" is a song by the American rock
band Pearl Jam
. "Alive" was Pearl Jam's first single, and appeared on the band's debut album Ten
(1991). Written by guitarist Stone Gossard
, "Alive" originated as an instrumental titled "Dollar Short" and was included on a demo tape circulated in hopes of finding a singer for the group. Singer Eddie Vedder
obtained a copy of the tape and wrote lyrics that describe a fictionalized account of the time when he was told that the man he thought was his father was not actually his biological parent.
"Alive" charted at number 16 in the UK (the single was available only through import in the US). A remixed version of the song was included on Pearl Jam's greatest hits album, rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991–2003. Although it was not a huge hit upon its release (peaking at number 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart), it has endured as a fan favorite and a staple of rock radio since then, as well as one of the most requested songs at the band's concerts.
Origin and recording
Guitarist Stone Gossard
wrote the music for the song, which he titled "Dollar Short", in 1990 when he was still a member of Mother Love Bone
. According to Gossard in an interview for Pearl Jam's VH1 Storytellers
special, Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood
had even sang on it. After Wood died of a heroin
overdose, Gossard and his bandmate Jeff Ament
started playing with guitarist Mike McCready
with the hope of starting a new band. "Dollar Short" was one of five tracks compiled onto a tape called Stone Gossard Demos '91
that Gossard, Ament, and McCready circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer for the group.
The tape made its way into the hands of vocalist Eddie Vedder, who was working as a gas station attendant in San Diego, California at the time. He listened to the tape shortly before going surfing, where lyrics came to him. "Alive" was the first song for which Vedder recorded vocals. Vedder mailed the tape back to Seattle. Upon hearing the tape, the band invited Vedder to come to Seattle and he was asked to join the band.
The band, then called Mookie Blaylock, recorded "Alive" during a demo session at London Bridge studio in January 1991. The version recorded during this session would later appear on the group's debut album Ten and on the promotional "Alive" EP. During album mixing sessions in England in June 1991, mixer Tim Palmer had McCready add to the song's outro solo. McCready recorded a number of attempts at the solo, and Palmer edited them into a composite version. The guitarist was unsatisfied with the result, so he made another attempt at the solo. "He had another go at it", Palmer recalled, "and got it right away. There was no piecing together to do; it was one take."
"Alive" features an extended guitar solo after its third chorus (3:38), which is likely one reason it's a favorite of so many fans. The solo for "Alive", performed by McCready, was ranked number 44 on Guitar World
's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos", and number 26 on Total Guitar
's list of the "100 Hottest Guitar Solos". Interestingly, when interviewed about his famous solo, McCready was quick to disclaim creative credit for it, saying he basically "copied Ace Frehley
's solo from 'She', which was copied from Robby Krieger
's solo in The Doors
' 'Five to One'. Aside from that influence, it strongly highlights the Hendrix
influences on McCready's playing, including extensive wah pedal
use, frequent whammy bar dips
, as well as the use of a battered Stratocaster
The song is the first piece to a trilogy of songs unofficially called "Mamasan". It comprises the songs "Alive", "Once
", and "Footsteps". "Alive" tells the story of a young man discovering that his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief leads to an incestual
relationship with the son, who strongly resembles the biological father. This leads to "Once" in which the man descends into madness and goes on a killing spree, and "Footsteps" in which the man is eventually looking back from a prison cell awaiting his execution.
It has been revealed by Vedder to be part autobiographical and part fiction. When Vedder was a teenager, his mother revealed to him that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, and that his biological father was dead. The first and last verses detail the actual events described above, but the second verse is storytelling on Vedder's part. The lyrics read, "Oh, she walks slowly, across a young man's room/She said I'm ready...for you/I can't remember anything to this very day/'Cept the look, the look.../Oh, you know where, now I can't see, I just stare...," and Vedder revealed that "she" was the mother, and "the look" referred to was not the look on her face, but "the look is between her legs. Where do you go with that? That's where you came from."
