Friday, November 24, 2006

Top 25 Albums #22

In my sporadic, but ongoing series of favorite albums of all time, I bring you my #22 album, the eponymous one-record phenomenon from a band called Temple of the Dog.

People may not be familiar with the band name, but they have surely heard the most-played song on the album, "Hunger Strike," which catches radio air from time to time.

Temple of the Dog is a supergroup by today's standards, but when the album was recorded, they were not. In fact, everyone on the record was relatively unknown outside of the state of Washington.

A personal digression: in the early Summer of 1992, I had reached the acme of my career in television production, I had attained the role of Production Coordinator on a show called "Arresting Behavior". Three episodes aired. It was a funny show, but television audiences need laugh tracks to tell them when something's funny (generally speaking) and we weren't that type of show. My short gig of glory as a Coordinator ended and I was back to Assistant jobs. It was the beginning of the end.

Anyway, the office receptionist, who I remember as Karen, was part-receptionist, part-secretary to the executive producer, Larry Levin. She was cool, although she scared me a bit in her intensity and rough edge. She had a boombox behind her desk which she listened to regularly. She liked good music.

One day, she asked me, "Do you like Temple of the Dog?" I questioned back "Temple of the What?"

"Dog," she replied. I was, as usual, clueless.

"Well," she resumed, condescendingly, "You like Pearl Jam?" "Sure," I answered. Their debut album, Ten, was released less than a year earlier, and you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a radio playing "Jeremy," or at the very least, hitting someone who would be naming their first boychild "Jeremy."

Karen continued, "And you like Soundgarden?" "Sure," I said. I think I was lying to appear cool. Badmotorfinger had dropped shortly after Ten, and I'm sure I'd heard "Outshined" on the radio, maybe. But in 1991-1992, Pearl Jam's star burned much, much brighter.

"Well, then, you'll love this..." She went on to explain the CD that was Temple of the Dog, which actually appeared five months before Pearl Jam's debut and Soundgarden's third.

And no explanation of Temple of the Dog is adequate without mentioning the band Mother Love Bone. When the lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood, died from a heroin overdose in 1990, band members and friends joined together to make a tribute album of sorts. Now let's throw some names in the mix.

Temple of the Dog was the brainchild of Wood's roommate, Chris Cornell. Yes, the Chris Cornell who fronted Soundgarden and currently, Audioslave. Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Amendt (bass) joined Matt Cameron (drums) from Soundgarden and Mike McCready (Mookie Blaylock, the band that became Pearl Jam). So what we had was Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, for all intents and purposes, making a record together. Oh, and a guy named Eddie Vedder was in town to audition for Mookie Blaylock, and sang some background vocals on a couple tracks, including the record's most commercially successful song, "Hunger Strike".

Not a bad mix of folks. Gossard and Amendt joined McCready to found the early incarnation of Pearl Jam. Cameron joined PJ after Soundgarden disbanded in 1998.

But anyone can tell you a lineup of talent doesn't necessarily mean an auditory homerun (see the 2006 Yankees). Yet, Karen played me the tape. I had my own copy within a week. Phenomenal, and the music still pulses strong today, there really isn't anything similar to it. Cornell gave it his Cornwellian vocal punch, and the music is powerfully pummeling, from the opening bars of "Say Hello 2 Heaven" into the eleven+ minutes of "Reach Down," and then into "Hunger Strike" and the opening lines:

I don't mind stealing bread
from the mouths of decadence
but I can't feed on the powerless
when my cup's already overfilled...

A review by David Fricke in Rolling Stone sums it up nicely:

For "Hunger Strike" and "Reach Down" alone, Temple of the Dog deserves immortality; those songs are proof that the angst that defined Seattle rock in the 1990s was not cheap sentiment, at least in the beginning. And you can't help but love the irony of an album, made in great sadness, kick-starting the last great pop mutiny of the twentieth century.
Take a listen:

"Reach Down" performed by Pearl Jam with Chris Cornell, live (mp3) via my favorite I Am Fuel, You Are Friends

"Hunger Strike" (mp3) via Distance Has the Way

"All Night Thing" and "Call Me a Dog" (html links), Chris Cornell live acoustic, via Sweet Oblivion

"Wooden Jesus" and "All Night Thing" (streaming audio), via Y la Musica?

And some YouTube treats:

First, what's listed as the band's first-ever live performance, at the Off-Ramp Cafe in Seattle, basic grainy club video of a live, "Say Hello 2 Heaven":

Next: Cornell performing "Hunger Strike" with Pearl Jam in 2003 at a benefit in Santa Barbara:

And the music video for the same song:

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