photo by: Karen Mason-Blair
A special 30th anniversary tribute to Pearl Jam’s Ten, featuring: Josh Klinghoffer, Michael Stipe, Mark Richards, Kelly Slater, Andrew Watt, Rob Machado, Matt Pinfield, Sam Wilkerson of White Reaper, Isaiah Radke of Radkey, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, David Shaw of The Revivalists, Lauren Jenkins, Eva Walker of The Black Tones, Taylor Knox and Nicole Alvarez.
“The record holds up today in every way,” Matt Pinfield tells me from the west coast. Just a few miles north from where many of the lyrics to “Alive”, “Once” and “Footsteps” were written. We’re talking about Ten of course, the iconic debut record by Pearl Jam, released August 27, 1991.
39 seconds. That’s the length of time you hear the Jeff Ament driven, rolling intro before one note of any of the eleven songs is played.
It’s like you’re standing on the shore at sunrise. In the distance you see a set rolling in. It’s smooth but carries an undeniable confidence, and you’re there smiling. 37 seconds into that first 39 Eddie Vedder hums “mmmhmm” and you nod your head. “Hear my name take a good look, this could be the day.”
The sun ascends its final pull and lays a glistening beam upon the water’s edge right there before you. It’s go time and “I admit, what’s to say.”
“I was working at WHTG-FM in Asbury Park, New Jersey the town that Bruce Springsteen made famous,” Pinfield continues. “I loved Ten right away and embraced it as a program director, but it was polarizing when some programmers were slow to add the songs. I defended the band and album when alternative purists said to me, “This isn’t alternative, it’s rock”. My response was “It’s all rock -what matters is – it’s great.”
At Artist Waves we have one focus. What’s the ripple effect of this art? What’s happening here and how is it making people’s lives better? Pearl Jam makes the job easy and it started 30 years ago with Ten – a record that continues to inspire deeply, resonate loudly, and impact profoundly.
The history is well-known. A tragedy in Mother Love Bone and taking a Jack Irons approved chance on a new singer from San Diego. The initial result was the Mamason Trilogy tape where you are reminded – sometimes your best release comes when the sand is still on your feet.
There was the Off Ramp live debut of Pearl Jam on October 22nd of 1990. Then – more shows and more writing over the course of just one year, ultimately resulting in – all five members with their hands raised in the Seattle air, adjoined high in a huddle, forming what would be the cover art to Ten. But symbolically, it’s much more. It’s a pose the band has always remained in, with the entire greater Pearl Jam community now joined in.
“‘Alive’ and “Black” stood out immediately for me. Eddie Vedder’s voice and authentic intensity pulled me right in. I actually just met up with my old friend Mark Pellington who directed the “Jeremy” video, and that too is as important today as it was 30 years ago,” Pinfield says.
Welcome to our 30th anniversary celebration of Pearl Jam’s legendary debut record, Ten. With thanks to Josh Klinghoffer, Michael Stipe, Mark Richards, Kelly Slater, Andrew Watt, Rob Machado, Sam Wilkerson, Isaiah Radke, Jim James, David Shaw, Lauren Jenkins, Eva Walker, Taylor Knox, Nicole Alvarez and Pearl Jam, I invite you to join us, reading the tribute below – arms wide open with the sea as your floor. Here, we’ll navigate the record in sequence and offer a unique take from the artists at hand as to what made each song so special in 1991, and even more so today. So, Mmmhmmm…
The guitar playing on “Once” is incredible. Everything from the intro with the fretless bass to the power of Eddie signing – it’s so apparent from the start. The fact that the song is called “Once” and it’s the first thing you hear when you put on the record, it’s one of the best ways to introduce people to your new existence as a band that I’ve ever seen.
I think of Stone Gossard as one of my main inspirations for picking up the guitar. His songwriting and rhythmic playing on Ten made me feel like I could do it, so I modeled my playing after him.
When I first starting listening to Ten I was listening to the emotion, now I’ve gotten much more in touch with the lyrical content of songs I’ve been listening to all my life. It takes a special kind of record like Ten, to grab you like that over the course of time.
The first Pearl Jam show I saw was Halloween night in 1993. They played “Once” second and I’ll never forget it.
My very first thought was that voice, Eddie’s voice – wow, this is fresh and new, and we hadn’t heard a voice like that since Bad Company “Seagull” era Paul Rodgers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Otis Redding – soulful and real, and pushing its upper registers, partly shouted, but really sung and tuneful and powerful. Like a roughed up Neil Diamond or Argent or The Guess Who. It was really ready for radio but rough and real.
