Pearl Jam was one of the most popular bands of the grunge music era in the early 1990s. Before their mainstream success as "Pearl Jam", certain members had recorded successfully as Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog.
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The band Mother Love Bone formed in 1988 out of the ashes of Green River, and immediately created a buzz among critics (see 1988 in music). In addition to Green River's Ament, Gossard, and Bruce Fairweather (guitar), the band also featured Andrew Wood (lead singer, piano), and Greg Gilmore (drums). They signed to Polygram and began recording and touring. Wood checked himself into a rehab center in order to defeat a painful heroin addiction. He was found dead of an overdose before he could quit. Mother Love Bone's EP, Shine (1989 in music) and the album, Apple (1990 in music) was released posthumously, and the band decided to discontinue the name. With old friends Matt Cameron and Chris Cornell (both of Soundgarden), Ament and Gossard released Temple of the Dog under the name "Temple of the Dog". The album was a moderate success, and the remaining members soon formed Pearl Jam.
Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament recruited guitarist Mike McCready and recorded a 3 song demo tape. This tape made it to ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who passed it on to Eddie Vedder, living in San Diego, during one of their one-on-one basketball games. Inspired by what he heard, Vedder put his vocals to the tracks (the 'Mamason' trilogy) and mailed the tape back to Gossard. Gossard and Ament were so impressed that they had Vedder fly up from San Diego to see how the group played together. Things went well and, with the addition of Dave Krusen on drums, Mookie Blaylock was formed. However, the issue of naming a band after the then NJ Nets point guard raised problems, and the band was renamed Pearl Jam (after Eddie's aunt Pearl and her special jam, which used peyote as an ingredient). Keeping Blaylock in mind the band decided to honor him by using his number as the title of their debut album.
Pearl Jam became a key member of the Seattle grunge explosion, along with Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Kurt Cobain at one point angrily attacked the group because he saw them as commercial "sell outs"; however Kurt and Eddie Vedder later reconciled and reportedly became friends. (See Green River)
Ten, their first album, collects 11 songs possessed of a singular vision and sound. The preoccupation with death and serial killers is intriguing; "Jeremy", about a boy shooting himself in front of his classmates, and based on a true story, is especially fascinating, given the events in Columbine nearly a decade later. It seems another example of a culture's artists being able to put their finger on the nation's pulse, and implore change years before authorities and institutions become aware of the real issues and discontent bubbling under the surface. The Mamason trilogy - "Alive", "Once", and "Footsteps" (b-side) - is generally interpreted to be the story of a boy who grows up to be a serial killer and is placed in prison. On November 19, 1993, two weeks into Pearl Jam's Ten U.S. tour, Vedder was arrested in New Orleans on charges of public drunkenness after a bar room brawl.
Pearl Jam's first three albums were huge, commercially and critically. After that time, possibly in part because of a lawsuit alleging a Ticketmaster monopoly which stifled the launch of supportive tours, Pearl Jam lost fans (and the lawsuit). Also, at this time, Eddie Vedder began to steer the group in a non-commercial direction, and the music began to re-earn its alternative label. No Code is the primary example, as is Vedder's collaboration with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack.
Brad, Gossard's side project, was formed around this time.
Yield, upon release, was proclaimed as a return to the band's early, straight-forward-rock sound, but it failed to sell as well as their earlier albums. Many fans had been driven away by the experimentation of No Code, and the bands reluctance to modernize and commercialize their sound, as well as the death of grunge as a popular act, meant dwindling sales for each subsequent release.
After Binaurals release, and the resulting US and World tour, the band were the first to release high quality live recordings of each concert on the tour (except the one in Roskilde/Denmark where nine people died). This was to combat the proliferation of low-quality bootleg recordings made by zealous fans. All totaled, they released more than 50 albums, most with two CDs, and set a record for most albums to debut in the Billboard top 200.
On the groups latest release, Riot Act, they stick to their guns, again refusing to modernize and commercialize - and continue to galvanize their place in musical history. In it, the band condemns the profiteering of the rich, and greed in songs like "Green disease", and makes use of the free speech laws of the United States on "Bushleaguer", in which they criticise George W. Bush.
In June 2003, the band announced they were officially leaving their label of twelve years, Epic Records. This move is viewed a something of a coup and has been described as "...one institution leaving another, the most popular and important American rock band of the '90's, voluntarily rejecting the grandest label heritage...". Pearl Jam states it has "no interest at this time" of signing with another label and is "excited about our freedom". Pundits say if Pearl Jam's move is successful, it may be the death knell of the music industry as it is known today.
Pearl Jam has, since their genesis, expended more than the normal effort on liner notes, producing some of the most original in the industry. No Code, for example, includes a collection of Polaroids taken by the band. And only their first album, when they had little clout, was released in the standard CD jewel case.
"Spin the Black Circle", a track on Vitalogy, serves as their homage to the traditional vinyl format.
The group has also made the obligatory promotional appearances on television shows, such as David Letterman.1990-1991): 1991-present):
- Ten 1991
- Vs 1993
- Mirror Ball (with Neil Young) 1994
- Vitalogy 1994
- No Code 1996
- Yield 1998
- Live on Two Legs 1999
- Binaural 2000
- Riot Act 2002