Nineteen years ago, Eddie Vedder unleashed an emotional tirade on a harmless cassette tape, singing over instrumental tracks and melodic samples played by Seattle musicians he didn’t even know. A short time later, that piece of plastic evolved into a landmark album, Pearl Jam’s debut “Ten,” which is being celebrated with a three-disc reissue on Tuesday.
In 1990, the musicians who would form Pearl Jam were in disarray. Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament had seen their previous band, Mother Love Bone, flame out after lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose. Guitarist Mike McCready’s previous band, Shadow, had just broken up. And down in San Diego, Vedder was pumping gas, surfing and playing in a going-nowhere band called Bad Radio.
In search of a singer and percussionist, the Seattle trio gave a copy of their rough demo tape to ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who passed it on to his basketball buddy Vedder. Once they heard Vedder’s snarl over their arrangements, they quickly flew him to Washington, where they proceeded to hit the studio seconds after the plane touched down.
“It was special right away,” recalls Ament of the sessions. “We knew [Eddie] was the missing piece.”
The songs that began forming contained dark meanings that were mostly hidden behind driving guitars and thunderous drums. “Even Flow” unveiled the morbid life of a homeless man. “Jeremy” was real-life tale of a schoolboy blowing his head off in front of his classmates. And “Alive” included lyrics focused on incest, betrayal and a broken-home life.
Amazingly, “Ten” which went on to sell more than 12 million copies never boasted a No.1 hit. But along with Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” it became one of modern rock’s most influential albums and a touchstone of what would become known as alternative rock.
Despite its revered status, Pearl Jam asked producer Brendan O’Brien to tinker with their first creation. His remix and six related tracks from the “Ten” sessions are part of the reissue package.
“The band loved the original mix of ‘Ten’ but were also interested in what it would sound like if I were to deconstruct and remix it,” says O’Brien, who produced the follow-up albums “Vs.,” “Vitalogy,” “No Code” and “Yield.”
“The original ‘Ten’ sound is what millions of people bought, dug and loved, so I was initially hesitant to mess around with that,” O’Brien adds. “I was able to wrap my head around the idea of offering it as a companion piece to the original giving a fresh take on it, a more direct sound.”
Several package options, ranging from $15.99 to $140, are available. Depending on which “goodie bag” is chosen, fans can finally possess Pearl Jam’s wild and unreleased 1992 performance on “MTV Unplugged,” an LP of the band’s 1992 “Drop in the Park” concert in Seattle, a replica of Pearl Jam’s three-song demo cassette with Vedder’s original vocal dubs or a recreation of the frontman’s composition notebook with abstract photos.
“[‘Ten’] has definitely withstood the test of time,” says current drummer Matt Cameron, who contributed to the original demo tape while still a member of Soundgarden. “I couldn’t have predicted what the album would become.”