Lyrically “Even Flow” told a story. Songs didn’t much tell stories then, that was fresh and new, and they all looked cool, too. Not retro. Not punk. Just like pacific northwest-something-is-going-on, an attitude that the rest of the country hadn’t picked up on yet. Musically, it was The Feelies, Glenn Branca, and Presence Led Zeppelin. It deeply resonated emotionally, and spearheaded, and helped crystallize an era.
Mark Richards, pro surfer:
I discovered Pearl Jam via the song “Alive”. I was in Tower Records in San Diego in 1992 and Ten was the album of the week playing in their store. I instantly liked it and enquired who the band was? I bought the album just on the strength of hearing “Alive”. So stoked I did…as I instantly liked every song on Ten. It is an album I still play regularly even after thousands of listens.
To have Pearl Jam play a small sports stadium in my home town of Newcastle was something I never imagined happening (2006, opening with “Alive”). When Ed asked if I wanted to have a shot at writing the setlist I instantly jumped at the chance, then I started to think about the reality and it freaked me out. I knew it would be scrutinized by the core PJ fans and I didn’t want to get it wrong! It seems like it would be easy to do, but with so many great songs in the PJ catalogue, it was a challenge to strike a balance between rarities, core fan songs, and well known hits, which I made an effort to do. Ed’s only direction was I couldn’t pick all old songs – I had to choose some from the current album. Most bands save their biggest hits /favourites for the encore, but Pearl Jam always mix up their sets and you never quite know what they will play, which is one of the great things about their shows. I knew there would be fans in the audience not familiar with all their albums and songs, hanging out to hear “Alive”, so I thought it was best to get it out of the way straight up so they weren’t waiting the whole show to hear it.
It was very gratifying to get feedback that it was a setlist that people enjoyed. It was a unique experience and it gave me an insight into the challenges that Ed and the band have set for themselves with their tradition of changing the setlist for every concert. Its an indication of how much they care about the fans concert experience.
Kelly Slater, pro surfer:
“Alive” was an anthem in the early 90’s for my generation. It was also a song that a friend of Eddie’s and mine woke up singing after a heart attack and thinking he had died. Funny enough his name was Jeremy. RIP Jeremy ‘Wire’ Curtain.
Prior to ever knowing anyone in the band, I was a huge fan of their music. I traveled with a friend named Shane Herring from Australia in the early 90’s and in ’92 all he listened to was Pearl Jam. That’s what introduced me to them. I won my first world title that year and Shane placed 4th. A couple of years later, Shane disappeared from pro surfing and got caught up in drugs and alcohol quite extensively. While going through a rough patch, I asked Eddie to call him and just lend him some support as a surprise. It was a touching gesture.
Everyone has a band or song that accurately sums up what you think and feel and Pearl Jam has been that for me.
I remember so clearly the day my brother handed me Ten and said “I need this back by the morning or you are in big shit!” I didn’t sleep that night. I put on that album and my world was rocked. It was as if they were talking directly to me. The melodies, the words, the ripping solos, the non stop ferociousness, and then the beautiful breaths of fresh air. I knew very quickly this was MY BAND.
I will never forget hearing “Why Go” for the first time. The drum intro draws you in immediately and then you are on a journey of riffs and blistering MCCREADYNESS!!! Ed floats over the entire thing leading you up and down as if he is taking you to ride a wave he and only he knows about. Stone and Jeff hold you down and interplay together in a way that is truly original to those two guys. Thank god for PEARL JAM. Without them I wouldn’t make music.
Rob Machado, pro surfer:
Ten absolutely blew my mind! Every song was off the charts. “Why Go” really resonated with me because I was on the road and traveling around the world, surfing the best waves. WHY GO HOME? I kept telling myself that.
It still brings back memories of being on the road going from place to place. I always had to have music in my car. Ten was in the rotation when we wanted to get amped for a surf.
I went to a Pearl Jam show in Brisbane and it was crazy… as always. During the encore Ed asked me if I wanted to come up and play “Rockin’ in the Free World”. I didn’t know the chords! Stone was giving me a quick tutorial but it was so hectic. There was so much going on. Before I know it, I’m on stage and they turn the house lights on. 10,000 people staring at me! At least that’s what it felt like. They rip into the song and I’m lost, forgot the chords, nervous,… so I finally come to the realization that I should just turn the volume on my guitar off and don’t stress about it. I played air guitar the whole song and cruised around stage checking out everyone’s vibe. It was epic. Next time I’ll learn the song.
