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“Black” by Pearl Jam is one of the band’s most iconic songs, known for its emotional depth and raw intensity. It first appeared on their debut album, Ten, released in 1991. The song was never released as a single in the U.S. Yet, it became one of their most beloved tracks, showcasing the band’s ability to blend heartfelt lyrics with powerful musical composition.

The song originated as an instrumental demo under “E Ballad,” written by guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990. At the time, Eddie Vedder worked as a San Diego gas station attendant. The instrumental demo entered Vedder’s hands, and he wrote the poignant lyrics that transformed “E Ballad” into “Black.” This collaboration became a significant part of the demo tape that helped secure Pearl Jam’s record deal with Epic Records. The song was recorded during the “Ten” album recording sessions at London Bridge Studios near Seattle.

Musically, “Black” is characterized by its haunting, melodic structure. The song starts with a gentle guitar riff that builds up to an intense crescendo. Mike McCready’s soulful guitar solo towards the end adds to the song’s emotional impact, making it a centerpiece of Pearl Jam’s live performances.

Despite the lack of a single release, “Black” reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Though not commercially pushed as a single, its airplay and fanbase support made it a significant hit. “Black” became one of Pearl Jam’s best-known songs and is a central emotional piece on the album “Ten.” Its popularity has endured over the years and is frequently included in lists of the greatest rock songs ever.

In May 2011, Rolling Stone magazine readers voted “Black” the 9th Best Ballad of All Time, highlighting its lasting impact on popular music.

Black” Lyrics

Hey, oh
Sheets of empty canvas
Untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me
As her body once did
All five horizons
Revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed
Has taken a turn

Oh and all I taught her was everything
Oh I know she gave me all that she wore
And now my bitter hands
Chafe beneath the clouds
Of what was everything
Oh the pictures have
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
I take a walk outside
I’m surrounded by
Some kids at play
I can feel their laughter
So why do I sear
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head
I’m spinning
Oh, I’m spinning
How quick the sun can, drop away

And now my bitter hands
Cradle broken glass
Of what was everything
All the pictures had
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
All the love gone bad
Turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see
All that I am
All I’ll be

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why
Why can’t it be
Why can’t it be mine

Pearl Jam – “Black

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Eddie Jerome Vedder / Stone C. Gossard

Black lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Pearl Jam’s “Black” Meaning

The lyrics to “Black” by Eddie Vedder capture the heartache and sorrow of a lost relationship.

At its core, “Black” is about the pain of losing someone you deeply love and the enduring impact they leave on your life. Eddi Vedder reflects on a past relationship with a mixture of sadness and nostalgia, expressing a longing for what it once was. This is poignantly captured in the lines,

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?

Eddie Vedder wrote “Black” based on his personal experiences in a past relationship. The song captures how someone who once meant everything has now become just faded memories and painful dreams. Despite giving their all, the relationship has ended and no longer matters. The past so consumes the narrator that he has lost touch with reality, unable to find joy in the simplest moments, like children playing in the park.

In the 2011 book Pearl Jam Twenty, Vedder elaborates on the song’s meaning: “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.” This insight emphasizes the inevitability of change and growth and the difficulty of maintaining relationships through these transformations.

Musically, “Black” perfectly complements its lyrical content. Stone Gossard’s haunting guitar work and Vedder’s emotional intensity create a somber and reflective atmosphere. The song’s dynamic build-up, from a soft beginning to a powerful crescendo, mirrors the emotional journey described in the lyrics.

“Black” is a moving exploration of love and loss, profoundly resonating with those who have experienced similar emotions.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pearl Jam’s “Ten” Album

1. Album Cover Design

The “Pearl Jam” lettering on the album cover was a giant cutout made by Jeff Ament. The band posed in front of this life-sized structure for the cover photo.

2. Recording “Even Flow”

“Even Flow” was difficult to record, taking 50-70 takes. Despite its popularity, the band was never fully satisfied with the final result and even re-recorded it for the soundtrack of the 1992 film “Singles.”

3. McCready’s “Alive” Solo Inspiration

Mike McCready’s epic solo in “Alive” was inspired by Ace Frehley of Kiss, particularly his work on the song “She.” McCready aimed to capture Frehley’s dynamic feel and improvisational style.

4. Refusal to Release “Black” as a Single

Epic Records wanted to release “Black” as a single, but the band refused, feeling it was too personal for heavy radio promotion. Despite this, radio stations played it extensively, reaching Number Three on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

5- Modest Budget Recording

Pearl Jam recorded “Ten” on a modest budget, spending about $25,000 on production and three times that on mixing. This was a third of what they spent on the Mother Love Bone album, reflecting their determination to avoid past excesses.

Black” Video

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