Released: August 27, 1991
Peak: 2 US, 18 UK, 1 CN, 11 AU
Sales (in millions): 13.0 US, 0.6 UK, 18.9 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: rock > grunge
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Songs written by Gossard/ Vedder unless noted otherwise.
Total Running Time: 53:20
4.333 out of 5.00 (average of 24 ratings)
Quotable: “A flawlessly crafted hard rock masterpiece” – Steve Huey, All Music Guide
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Pearl Jam clicked with a mass audience – they weren’t as metallic as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and of Seattle’s Big Four, their sound owed the greatest debt to classic rock.” SH “Pearl Jam’s rhythm section links the majestic brawn of Led Zeppelin to the righteous fervor of the Who to the visceral, distorted, frayed-nerve guitar attack that made Seattle famous.” TM Ten embraces “the structured guitar work of Jimi Hendrix over Nirvana's buzz saw leads.” RV Pearl Jam’s album was marked by Eddie Vedder’s “urgent, highly distinctive timbre” GW and “shaky, agonized growl” RS not to mention “intricately arranged guitar textures and expansive harmonic vocabulary.” SH
“Though they rock hard, Pearl Jam is too anti-star to swagger, too self-aware to puncture the album’s air of gravity.” SH They tackle “weighty topics – abortion, homelessness, childhood traumas, gun violence, rigorous introspection – with an earnest zeal unmatched since mid-‘80s U2, whose anthemic sound they frequently strive for.” SH “Vedder’s impressionistic lyrics often make their greatest impact through the passionate commitment of his delivery rather than concrete meaning.” SH “His stories don’t always unfold in linear fashion or end with a tidy summary.” TM As McCready said of Vedder, “He’s a man full of conviction. That comes in his singing and writing, and hopefully our music backs that up.” GW
Ten, Pearl Jam’s debut album, “didn’t explode out of the box.” GW It reached its commercial peak nearly a year after its release. However, it eventually found itself “in a grunge popularity contest” RS with Nirvana’s Nevermind although the two “had very little in common, beyond a raw, raging power that had been missing from rock for too long.” TB They also both offered “a message to a disillusioned generation, a salve for their feeling of isolation” NP and “a cathartic purging of pain and loss.” NP
Nevermind got the lion’s share of credit for breaking grunge and alternative to the mainstream, SH but it may surprise people to know that Ten was certified for more sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (13 million to Nevermind’s 11 million).
The appeal of Nevermind “wasn’t universal; rock radio still viewed them as too raw and punky, and some hard rock fans dismissed them as weird misfits.” SH However, Pearl Jam were “the latest manifestation of the primeval power than galvanizes rock whenever it gets complacent.” PR It didn’t just help in legitimizing grunge, but “in reshaping hard rock” RS with its “ferocious synthesis of hard rock and punk to articulate the pain and frustration of a generation.” PR Even Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain insisted that Pearl Jam could hardly be considered “alternative,” given that they featured such prominent guitar leads. NP “Radio programmers in search of acceptable grunge to to play alongside Led Zeppelin, U2 and Guns N’ Roses” GW discovered Pearl Jam “songs that sounded great anytime, anywhere.” GW
Mother Love Bone:
Pearl Jam’s origins can be traced back to Green River, a mid-‘80s grunge band featuring guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament. The band can almost be considered ground zero for grunge as other members Mark Arm and Steve Turner would go on to form Mudhoney, another pioneering grunge group. While Arm was more about the DIY ethic of punk bands like Black Flag, Gossard and Ament drew inspiration from more commercial hard rock acts like AC/DC and Kiss. NP
When Green River broke up, Gossard and Ament went on to form Mother Love Bone with singer Andrew Wood. However, tragedy struck when he died of an accidental heroin overdose on March 19, 1990 – just weeks before the band released their debut album, Apple. NP
That summer, Gossard and Ament started jamming with guitarist Mike McCready. With the help of Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, they put together some instrumental which they sent out in a search for a lead singer and permanent drummer. Eddie Vedder, a surfer and singer from San Diego, responded with lyrics and vocals for a song called “Alive,” based on the instrumental “Dollar Short” from the tape sent out by Gossard and company. NP Vedder had been with a band called Bad Radio for four years, but left because they didn’t match his level of ambition. NP
The band originally called themselves Mookie Blaylock after the New Jersey Nets basketball player. They changed the name to Pearl Jam, supposedly after a hallucinogenic jam which Vedder’s great grandmother made, but the story is probably made up. The band did maintain a reference to Blaylock on the debut by calling it Ten, which was Blaylock’s jersey number. NP
Temple of the Dog:
Just as Mookie Blaylock were coming together, another project inspired by Andrew Wood’s death surfaced. Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and one-time roommate of Wood’s, wrote the songs “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down” in response to Wood’s death. While Matt Cameron was working with the future members of Pearl Jam on their initial demo tape, he played Cornell’s songs for them. Ament called Cornell and suggested they make an entire album. The project took on the name “Temple of the Dog” after a line in the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words.” NP
Most of the lyrics and music were written by Cornell, but Gossard contributed “Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Four Walled World,” and “Times of Trouble.” Vedder also sang backup on a few tracks and even sang lead alongside Cornell on “Hunger Strike.”
“Alive” was a “twin-guitar-powered rocker” TB “interpreted as an anthem by many.” WK However, Vedder explained that the song was semi-autobiographical in that he was raised thinking his stepfather was his real dad. At 17, she informed him that his biological father had died. NP The song also has a creepy vibe in that in her grief, the mother tries “to sexually embrace her son, who strongly resembles the biological father.” WK As Vedder said, “the song’s protagonist ‘is still dealing with the death of [his] father’” and feels “puzzled and burdened by the knowledge that ‘I’m still alive.’” TM When Vedder gave the song to Gossard and Ament, it struck a chord for them because of its theme about loss. NP
Notes: Ten was reissued in 2009 as a two-CD set with bonus tracks “Brother,” “Just a Girl,” “Breath and a Scream,” “State of Love and Trust,” 2000 Mile Blues,” and “Evil Little Goat.” “Pearl Jam brought in their longtime producer Brendan O’Brien to remix Ten from the ground up, to strip away the studio affectations of producer Rick Parashar and mixer Tim Palmer that made it a bright, shiny anomaly during the dingy heyday of grunge and make the album sound more like the rest of the band's work.” STE
That was “followed by a triple-disc set that adds a DVD of the band's 1992 performance for MTV Unplugged and then there's a gargantuan, frankly ludicrous, collectors edition that has all that plus four slabs of vinyl containing the two mixes of the album plus a 1992 live show, one cassette that replicates the original demo Eddie Vedder turned in as his audition, and assorted memorabilia that retails for $200.00.” STE
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First posted 3/22/2008; last updated 2/15/2022.