The first time I heard “Black” I was walking up the stairs heading to the back corner room of my cousin’s house. I walk in and become submersed in this emotional wave of melodic expression. My cousin looks at me quickly, not wanting to break concentration and reacts to my “wow” look by saying, “It’s “Black” by a new band called Pearl Jam.” He was teaching himself to play it on the bass guitar while listening to the cassette. I was in absolute awe of the lyrical use of the word “tattooed”. How clever. Thoughtful.
The first time I saw “Black” was the delivery we were all treated to via MTV Unplugged. As soon as Jeff Ament hit those two bass notes so prominently leading into the first verse, I was fixated. Then, the way Eddie Vedder’s eyes were closed tight, his signature grip on that resilient microphone, and the outpour of passion… the “that’s all.”
The first time I felt “Black” was April 3, 1994. That same cousin and I again relied on a trusty cassette and recorded in our grandfather’s office – the Atlanta Fox Theater concert the radio station was broadcasting. This version remains otherworldly to me largely due to the heaviness of the tag at the end. “No one understands….” We belong together. I felt “Black” again about ten years later. I can now tap into the sentiment, but also hold on to it and smile. For me, “Black” allows that.
This song is one of the most beautifully artistic stories put to song-form. It has natural strength to individually heal and universally feel. The “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life” lyric, stood alone in 1991 as a star in the sky in terms of writing. It remains there, shining bright still today. As the earth to the sun.
There’s also an energy that’s transmitted from the stage to the audience that’s unlike anything else I’ve seen during a live performance of “Black”. It’s something spiritual. A moment to be vulnerable, but with understanding all around you.
Sam Wilkerson, White Reaper:
This is one of the most recognizable bass riffs of all time. It’s so simple and catchy. I remember the harmonic stood out a lot to me when I first heard “Jeremy” and it quickly became my favorite Pearl Jam track.
I love the atmosphere the whole song is based around. No one else could set the tone for the song in the same way that Pearl Jam did. Everything lines up perfectly from the beginning to the end.
This album could never be recreated by any other band honestly. If you gave these songs to another band to record them it would never work. It’s a visceral experience to listen to the whole thing. I feel lucky to have it exist. There would be a lot less songs for us to scream in the van together if it didn’t.
Isaiah Radke, Radkey:
“Jeremy” is one of my all-time favorite songs. It has a huge influence on me as a bassist and lyricist. As a kid it was so cool to hear a big catchy rock song start with such a cool, and up-front bassline. I’ve always loved a song that tells a story, especially a story that’s difficult to hear. And that story taking place in a classroom was always interesting to me as a homeschooled kid. Not ever having been in one.
I always look to songs like “Jeremy” when it comes to songwriting. I want our songs to hit as hard lyrically, while also being melodic and sort of unpredictable like the lines in the verses. This song really is impressive.
The first time I heard Ten was when my dad bought it for me on my 12th birthday. I remember being blown away by the massive sound. It really changed the way I thought about what rock music could sound like.
Jim James, My Morning Jacket:
I was 13 when my little brother was born and when he would wake up I would sing him “Oceans” sometimes to put him to back to sleep.
I didn’t have an older sibling or anyone to teach me about new music and I feel like the great thing about bands like Pearl Jam/R.E.M/Nirvana was that they taught us about all the bands that came before them as well as other great new bands who might not have been getting all the hype they were getting.
Pearl Jam have always seemed very generous about helping to turn their fans on to other music. It has also been so inspiring to see how hard they fight for good causes and speak up for what they believe in. I feel like they have been such a good “big brother” style influence on a band like us. Also opening for Pearl Jam – we thought it was so amazing that Eddie would take the time and effort to come sit in with us. It was incredible to get to sing with him and the rest of the guys, especially Jeff, were always very warm, welcoming and treated us so well.
David Shaw, The Revivalists:
I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 when I first came to hear the force that is Pearl Jam. I was a child of the 80’s and the heyday of MTV and the Headbangers Ball. The video for “Even Flow” brought me in and the song “Porch” was everything my pre-adolescent ears wanted to hear. Especially with that opening line.
I just love that there’s something truly singular about them and this song. 30 years later it still sounds fresh and hits in an entirely different way. That’s the mark of a good song and a great band. Long live Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam’s sound and their songwriting are at the heart of why, 30 years later, the tracks from Ten are still relevant. Take a song like “Garden”: it’s bold. Sure, it’s easy to lose yourself in those melodic guitars and the charged electric mood of it, but if you choose to dig into the lyrics, they’re questioning society and religious institutions – something that still can be taboo for mainstream artists, even in 2021. Of course, that’s just my interpretation – I’m sure other fans have their own, which is another cool thing about great art.
