Black (1991) – Pearl Jam


This is my Desert Island Pearl Jam song choice. If I was restricted to choose just one Pearl Jam song to take with me for the rest of my life, then Black would be it. I also consider it one of my 20 favourite songs of all time. To my mind, this song propels their album Ten from an excellent record into the highest tier – classic record realm. One fan member Jenilla at songmeanings summed up how I also feel about Black: ‘It’s about the  most honest and raw expression of such excruciating pain and longing that anyone who’s ever lost their greatest love can relate to.’

Eddie Vedder explained in the Pearl Jam 20 documentary about Black:It’s very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull and where it’s going to take people and how they’re going to grow. I’ve heard it said that you can’t really have a true love unless it was a love unrequited. It’s a harsh one, because then your truest one is the one you can’t have forever.

According to wikipedia:

(Black) Features lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music written by guitarist Stone Gossard. After Ten became a commercial success in 1992, Pearl Jam’s record label Epic Records urged the group to release the song as a single. The band refused, citing the song’s personal nature. Despite the lack of a commercial single release, the song managed to reach number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart…It has gone on to become one of the band’s most popular songs, as well as a fan favorite.

The song originated as an instrumental demo under the name “E Ballad” that was written by guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990. It was one of five songs compiled onto a tape called Stone Gossard Demos ’91 that was circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer for Pearl Jam. The tape made its way into the hands of vocalist Eddie Vedder, who was working as a San Diego gas station attendant at the time. Vedder recorded vocals for three of the songs on the demo tape (“Alive”, “Once”, and “Footsteps”), and mailed the tape back to Seattle. Upon hearing the tape, the band invited Vedder to come to Seattle. On his way to Seattle, Vedder wrote lyrics for “E Ballad”, which he called “Black”.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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18 comments on “Black (1991) – Pearl Jam
  1. badfinger20 says:

    Never knew the story on how it came to be…that is interesting about Vedder getting the tapes. I guess they knew they had a winner when they heard it.

    I like Vedder’s voice…especially when he covers other songs. I posted a video in the comments section yesterday of him fronting the original Doors.

    • Yeh. I read your comments regarding Vedder fronting the Doors. I never knew that. The story of him getting into Pearl Jam and then turning them into the biggest band in the world in two years is what’s remarkable. One minute you’re pumping gas and the next you’re doing Masters of War at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary concert.

      • badfinger20 says:

        Fate lent a hand of getting those tapes to him…. What a ride that had to have been…but he is very intelligent and didn’t do himself in like many do.

        He seems like a down to earth guy

      • Yeh, I saw an interview with him with Sean Penn about the ‘Into the Wild’ Film. Seems very low key and modest.
        You have to remember that when Cobain did himself in, many of their fans then turned to Pearl Jam, and Vedder and the band had this enormous responsibility for the Seattle scene and followers to hold their end up in the wake of this great tragedy.

      • badfinger20 says:

        They were put on the spot when that happened. They did a great job carrying on. They had much more variety than Nirvana…they covered more ground.

      • I read somewhere a long time ago and I don’t know of its accuracy, but supposedly Pearl Jam were deluged with letters from clinically depressed Nirvana fans after Cobain’s death and they became like a refuge of sorts and were nearly overwhelmed with their having to respond and offer support.

      • badfinger20 says:

        Wow I never heard that.

  2. Nadine says:

    Black was quite possibly my favourite song back then. And there were so many amazing songs in that era. I was a huge fan of Pearl Jam and especially that album. This song absolutely though. It just mourned within every note yet created this incredibly loving dreamscape… I love that you dug up that Vedder quote: “I’ve heard it said that you can’t really have a true love unless it was a love unrequited.” Wow! I’d never thought that way about love before.

    • It’s still one of my favourite songs. When I listen to it, I can’t help but be totally immersed in it. I agree, that era of music especially the Seattle scene was a standout and Jam of course were at their peak.

      Yes, it’s an amazing quote by Vedder and it reminds me of a long lost love I once had, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s as though it takes just once when you have lost a true love that you understand what ‘Love’ is. Or maybe it’s the loss which makes it true and it’s that which disassociates the ‘melancholic – pessimists’ from the rest. haha

      • Nadine says:

        The music of that period was so tied in with the good times and bad times for me that I rarely if ever listen to it any more. But I do remember its magnificence. That song in particular. as for true love, I do love the buddhist idea of it – but also yours – yes, when we see a loss positively it prevents us from becoming bitter and/or cynical. 🔆

      • I also think back to that period and I too had good and bad times, but these songs mainly make me reminisce fondly. I’m a bit of a nostalgic freak if you haven’t already gleaned lol
        I’m not sure if I’m familiar with the Buddhist idea of true love. Is it something to do with that old saying ‘about if the bird comes back it was yours to begin with’?

      • Nadine says:

        Haha yes, well, I think you frame, or run with, nostalgia beautifully.
        I read that the Buddhist idea of true love is that it’s composed of four main elements: Maitri (kindness, benevolence), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (joy, happiness), and Upeksha (freedom). If all four of these elements are not present, then it is not true love but something else, such as yearning or lust, which equates to suffering, since in it we feel unfulfilled. There are various articles that outline this topic on the web, and Wikipedia goes in depth into each element, but here is the article that appeared at the top of the list when I searched again for it just now, I think it outlines it very nicely:

      • Hi Nadine, thanks so much for the link. I must admit I”m weary of these checklist / meeting a criteria definitions for anything so subjective and spiritual. I like The Princess Bride’s interpretation of True Love. But hey I’m an old sentimentalist. Hehe. But I admire the Buddhist philosophy and teachings on the whole. Cheers.

      • Nadine says:

        That makes sense, I hear you on that for sure. The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favourite movies!

      • Yeh, I love it too. It’s just so rewatchable. And Mark Knophler’s soundtrack is wonderful.

      • Nadine says:

        That’s it exactly!! So rewatchable! I have not paid specific attention to the soundtrack before. Will have to, next time. :))

      • I was so impressed by the soundtrack as a kid I bought the cassette lol Have a great day Nadine.

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