Revolutions: Pearl Jam's "Ten"
REVOLUTIONS EXPLORES SOME OF THE RECORDS THAT HAVE ALTERED AND INFLUENCED THE MUSIC WORLD.
The Rock Hall and Klipsch Audio take fans deep inside these albums to showcase their significance and impact. In this episode, we take a look at Pearl Jam's 1991 debut Ten.
1991 was a pivotal year for rock 'n' roll, thanks in no small part to the release of Pearl Jam's uncompromising Ten.
With a demo cassette as their introduction, San Diego-based Eddie Vedder flew to Seattle in October 1990 to jam with his future bandmates for the first time.
The in-person musical chemistry was undeniable: The group—bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, and drummer Dave Krusen—created the bulk of what would evolve into Ten during these initial meetings.
Inside Seattle’s famed London Bridge Studio, producer Rick Parashar captured Pearl Jam’s frenzied creative spontaneity. It took a month to shape the raw energy and unbridled sounds into a deliberately unpredictable album.
The boogie-blues single "Even Flow" was played dozens of times—other tunes reflected the ferocious kinetic energy of a first take.
"Release"—the sprawling, six-minute ballad—arose out of a loose jam session, while the feverish "Porch" reflected the band’s affinity for punk music.
"Once" and "Why Go" boast elastic funk-rock grooves, while the blazing psychedelic guitar swerves of "Deep" even recall those favored by fellow Seattleite Jimi Hendrix.
The record had deep reverence for artistic giants—like Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Who and Led Zeppelin—but harnessed modern culture's restless energy and anxiety.
In "Alive," Vedder reveals his surprise when he discovered his stepdad wasn't his biological father—and the latter man had died while he was a teen. The specter of the father that wasn’t follows him on "Release," where he worked out his sorrow by addressing the absent figure.
Vocally, Vedder didn't suppress this roller coaster of emotions. His teeth-gnashing growls and throat-searing yowls on "Once," agonizing wails on "Garden" and somber and meditative delicacy during "Black" brought listeners into the most intimate spaces of each song.
When Ten arrived, it received little fanfare outside of Seattle and was dwarfed by the immediate success of another 1991 album, Nirvana's Nevermind.
However, Pearl Jam hit the road following its release, opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers and appearing onstage at Lollapalooza '92. Their fan base grew quickly thanks to these live performances.
In concert, Pearl Jam fired on all cylinders and Vedder transformed into a magnetic front man and onstage daredevil.
During shows, he would scale impossibly high lighting rigs and stage scaffolds, like a rock 'n' roll Spider Man—and trust that the crowd below would catch him when he fell.
Ten tapped into the generational malaise and apprehension that had boiled over into the angst-ridden grunge movement.
Pearl Jam went on to sell millions of records and shaped the sound of rock 'n' roll in the '90s and beyond.