I’ve used the word life changing quite a few times, but for me, no album and no band will ever be more life changing than Pearl Jam and their debut album, Ten.
I still remember seeing the video for Alive for the first time while watching MTV late one night. I was mesmerized by the band, and as soon as I could, I went to the record store to purchase Ten. I was 15 at the time and just starting to really explore music as Nirvana was bursting onto the scene and I was wrapped up in all things Seattle like most kids my age.
When I got home and put on the CD (remember this is 1991), everything changed for me. The music coming out of my speakers blew my mind and when I really started listening to the lyrics, I got chills. Pearl Jam would soon become my everything when it came to music. For the majority of the last 25 years, that has never changed.
The band has been there for me through good times and bad. They were there for me in the darkest of times, helping me get through even when it didn’t look like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Pearl Jam became my escape, and on those special occasions when I would see them live, their shows became my church and my religion.
I leave it all out there in those arenas just like the band does when they’re on stage. I have lifelong friends that go through these experiences with the band too, so I know I’m not alone. Plus, that doesn’t include the countless fans who feel the same way as well. So here we are, one day away from the band that changed my life being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I will be there to see it.
I feel so blessed to be able to experience this historic moment tomorrow alongside friends who’ve been just as impacted by Pearl Jam as myself. For Mike S, Mike P, Chris and Christina, Matt, Lori, and all my other Pearl Jam fanatics, let’s celebrate with my Vinyl of the Week, Ten.
From the ashes of Mother Love Bone, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard started to put another band together to help deal with the loss of Andy Wood. After bringing in Mike McCready, the trio found Eddie Vedder who’d gotten a hold of their instrumental demo and put words to those songs which have now become known as the Mamasan Demo. At this point, the band knew Eddie was their guy and from there, a legend was born.
Opening track Once starts things off with a killer tune that embodies all things grunge. Once is one of the tracks from the original Mamasan demo and tells the tale of a man descending into madness, eventually becoming a serial killer. Vedder’s lyrics take you into someone’s mind, which would become a common way Vedder chose to express himself over the years.
Even Flow is one of Pearl Jam’s most widely recognized songs, but with hardcore fans it’s a love/hate relationship as it’s a song they’ve grown tired of in a live setting. There’s no denying the power of the grunge classic as it tells the experience of being a homeless man. The band went on to explain how it took almost 100 takes to get the song recorded and they still were never 100% happy with it.
When Alive hits, an overwhelming feeling comes over me. I’m looking at this album a little differently today as this is the song that really pulls the emotions out of me. Another song off of the original Mamasan demo, Alive is a semi-autobiographical piece about Vedder finding out that the man raising him his whole life wasn’t his real father and that his biological father is actually dead.
Why Go is another rocking grunge classic. This was one of the songs that the band wrote together while recording Ten as opposed to many of the tracks that got their start on demos. This one brings back those feelings of angst every teen has at some point. I remember just going crazy to this song back in the day singing along to every word.
The pure heartbreak of Black is apparent by the emotion in Vedder’s voice. The song about his ex-girlfriend really pulls at your heart as we’ve all gone through those breakups that feel like the end of the world. Black has gone down as one of the greatest ballads of all time. For me, nothing compares to the unplugged version of the song, though.
Jeremy is the song that skyrocketed Pearl Jam to superstar status. The video and song were inspired by an article Vedder read about a kid who shot himself in front of his English class. Aside from its dark subject matter, Jeremy will always be the song most associated with the band for casual fans. The song is still a special treat live, though, as the whole crowd singing in unison is just a sight to behold.
Side two opens with the amazing Oceans, which sounds totally different from anything else on the album. The story behind this one is that Vedder had gotten locked out of the studio by accident and only heard the bass line faintly through the door. Inspired, he wrote down lyrics on a small piece of paper he happened to have in his pocket along with a pen. Oceans is one of many songs Vedder has written about his love of surfing. The song is a rarity live and a special treat for those of us lucky to hear.
Nothing gets me going crazier on Ten than Porch; the song is just ferocious. From the lyrics and tone, to the guitar breakdown in the middle, building up to the crushing ending, Porch is a pure rocker. It’s also one of my favorites on the album, and is usually the point at live shows where I lose my voice by singing along.
Garden and Deep are two cuts that are not even close to throwaway tracks. While Garden has more of a ballad feel to it, Deep is a gritty rocker. Deep is about a man with an addiction (most likely heroin since that was a big thing in Seattle at the time) and just drowning in it. The song holds that meaning for anyone who’s ever been in over their head with something in their life that isn’t good. If you sink too deep and touch the bottom, it won’t end well.
The album comes to a close with one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs ever, Release. This track is everything to me, and the second those guitar chords start, I get chills. Not just every now and then, but every single time I hear it. Release has been an inspiration, a blanket when I need security, and a friend when I need it.
Through all of my internal struggles in life and being scared of the future, I always remember Vedder singing, “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me.” This song has meant so much to me and to finally get the chance to hear it live a couple of years ago was, like I said earlier, like going to church. With tears in my eyes, I was finally able to sing the song back to the band that created it and helped me in ways they will never know.
Ten means a lot to so many. The album is regarded as one of the best of all-time in many categories, has sold over 13 million copies, and has touched the lives of millions of fans. Not many bands can have as rabid of a fan base 25 years into their careers like Pearl Jam does. Last year, I got to experience Pearl Jam playing the entire Ten album front to back in Philadelphia.
I stood there singing every word and had chills for the hour the album was played. It was an experience that instantly made me that 15-year-old kid again, and is something that’ll be etched in my mind forever. I just felt like I was meant to be there that night. Ten takes me back to a time 25 years ago when I was just starting to discover who I was.
It has been my co-pilot through life, bringing me to a place where I feel safe and can be myself. No other album has ever done that for me, and no other band will ever come close to what Pearl Jam means to me. Tomorrow night I get to celebrate 25 years of a journey that I’ve taken with this band. I just want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for being who they are and never compromising themselves. And also for giving me an outlet whenever I needed it. Welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Pearl Jam, you deserve it!