Album: Temple of the Dog
. . .
It is never a good idea to die just before your debut album is released, but that was the fate of Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Seattle’s Mother Love Bone, who otherwise might have gone on to be one of the bigger bands with a dick-themed name, joining Steely Dan and The Sex Pistols.
But instead, Wood’s death ended up being a catalyst for the eventual formation of Pearl Jam, who ended up joining 10CC as a band who . . . you know what? Never mind. A man is dead, and I’m sitting here making dick jokes! Too soon, Jim, too soon.
Anyways, Andrew “Waiting On” Wood — OK, I’ll stop now — also happened to be the roommate of one Chris Cornell, the singer of Soundgarden, and as part of his mourning process, wrote a bunch of songs and put together a band that featured Soundgarden’s drummer, Matt Cameron, former Love Boners Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, and the new guys who were working on a record with Gossard & Ament, Mike McCready and Ed Vedder, a surfer dude from San Diego who had sent a tape to Ament & Gossard.
This might seem weird: but this kind of of one-off collaboration happens all the time in healthy scenes, and Seattle’s at the time was one of the healthiest. I mean, if you didn’t factor in all of the heroin abuse. Anyways, they recorded the album in a couple of weeks, and Soundgarden’s major label record company put out Temple of the Dog in April 1981, probably assuming that a collab between Pearl Jam and Soundgarden would sell very well.
And they were right, but it took well over a year to happen. But what a year that was! We’ve discussed many many times how amazing the back half of 1991 was, and two of the records that featured during that period were Soundgarden’s first great record, Badmotorfinger and Pearl Jam’s debut, Ten, which both came out within a couple of months of each other and followed Nevermind into the top ten. Well, Ten did — Badmotorfinger languished at #39 on the Billboard album charts whereas Ten made it to #2.
Fun trivia fact: the lowest any Pearl Jam album has ever charted is #5, which happened with 2002’s Riot Act and 2020’s Gigaton. Every single other PJ studio album has made it to either #1 or #2. Anyways, during the summer of 1992, when people’s answering machine messages would say things like “Leave a message, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we finish listening to Nirvana”, A&M suddenly realized that they basically had Temple of the Dog just sitting there, ripe for exploitation, and commissioned a video for its song, “Hunger Strike,” which also just happened to be only song that Eddie Vedder sang lead vocals on.
Cynical? Sure. But also a fucking stroke. In the summer of 1992 I was all in on Nirvana, who gave me the Hüsker Dü and Replacements tingles, but less so on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, who reminded me more of the metal I loved growing up but didn’t think I needed more of until I realized I did.
And more than anything else, “Hunger Strike” was the beginning of that realization.
Opening with the chiming guitars of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, “Hunger Strike” didn’t try to show off anybody’s virtuosity with big thundering riffs, but rather the entire first verse is just Chris Cornell singing at the low end of his register.
Well I don’t mind stealin’ bread from the mouths of decadence
But I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled
But it’s on the table, the fire’s cookin’
And they’re farmin’ babies while the slaves are all workin’
And blood is on the table and the mouths are chokin’
And then, just as calm as he can be, Cornell sings the chorus: “But I’m going hungrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry, yeah.”
And at that point, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron crash in with a stately Wayne Manor of a beat, and Eddie Vedder sings his first lead vocal on any record ever, and not only does he sound almost exactly like Cornell sounded on the first verse, he also sang the exact same lyrics.
Because “Hunger Strike” only has a single verse, which is either about destroying late-stage capitalism or wanting to be a big rock star and not being one. Or both. Or neither. I DGAF. What I care about on “Hunger Strike” are the vocals of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, either together or as counterpoint. At first, they’re together, as Cornell sings harmonies on the back half of Vedder’s verse, but then, on the second chorus, they’re gloriously, spectacularly apart.
And it is the greatest fucking thing ever, the contrast between Vedder’s low, measured “I’m goin’ hunnngrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry” and Cornell’s supersonic shriek of “Goin’ HUNNNNNGRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEYYYY.” It’s so full of tension that the band has to release some by doing some big headbanging riffs just to calm things down a bit. No solos though. “Hunger Strike” isn’t about guitars solos or anything like that: it’s about the continual battle between Vedder & Cornell — though “battle” is the wrong word here, because they’re totally on the same page, each marveling at the other’s strengths even as he leverages his own — which happens for the rest of the song, and I couldn’t love it more.
Put it this way: I may or may not have walked around the house for the past couple of days singing “I’m goin’ hongry” in a terrible imitation of Vedder and then screaming “he’s going hunnnnngreeeeee” (because that’s what I always thought he sang until I looked it up a few days ago) in an even worse imitation of Cornell. And by past couple of days I really mean “past thirty years.”
And, of course, I wasn’t the only one: “Hunger Strike” was huge song on the radio: #4 on mainstream rock and #7 on alt rock charts and the video was everywhere on MTV. And it has lasted: when Cornell passed in 2017, it charted again, #16 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart and #8 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart.
“Hunger Strike” Official Video
“Hunger Strike” Vedder & Cornell live at Lollapalooza, 1992
“Hunger Strike” Live at Alpine Valley, WI, 2011
“Hunger Strike” Live Acoustic at the Bridge Show, 2014
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