Rather than being the inspirational song most interpret it as, Vedder had quite a different meaning in mind, stating, "[He's] still dealing with love, [he's] still dealing with the death of [his] father. All [he] knows is "I'm still alive"...that's totally out of burden." Vedder stated at Pearl Jam's VH1 Storytellers appearance that over the years the meaning has changed for him. He said, "In the original story, a teenager is being made aware of a shocking truth that leaves him plenty confused...It was a curse--"I'm still alive."" The audience's response to the song is what has brought about the change in meaning for Vedder. He added, "They lifted the curse. The audience changed the meaning for me.
Release and reception
Prior to its commercial release, "Alive" was released as a promotional CD and cassette featuring different artwork and B-sides. While "Wash" was also a B-side to the commercial singles, "I've Got a Feeling
" was only on this version of the single. The guitar solo at the end of "Alive" was also different from the Ten
version, and there are a few other noticeable differences between the two. The B-side "Wash" can also be found on the compilation Lost Dogs
The song peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 18 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Although the album's follow-up singles would find more success on the rock charts, "Alive" was nevertheless important in bringing attention to the band.
Outside of the United States, the single was released in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. "Alive" reached the UK Top 20 and peaked at number nine on the Australian Singles Chart. It reached the top 50 in Germany and was a moderate top 20 success in Ireland.
Steve Huey of Allmusic said that while "Alive" has a "big, stadium-ready chorus," it also is "subtler, less macho, and less grandiose than true arena rock." Regarding the song's guitar solo, Huey said, "It adds a final epic touch to the song, as though the lyric-centered part of the song simply wasn't enough to achieve complete catharsis."
"Alive" is featured in the video game SingStar Amped for PlayStation 2. It is also featured in the video game Rock Band 2.
The video for "Alive" was shot on August 3 1991
during a Pearl Jam concert at RKCNDY in Seattle
. It was directed by Josh Taft
, a childhood friend of Gossard, who would later direct the videos for "Even Flow
" and "Oceans
". Drummer Matt Chamberlain
can be seen drumming in the "Alive" video. Pearl Jam's future drummer Dave Abbruzzese
was in the audience when the video was shot. It was his first encounter with the band as he had just arrived from Texas
after being recommended for the band by Chamberlain and only knew the songs from the "Alive" single. The video was released in September 1991. "Alive" was the first non-lip-synched video shown on MTV
. Ament said, "Initially, it was a problem in terms of talking the record company into taking it seriously...That people didn't think we could pull it off made us want to do it even more. We felt we could do a better version of it. Sonically, it's an inferior version of the song. But it's live." The video was nominated for Best Alternative Video
at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards
The song was premiered live at the band's October 22, 1990 concert in Seattle
. Pearl Jam performed the song for its appearance on MTV Unplugged
in 1992. The song was performed on Saturday Night Live
in April 1992 in support of Ten
. "Alive" has gone on to become the band's second most performed live song at over 530 performances, behind only "Even Flow" which has been played over 600 times. Following the June 2000 Roskilde Festival
tragedy in which nine people died during Pearl Jam's set, the band purposely omitted "Alive" from all shows on its 2000 North American tour
until the final night
in Seattle. Live performances of "Alive" can be found on the "Oceans
" single, the "Dissident
"/Live in Atlanta
box set, and the Live at the Gorge 05/06
box set. A performance of the song is also included on the DVD Immagine in Cornice
Compact Disc Single (US, Germany, UK, Australia, Austria, and Brazil), 12" Vinyl Single (The Netherlands), and Cassette Single (Australia)
- "Alive" (Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard) – 5:40
- "Once" (Vedder, Gossard) – 3:51
- "Wash" (Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Dave Krusen, Vedder) – 3:34
Compact Disc Single (Japan)
"Even Flow" (re-recorded) (Vedder, Gossard) – 5:07
"Wash" (Gossard, Ament, McCready, Krusen, Vedder) – 3:35"Dirty Frank" (Vedder, Gossard, Ament, McCready, Dave Abbruzzese) – 5:39
- "Alive" (live) (Vedder, Gossard) – 4:57
"Alive" (Vedder, Gossard) – 5:40
"Once" (Vedder, Gossard) – 3:51
- Previously Unreleased7" Vinyl Single (UK and The Netherlands) and Cassette Single (UK and The Netherlands)
The information regarding accolades attributed to "Alive" is adapted in part from AcclaimedMusic.net.