Pearl Jam came out of the ashes of an early Seattle grunge band, Mother Love Bone. Their singer, Andrew Wood, died of a heroin overdose in 1990, but guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament wouldn’t give up. They pulled together lead guitarist Mike McCready and California singer-songwriter Eddie Vedder to form one of the most prolific bands in rock history. Here, on the anniversary of its release, ten facts about their smash 1991 debut, Ten.
1. In 2013, it became the 22nd album to sell ten million in the US
Though the album dropped in August 1991, it was a slow burn. It took nearly a year for it to gain momentum and reach platinum, but has gone on to be one of the best selling albums of the modern (post-1991) tracking era, behind juggernauts like The Beatles’ One.
2. Vedder hadn’t slept for days when he got the original demo
Gossard, Ament and McCready had recorded the instrumental demo, which was passed off to Vedder by a mutual friend, former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons. The singer was working too many jobs to fit in rest—to the benefit of the future band. “The sleep deprivation came into play,” Vedder told Rolling Stone in 1991. “You get so sensitive that it feels like every nerve is directly exposed. I started dealing with a few things that I hadn’t dealt with.”
3. Eddie wrote some of the lyrics while he was surfing
After Irons passed the five-song demo off to Vedder, he listened to it at work that night. When he went surfing the next morning, the words began to flow. “I was literally writing some of these words as I was going up against a wave or paddling,” he told Rolling Stone.
4. The first song he recorded was Alive, right after he got home from that surfing trip
The tired and brooding surfer quickly took to an instrumental called“Dollar Short, particularly the bridge, and he rushed home from the beach to scribble down lyrics and record this song loosely based on his experience of finding out a dead family friend was actually his biological father.
5. The demo Eddie sent back to the rest of the band was a three-song “mini-opera”
It included Alive, Once, and Footsteps, the last of which didn’t appear on the album, but did end up as the B-side to Jeremy. The trilogy shows the arc of a teenager learning about his real father, becoming a serial killer, and ending up on death row. Vedder recorded the three on a cassette, which he sent over with homemade album art he had Xeroxed at work. He called it the Mamasan Trilogy.
6. The melody for Footsteps also ended up on the Temple of the Dog album as Times of Trouble
Chris Cornell was Andrew Wood’s roommate when he died, so the Soundgarden singer brought together Temple—a grunge supergroup of sorts that included Cornell, Vedder, Gossard, and McCready—as a tribute to his late friend. They recorded this a few months before Pearl Jam took to the studio for Ten, with Cornell’s lyrics, a plea to a friend to quit doing drugs.
7. Before they put out Ten, they toured under the name Mookie Blaylock
Mookie was a point guard in the New Jersey Nets. According to Ament, the band would use part of their $10 studio per diem to buy a pack of basketball cards; when time came to pick a name, they used it as a temporary moniker. “Mookie was cool about it, too,” the bassist later said. “He didn’t sue us.” Though they changed to Pearl Jam, the player’s number, 10, still became a memorable part of the band’s history.
8. They didn’t want to do any studio tricks, but they ended up splicing some guitar parts
Most notably on Even Flow, where guitarist McCready remembered doing takes “about 50, 70 times. I swear to God it was a nightmare. We played that thing over and over until we hated each other.” Engineer Dave Hillis put together some of those different takes to get the lead guitar that ended up on the album. “Overall, this was pretty straightforward, classic recording,” he later said. “Other than tape splicing, there weren’t a lot of tricks.”
9. Jeremy was about the real-life suicide
In January 1991, Jeremy Wade Delle, a 16-year-old Dallas student, killed himself in front of his second-period English class. When Vedder read an account in the paper, it really hit home: “I knew a kid who brought a sawed–off shotgun to class,” he later said. “He didn’t kill anybody … He had eyes like you wouldn’t believe. They were just soulless and black, like a shark.”
10. Vedder hated the album art.
But given that he was the last one in the band, he didn’t feel he could speak up. “He said he hated it because it was mauve,” one friend told journalist Kim Neely. “I remember him asking, well did you say anything to Jeff [Ament]? And he said, I’m the new guy, I can’t do that yet.”