Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 16: Temple Of The Dog, "Hunger Strike"

Artist: Temple Of The Dog
Song: "Hunger Strike"
Album: Temple Of The Dog
Year: 1991


In nearly every case, so called "supergroups" form after a number of established artists decide to come together and form a "new" band. A majority of the time, these projects are short lived, but they understandably result in some of the most impressive music of their era. Yet there are also a few cases where the inexplicable occurs: a "supergroup" exists BEFORE any of the members involved have found fame, and the greatness of the group does not occur until years later. This latter occurrence was perhaps no more clear than when one looks at the group that consisted of nearly the entire lineups of two of the most important bands of the 1990's: Temple Of The Dog. The group, which was formed in the wake of the passing of Mother Love Bone frontman, Andrew Wood, was initially comprised of the guitar and bass players that would later form Pearl Jam, and the drumming and singing from the group Soundgarden. Releasing only a single, self-titled record, the album serves as a sign of what was to come, as it is one of the most powerful and perfectly executed records ever made, as each of the musicians performs brilliantly. Though the album was truly phenomenal, it would not be until the success of Pearl Jam's debut record that the album would receive any exposure, but when it did, it was catapulted to an almost cult-status by the success of the surprise top five single, "Hunger Strike."

The fact that Temple Of The Dog is such a fantastic album is, in retrospect, hardly surprising, as each member of the group has gone on to be one of the defining musicians of their generation. Having played together in Mother Love Bone, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard were the ones who formed Temple Of The Dog, looking at is as a tribute to their fallen friend before they looked for "formally" begin another band. Both play brilliantly on the album, and it is Gossard's amazing hook on the song that makes the music instantly recognizable. The guitar tone that Gossard uses is nothing short of perfect, as the opening features a warm, almost meandering sound, and he later shifts to a more direct, more aggressive rock sound which gives the song a truly stunning sound. The two enlisted the help of drummer Matt Cameron and vocalist Chris Cornell, who by that time had already gained a decent following as the founders of Soundgarden. Strangely enough, years later, after Soundgarden went on hiatus, Cameron would become the drummer for Pearl Jam. The song itself, written by Cornell, is without question one of the most musically beautiful songs of the era, as both the music and vocals seem to soar high into the sky, yet the power behind the sound keeps it firmly rooted in the "rock" style. The mood that is created by the band on "Hunger Strike" not only perfectly represents the "grunge" sound, but it gives a clear picture into the sound that would make Pearl Jam worldwide superstars.

However, as with any band, strange things happen for a reason, and in the case of "Hunger Strike," Cornell has said that he was frustrated, as he could not quite perform the vocals in the manner he thought best. As the myth behind the song goes, the vocalist for the unknown band, Mookie Blaylock (later called Pearl Jam) happened by, and as Cornell said, "...he sang half of that song not even knowing that I'd wanted the part to be there and he sang it exactly the way I was thinking about doing it, just instinctively." This impromptu performance would not only make the song an absolute classic, but it was one of the earliest glimpses the world had of that vocalist, a man by the name of Eddie Vedder. Truth be told, if one were to name the most iconic singers of their generation, both Vedder and Cornell would have to be near the top of the list, and their shared performance on "Hunger Strike" perfectly captures both of their amazing talents. However, the songs' beauty often overshadows the deep and powerful meaning behind the lyrics, as it is one of the finest songs that Cornell has every written. If one listens closely, the song is very much reflective of its name, as Vedder and Cornell sing of stealing bread from the well-off to give it to those who are hungry. The song is almost a rallying cry to stand against such social injustices, and this is where the title of "Hunger Strike" becomes fitting. Without question, the combination of the voices of Vedder and Cornell found on"Hunger Strike" rank among the most stunning musical moments in history, and there are few songs that have ever been recorded that can boast such phenomenal vocals.

Representing one of the few cases of a "supergroup" existing before the members gained fame, Temple Of The Dog remains one of the most amazing, yet somewhat unknown bands in music history. Standing as perhaps the last Seattle-based recording before the "grunge" sound exploded, the groups' only record serves as a pivotal landmark in music history, and the single, "Hunger Strike," is without question one of the most defining songs of a generation. Led by the absolutely superb vocal work of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, their presence alone should be enough for every music fan to track down a copy of this record. Yet the band boasts even more talent, with the guitar and bass of Pearl Jam, and the sensational drumming of Soundgarden's Matt Cameron. To find another band anywhere in history with as potent a lineup, one would have to go back decades, yet even in these earlier bands, one could make the case that their later impact would not be equal to that of the members of Temple Of The Dog. Combining their amazing musical talents with one of the greatest compositions of their generation, "Hunger Strike" is a true masterpiece, and it is also one of the most timeless songs of the past few decades. Finding a perfect balance between a warm and welcoming feel, with a powerful and aggressive rock sound, there are few songs that are as stunning and truly iconic as one finds in Temple Of The Dog's "Hunger Strike."


CasCbus said...

This song, along with the album, are truly one of the hidden gems to come from the 90's. You covered all the bases on why this song is timeless! Great work!

Anonymous said...

Very nicely thoughtfully written review. I am avid Cornell fan but this is truly appreciative of the time and place from which Hunger Strike sprung.
Thank you.