Eddie Vedder is an iconic frontman, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter who has helped make Pearl Jam one of the most beloved bands of the last 30 years. He has established his legacy as one of rock music’s finest singers through a series of searing songs. ‘Black’ is one of his most cherished tracks, an effort which Vedder puts in a fierce vocal performance, something which sounds even better when listened to isolated.
The rise of Pearl Jam is a truly fascinating one. Their monumental set at the travelling circus that was Lollapalooza ’92 played a pivotal role in establishing their dominance for decades to come but, in truth, it was the music that kept the band in their top spot. The performance came a year after Pearl Jam had released their debut record Ten which ‘Black’ features on.
The album is now widely viewed as one of the greatest records of the ’90s. However, the record was anything but an instant success, failing to land with fans and struggling commercially. It would be over 12 months later, following incessant touring, when word spread about Pearl Jam’s insane ability as a live act—a factor that would finally propel Ten into the top 10 in the US album charts.
“It’s hard for us to watch early performances, even though that’s when people think we were on fire and young,” Vedder later admitted about the Ten era of Pearl Jam. “Playing music for as long as I had been playing music and then getting a shot at making a record and at having an audience and stuff. It’s just like an untamed force and a different kind of energy.”
He added: “I find it kind of hard to watch those early performances because it’s so just fucking, semi-testosterone-fueled or whatever. But it didn’t come from jock mentality. It came from just being let out of the gates. And Jeff and Stone, their horse was just about to be put down when it was put in the race. And I was coming from the same place. So when they finally let us out of the gates, we didn’t have a smooth, galvanized, streamlined gate. We were just rocking all over the place.”
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 but Vedder and the band refused because of the song’s personal nature, an effort which he wrote straight from the heart about the dissipation of his first love. Despite not having a commercial release, the song has managed to become one of their most popular songs as the decades have passed and it’s undeniably one of the definitive Pearl Jam tracks.
“It’s about first relationships. The song is about letting go,” Vedder said in the 2011 book Pearl Jam Twenty. “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.”
There is perhaps no better distillation of this song and its sentiments than by isolating the vocal performance from Vedder and hearing the very heartbreak and emotional turmoil he mentions above. Naturally, it is note perfect but it is the emotion Vedder evokes that takes it to a brand new level.
Listen to his searing, heartfelt isolated vocals on ‘Black’, below.