#978: ‘Black’ – Pearl Jam

Any Pearl Jam fan may read this entry and think that it’s perfectly acceptable to include Pearl Jam’s ‘Black’ onto a list such as this, but the issue for these fans may arise as to why Pearl Jam’s ‘Black’ only made it to #978. Well, the logical response to that is that I believe there are 977 songs that I deem to be ‘better’, but truthfully, this song has never grabbed me in the same way that it has grabbed other Pearl Jam fans.

It’s not to say this isn’t a good song, why, many fans believe it to be the best Pearl Jam song, but for me, I’ve never connected to this song as most others have. I appreciate its beauty and meaning, but I’ve never had to lean on this song for support, nor have I ever considered this song to be worthy of constant playback. Again, this isn’t due to the song’s quality, but rather, by way of respect. In my mind, I felt that the song’s message was almost too personal, and that it had to be respected. Of course, others may consider this to be as stupid as it sounds, but regardless, the song’s raw emotion has almost kept me from enjoying this song as much as I would like to.

‘Black’ was released as the fifth song on Pearl Jam’s exceptional debut record Ten, in 1991. The record has gone on sell well over 10 million copies, and is credited as being one of the greatest grunge records of all time, a claim which is definitely supported by me. ‘Black’ serves as the emotional centre point of the record. The track is about, as frontman Eddie Vedder puts it, ‘first relationships, but it’s usually claimed to be specifically about a relationship between Vedder and a en ex-girlfriend.

The song’s emotion is certainly apparent, and in fact the band refused to release the song as a single or make a video for it because they felt the emotional message within the song would be completely lost. I certainly agree with their stance, and it’s something I completely respect. How often have there been famously sad songs which have gone on to become singalongs at concerts due to their popular nature? In my opinion, far too often.

The song’s meaning though is all too relatable, and this, in part, is what makes the song so beloved. Almost everyone has gone through a breakup in which they’ve been able to look back on it with bitterness, nostalgia, and despair. In almost all of these relationships, you’ll end up with the great memories which have been soured due to the later events that occurred. Or, as Vedder puts it, the memories have now been ‘washed in black.’

Of course, as the days after the relationship go on, you become bitter, wondering why others are happy, especially since all you can feel is the sadness that they don’t. The sadness and bitterness all comes to a head though, as perfectly captured by the song’s final verse;

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, why can’t it be, why can’t it be mine?

Nothing else that Pearl Jam has released manages to capture that feeling of despair, pain, and bitter regret all at once in such a concise and effective way. Of course, as I said, I love this song and I completely appreciate it for what it is, but sadly, it’s the raw emotion that the track is known for that has prevented me from enjoying it as much as I’d like to. Pretty weird, huh?

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