other and saying, “over to you now. Top what I’ve just done”.

Clip via – Mynster95

2) Alive

Imagine this scenario. You’re a young musician in your 20’s and your band have just signed their first record deal. Nervous, unsure and still trying to find your voice, you look for inspiration with regards to some songs that you can pen for your upcoming debut album. It’s a make or break situation.

The obvious choice would be to play it safe, simple and follow the industry standard.

Instead, Vedder chose to bear his soul and reveal an incredibly traumatic life experience for the entire world to hear, the moment when his mother told him that his stepfather wasn’t his real dad and that his biological father was dead.

For this gamble alone, Pearl Jam and Ten rightfully deserves all the awards, prestige and records that they get.

There’s something wonderful about the fact that Vedder penned the lyrics to Alive when he was working in a gas station, dreaming about a bigger stage, and it’s also the first song that he recorded vocals for as a member of the band.

Alive is one of those songs that when you hear it played live well… it just makes you feel alive.

1) Black

Yet again, Vedder shows that he has that unique ability to make a work of art from his own personal anguish and this song is just that,  Black’s a soliloquy from a broken-hearted man that’s remembering his lover.

The tune is draped with melancholy but yet it still has a slightly optimistic feel. It takes a special band to take something so deeply personal and make it resonate with hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Pearl Jam are that band because unrequited love and anguish have rarely sounded this good before.

Did you know that their record label, Epic Records, were insistent on this track being released as a single but the band said no on the grounds that it’s resonance would be diluted with multiple plays?

The track was so good though that it still managed to chart despite not even being released.

I know what you’re thinking. No Garden, Even Flow, Oceans or Why Go? Let us know what you think and if you have any specific memories of Pearl Jam or this album.


Music,Pearl Jam