Ten, Pearl Jam's debut studio album, was released on August 27, 1991—at the tail end of the summer before the term "grunge" would enter the popular lexicon. It would take a couple of hit singles and over a year for Ten to reach number two on the Billboard chart, but it did, and eventually sold more than 10 million copies.
The album was a collaboration between former Mother Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament who, after the tragic death of their singer, Andrew Wood, regrouped and started playing again—this time with guitarist Mike McCready and eventually drummer Dave Krusen. Vocalist Eddie Vedder famously heard instrumental demos of what would become worldwide hits and came up with the famous lyrics while riding some San Diego waves. Here are some facts about one of the best-selling rock albums of all-time.
1. "ALIVE" IS PART OF A TRILOGY.
In September 1990, while working the graveyard shift at a Chevron tank farm in San Diego, former Bad Radio frontman Eddie Vedder heard the instrumental demos made by Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron for the first time (he got the tape from former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons). “When you haven’t slept for days, you get so sensitive that it feels like every nerve is directly exposed," Vedder later explained. "I went surfing in that sleep-deprived state and totally started dealing with a few things that I hadn’t dealt with. I was really getting focused on this one thing, and I had this music in my mind at the same time. I was literally writing some of these words as I was going up against a wave.”
Vedder raced back to his apartment and taped himself singing over three of the songs. It was a "mini opera" he titled Mamasan featuring "Alive," "Once," and "Footsteps."
In 1993, Vedder told Cameron Crowe what "Alive" was about for him:
"The story of the song is that a mother is with a father, and the father dies. It's an intense thing because the son looks just like the father. The son grows up to be the father, the person that she lost. His father's dead, and now this confusion, his mother, his love, how does he love her, how does she love him? In fact, the mother, even though she marries somebody else, there's no one she's ever loved more than the father. You know how it is, first loves and stuff. And the guy dies. How could you ever get him back? But the son. He looks exactly like him. It's uncanny. So she wants him. The son is oblivious to it all. He doesn't know what the fu*k is going on. He's still dealing, he's still growing up. He's still dealing with love, he's still dealing with the death of his father. All he knows is 'I'm still alive'—those three words, that's totally out of burden."
Vedder would go on to say that in the opening track "Once," the son in "Alive" becomes a serial killer. "Footsteps," which would eventually be a "Jeremy" B side in the United Kingdom, is when he gets executed.
2. "EVEN FLOW" PROVED PROBLEMATIC IN THE STUDIO.
The band began recording Ten with producer Rick Parashar on March 11, 1991 at Seattle's London Bridge Studios, and completed the album within a month. But it wasn't all smooth sailing for the musicians. "Even Flow," in particular, proved to be a tough song to record.
"I don't know why," Dave Krusen said. "Not sure why we didn't use that one from the demo as well, but I know it felt better." McCready estimated that they recorded the song 50 to 70 times. "I swear to God it was a nightmare," he said. "We played that thing over and over until we hated each other."
3. "JEREMY" WAS BASED ON TWO DIFFERENT REAL-LIFE EVENTS.
Vedder wrote "Jeremy" the night that 16-year-old Jeremy Wade Delle fatally shot himself in front of his classmates in Richardson, Texas. In addition to that incident, he also had an old junior high school classmate who shot up an oceanography room in mind. "So it's a bit about this kid named Jeremy and it's also a bit about a kid named Brian that I knew," Vedder said.
4. MCCREADY BELIEVES HE RIPPED OFF DIFFERENT MUSICIANS.
Stone Gossard wrote the lead riff for "Even Flow," but McCready was tasked with playing it. “That’s me pretending to be Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a feeble attempt at that,” McCready admitted. “I tried to steal everything I know from Stevie Ray Vaughan and put it into that song. A blatant rip-off. A tribute rip-off, if you will!” He said pretty much the same thing about "Black." For "Alive," McCready said, "I copied Ace Frehley's solo from 'She,' which was copied from Robby Krieger's solo in The Doors's 'Five To One.'"
5. THE BAND REFUSED TO MAKE A VIDEO FOR "BLACK."
Vedder successfully protested against Epic Records' insistence that "Black" should get a music video. As bassist Jeff Ament told Rolling Stone, Mark Eitzel—lead singer of the San Francisco-based band American Music Club—told Ament he thought the "Jeremy" video "sucked" because it ruined his vision of the song. Ament admitted that the comment stung, and he told Vedder that, "Ten years from now, I don't want people to remember our songs as videos."
6. A FIRE EXTINGUISHER AND A PEPPER SHAKER WERE USED AS INSTRUMENTS ON ONE OF THE SONGS.
The album was mixed with Tim Palmer on a converted farm in Dorking, England. "You have to try very hard to find other human beings, but there are plenty of sheep," Palmer said of the studio's location. Palmer was credited as playing percussion on "Oceans" with a pepper mill as a shaker and drum sticks on a fire extinguisher "as a sort of bell effect."
"At about 30 seconds into the song, you can hear the pepper shaker on the left and the fire extinguisher on the right," he told Guitar World. "It is all fairly subtle stuff, really. The reason I used those items was purely because we were so far from a music rental shop and necessity became ‘the mother of invention.’”
7. JEFF AMENT ALMOST QUIT THE BAND OVER A SONG THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE ALBUM.
"Brother" was a song that was in consideration for Ten at the rough mix stage. But at some point, according to McCready, Gossard became indifferent toward the tune. Ament was "really pissed," and wanted the song to make the final cut. "I recall the big argument between the two," McCready said. "Jeff said it was almost like he was going to quit. It was serious sh*t."
Ament got his redemption nearly 20 years later. "Brother" was released on the 2009 album reissue and reached the top 10 on the modern and mainstream rock charts.
8. THE ALBUM'S TITLE WAS BASED ON THEIR ORIGINAL BAND NAME.
Up until they were recording the album at London Bridge Studios, Pearl Jam was known as Mookie Blaylock, as in the professional basketball player. Since calling themselves Mookie Blaylock would have possibly led to legal problems, they decided to just pay tribute to the point guard by calling their debut album Ten, his jersey number.
9. THE DRUMMER LEFT THE GROUP AFTER RECORDING THE ALBUM.
Once recording on Ten was complete, Dave Krusen left and checked into rehab. "They had to let me go. I couldn't stop drinking, and it was causing problems," Krusen said. "They gave me many chances, but I couldn't get it together."
Matt Chamberlain toured with Pearl Jam over the summer of 1991 and filmed the "Alive" video with them before leaving to join G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live band. Dave Abbruzzese then came in to play behind the drumkit for the next few years.
10. MOST OF THE BAND DOESN'T LIKE HOW THE ALBUM SOUNDS.
"I'd love to remix Ten," Ament told Spin in 2001. "Ed, for sure, would agree with me. Three, four years ago, I picked out a cassette, and it had the rough mixes of 'Garden' and 'Once,' and it sounded great. It wouldn't be like changing performances; just pull some of the reverb off it."
In 2009, Ament said that—unlike their other albums—Ten had a "little bit more of an '80s production." When Gossard was promoting the 2009 reissue of the album, featuring a remix of the original songs, he said that, "I think Ten's still good, but I don't put it on."