I started off this Best tunes of 1991 series with an honourable mention post on Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”, ruling it out from my top 30 from the outset. In that post, I touched on how I quickly grew to dislike the Seattle scene and any of the bands associated with that sound, whether or not they actually came from that particular geographical area. And it was completely irrational, being less to do with the bands themselves or their music than it was the industry machine and the music press. It was these bands that brought ‘alternative’ to the mainstream and the focus on them effectively narrowed the scope and sound of the genre in North America for way too many years. But before I start ranting again, let me just say that Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was one of the songs that somehow transcended all of this for me and I couldn’t help but like it.
It was definitely the music video that caught my attention. Considered one of the most controversial of all time, it has been rarely seen on television in recent years. It’s a touchy subject for sure. Teenager brings gun to school. The video, of course, is an extension of the song lyrics which Eddie Vedder wrote based on an article he had read about real events. It was just a short paragraph in a newspaper that he expanded, imagining a back story for the troubled Jeremy that hinted at the not uncommon stories of neglect and bullying.
The song was the third single off Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”, and due to heavy rotation of the video, became a hit for the band, selling tons of copies of their album and kickstarting their career as one of the more important bands in alternative rock. And yeah, their music sounds commonplace enough nowadays but it was just that much different back in 1991. It’s aggression matches the subject perfectly and Vedder’s soulful moan is now iconic and all the more harrowing when he sings lines like: “Daddy didn’t give affection and the boy was something mommy wouldn’t wear.”
But the beauty of it all is that Pearl Jam does not distance themselves from Jeremy, Vedder admitting that he remembered picking on the boy and acknowledging that “we unleashed a lion”. We are all the bullies and the bullied and I think that universality haunted a lot of people. It certainly did me.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.