Black (Pearl Jam song)

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Promotional single by Pearl Jam
from the album Ten
ReleasedAugust 27, 1991[1]
RecordedLondon Bridge Studios, Seattle, Washington[2]
Songwriter(s)Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard
Producer(s)Rick Parashar, Pearl Jam

"Black" is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam. The song is the fifth track on the band's debut album, Ten (1991). Featuring 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. Remixed versions of the song were included on Pearl Jam's 2004 greatest hits album, Rearviewmirror, and the 2009 Ten reissue. It has gone on to become one of the band's most popular songs, as well as a fan favorite.

Origin and recording[edit]

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.[4] 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".[4] The song was recorded during the Ten album recording sessions at London Bridge Studios with Rick Parashar at the helm as Producer. The song was finally mixed and completed at Ridge Farm Studios in Surrey, England with Tim Palmer

Guitarist Mike McCready on the song's lead guitar work:

That's more of a Stevie [Ray Vaughan] rip-off, with me playing little flowing things. I was way into that trip—I still am, actually, but it was probably more obvious back then. I really thought the song was beautiful. Stone wrote it and he just let me do what I wanted.[5]


Vocalist Eddie Vedder on the song's lyrics:

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder had been a fan of American Music Club for years. Pearl Jam's song 'Black', Melody Maker's All Jones maintains, "couldn't have been written without AMC's songs as an example. 'Black' doesn't quote directly from 'Western Sky,' but it paraphrases the line 'Please be happy baby' where Vedder sings in a very Eitzel way, 'I hope someday you'll have a beautiful life'." Vedder confirmed Jones' interpretation when they first met. "Oh yes, nobody ever picked up on that," the singer told him. "It is American Music Club, but I'm surprised that anyone here has even heard of them."[6]

In the 2011 book Pearl Jam Twenty, Vedder said about the meaning of the song:

It's about first relationships. The song is about letting go. 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.[7]


"Black" became one of Pearl Jam's best-known songs and is a central emotional piece on the album Ten. Despite pressure from Epic Records, the band refused to make it into a single, citing it as too personal and expressing fear that its emotional weight would be destroyed in a music video. Vedder stated that "fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don't want to be a part of it. I don't think the band wants to be part of it."[8] Vedder personally called radio station managers to make sure Epic had not released the song as a single against his wishes.[9] In spite of this, the song charted at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 20 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1993.

Stephen M. Deusner of Pitchfork Media said, "On songs like...'Black,' with strangely dramatic vocalizations, there's a hardscrabble dynamic that the band would be unable to capture on subsequent releases."[10]

In March 2009, "Black" was made available as downloadable content for the Rock Band series as a master track as part of the album Ten.[11] The song was featured in the Cold Case episode "Into the Blue" in 2009.

In May 2011, "Black" was voted the 9th Best Ballad of All Time by readers of Rolling Stone magazine.[12]

Live performances[edit]

"Black" was first performed live at the band's October 22, 1990 concert in Seattle, Washington at the Off Ramp Café.[13] Pearl Jam performed the song for its appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1992. Live performances of "Black" can be found on the "Dissident"/Live in Atlanta box set, the live album Live on Two Legs, various official bootlegs, the live album Live at Benaroya Hall, the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set, and the Drop in the Park LP included in the Super Deluxe edition of the Ten reissue. Performances of the song are also included on the DVD Live at the Garden and the MTV Unplugged DVD included in the Ten reissue.[citation needed]


Pearl Jam

Additional musicians


Chart (1993) Peak
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[14] 3
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[15] 20


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy (FIMI)[16]
Sales since 2009
Gold 35,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Huey, Steve. "Pearl Jam - Ten". Allmusic. Archived from the original on October 2, 2014. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
  2. ^ Weisbard, Eric, et al. "Ten Past Ten". Spin. August 2001.
  3. ^ "YouTuber Turns Pearl Jam's "Black" into a Type O Negative Song: Stream". Consequence of Sound. March 25, 2021. Retrieved May 2, 2021. The brooding grunge ballad works nicely in the vein of the gothic metal legends.
  4. ^ a b Pearlman, Nina. "Black Days". Guitar World. December 2002.
  5. ^ Gilbert, Jeff. "Prime Cuts: Mike McCready - The Best of Pearl Jam!" Archived December 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Guitar School. May 1995.
  6. ^ Body, Seán. Wish the World Away: Mark Eitzel and American Music Club. London: SAF, 1999. Print. p 158.
  7. ^ Cohen, Jonathan (September 13, 2011). Pearl Jam Twenty. Simon & Schuster. p. 68. ISBN 978-1439169216.
  8. ^ Crowe, Cameron (October 28, 1993). "Five Against the World". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 19, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
  9. ^ Snow, Mat. "You, My Son, Are Weird". Q. November 1993.
  10. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. "Pearl Jam: Ten" Archived April 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Pitchfork Media. April 3, 2009.
  11. ^ Faylor, Chris (December 14, 2008). "Rock Band Getting Full Pearl Jam Album". Shacknews. Archived from the original on December 15, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2008.
  12. ^ "Readers Pick the Best Ballads of All Time Pictures - 9. 'Black'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on August 1, 2018. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  13. ^ "Pearl Jam Songs: "Black"" Archived May 21, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Pearl Jam Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved May 2, 2021.
  15. ^ "Pearl Jam Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  16. ^ "Italian single certifications – Pearl Jam – Black" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved August 30, 2021. Select "2021" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Black" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".

External links[edit]