Pearl Jam released Ten about three weeks before I was born – sorry, I know that makes things awkward for some of you! -So, naturally, it took me a while to discover the magic of this band. In fact, the first time I remember becoming aware of Eddie Vedder was the Into The Wild soundtrack. His voice, his lyrics – written like poetry – and the subject matter of his songs all seemed important. From there, I worked backwards, and soon, I was hooked on the whole catalog.
It’s hard to come by artists this honest, ones who give a damn about the world around them, who value their fans and live performance like it’s their first tour even after thousands and thousands of shows, and who aren’t afraid to be political and write or talk about the tough things (even if it costs them). Now add the fact that they’ve also made and released incredible music for as many years as I’ve been alive? To me, that’s the power of Pearl Jam.
Eva Walker, The Black Tones:
I remember first hearing Ten sometime during childhood, when I was elementary school-aged. My older sister was really into the big Seattle grunge bands back in the 90’s, and usually whatever she was listening to, my twin brother and I were also listening to. So, the very first time I heard this record was as a child. But years later, as a grown person, I can easily say how much I appreciate this record and how great the songs on Ten are.
“Deep,” to me, is one of those songs that doesn’t have one concrete meaning — and I love that. I believe it can represent either three stages of one person’s life or three completely separate stories about three different people. In addition, I know what it’s like to feel depressed and what it takes to dig deep within myself for relief. Also, I know how hard it can be to dig deep and see something wrong with myself that needs fixing. The song, I believe, talks about these aspects of existence, internally and externally, and I really appreciate that.
I love how open-ended “Deep” is. For an important song on an historic album, it’s really great to know there are so many ways in. The many interpretations I have for myself are helpful for any stage of my life, what I’m going through or even what a friend is going through. Mike McCready’s guitar is just unbelievable, of course. He really makes it sing the blues authentically. It’s as if Eddie’s voice is the narrator and Mike’s guitar is the first-person experience and all of the emotions felt in Eddie’s tale.
These songs on Ten and Eddie’s voice are so nostalgic for me — they remind me of home in a time when the concept of it was really taking shape. These are the sounds of my childhood ringing out, along with eating Southern cuisine every day, and going to church on Sundays. I grew up in a very Southern household — we just happened to be located in the Pacific Northwest. Bands like Pearl Jam and albums like Ten take me back to some of the best times of my early life. Pearl Jam is a gem here in the northwest and I for one have appreciated their love of the city, support and investment in the next generation of musicians.
Taylor Knox, pro surfer:
When I first heard “Deep” I was in Reunion Island and Taylor Steele gave me the Ten CD to listen to. I kind of judged the book by the cover thinking how could this pink-ish cover be that good. Well, I listened to that CD everyday for the next month and ended up getting 2nd at the first Jbay CT. “Deep” just totally blew my mind.
Ten was amazing. Even though I could never use a song in a video part, it was always still a dream to get to use it. There was a connection there, too – knowing that Eddie spent a lot of time in San Diego (where I’m from) when he was growing up. I loved the music that was coming out at the time – Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam… it felt like they were playing to how someone in there early 20’s was really feeling.
Nicole Alvarez, KROQ:
Oh God, the first time I heard “Release” I was crippled by it. You know, you hear Eddie Vedder’s voice come in and it is so guttural and hypnotic that before you know it you are in a complete state of emotional trance, it’s almost shamanic. I remember immediately weeping, not just soft tears rolling down my face crying, but that song opens a portal to the soul and everything you hold inside, and maybe even sometimes bury, it all comes pouring out and it becomes an actual release. I still cry every time I hear “Release”, particularly when they open a show with it.
I love that Pearl Jam fans play this little game where we all try to guess what the band will open with at every show. In my opinion, there is no better opening statement than opening with “Release”. I want to feel as profoundly as I can at a Pearl Jam show and “Release” is the opener that sets that tone.
I have a complicated relationship with my father so anytime I hear “Oh dear dad”, I get an opportunity to work through those emotions. Ten is the album that magnified my identity to me. I will never forget the first time I heard Eddie Vedder’s voice. From that moment on, Pearl Jam has been my lighthouse and I can never get too lost. I just press play and I can find my way home.
photo by: Karen Mason-Blair
To learn more about Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation visit: PearlJam.com/Vitalogy