"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, "Black" is a soliloquy by a broken-hearted man, who is remembering his absent lover.

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.


 [hide*1 Origin and recording

Origin and recording[edit]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.[3] 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".[3]

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.[4]

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 Allan] 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." [5]


"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, feeling that it was too personal and the feeling of it would be lost by a video or a single release. 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."[6] Vedder personally called radio station managers to make sure Epic had not released the song as a single against his wishes.[7] 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. The popularity of "Black" gained it everlasting rotation, putting it amongst Pearl Jam's most enduring songs.

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."[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

Live performances[edit]Edit

"Black" was first performed live at the band's October 22, 1990 concert in SeattleWashington at the Off Ramp Café.[11] 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, variousofficial 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 Tenreissue. Performances of the song are also included on the DVD Live at the Garden and the MTV Unplugged DVD included in the Ten reissue.

Cover versions[edit]Edit

A live performance of "Black" by Aaron Lewis of Staind appears on the 2001 live album, The Family Values 2001 TourThe Knife uses an iconic 7-note melody from "Black" on "Behind the Bushes" from the 2003 album, Deep Cuts. Baseball pitcher Bronson Arroyo recorded the song for the 2005 album, Covering the BasesTurin Brakes covered "Black" on their tour-only EP everybody knows every day's a wicked black game. An acoustic version was recorded by Brent Smith and Zach Myers ofShinedown on their (Acoustic Sessions) extended play.

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Chart (1993) Position
US Mainstream Rock Tracks[12] 3
US Modern Rock Tracks[12] 20
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