26 Years Ago: Temple of the Dog Release Their Self-Titled Album
On April 16, 1991, a supergroup of sorts known as Temple of the Dog released a self-titled album with little fanfare that would eventually become a surprise hit. But the real story of this disc actually starts on March 19, 1990. That was the day that Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood passed away from a heroin overdose and inspired the musicians that would come together to pay tribute to his musical legacy.
It all started with Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell, who heard the news and was moved by his friendship with Wood to use music as a form of catharsis and expression to deal with the feelings about the singer’s passing. The vocalist was on the road at the time and immediately penned the tracks “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” about Wood.
Cornell told Seattle radio station KISW-FM, “I figured it would be this great thing, because I would be away from home and I wouldn’t have to look at places where I saw him or see things that would remind me of him and I thought it would be really great but it was awful because I couldn’t talk to anybody. So I started writing songs. That was the only thing I could really think of to do. The songs I wrote weren’t really stylistically like something my band Soundgarden would be used to playing or be natural for us to do, but it was material that Andy really would have liked, so I didn’t really want to just throw it out the window or put it away in a box.”
From there, he would reach out to Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to see if they felt it would be okay to record the songs and gauge their interest in taking part. “I was getting to be friends with these guys before he died, actually, and it just seemed like maybe it was a good idea,” said Cornell. “So anyway, these guys had material that they had worked on before and since he died. It sort of at first was this requiem thing but it ended up just sort of being, ‘Let’s make a record,’ this cool collaboration and that’s what it sort of turned out to be, really.”
Ament stated, “It was a really good thing at the time for us too, because Stone and I were still trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. It kind of put us in a band situation where we could play and make music, and I think in some ways it was so much fun that we didn’t want to stop.”
At the time, the beginnings of Pearl Jam were just coming together. The band had just transitioned from the name Mookie Blaylock, but had still yet to release their breakout disc, Ten. In fact, Eddie Vedder had just flown in to audition for the band at that time.
Cornell stated of the now legendary vocal collaboration on “Hunger Strike,” “[Eddie] was at one of our rehearsals for Temple of the Dog because he had flown up here. It was the week he was trying out for [Pearl Jam] I guess, and he told me afterwards that he really liked that song and the thing about that song among a couple of others that were stylistically the vocals really weren’t anything that I had done before, on a record anyway. It wasn’t really the way I was used to singing, and I thought his voice suited that song really well and I thought it would be a great duet … He sang half that song not even knowing that I’d wanted that part to be there and he sang it exactly the way I was thinking about doing it, just instinctively.”
As it turned out, Vedder would appear on “Pushin Forward Back,” “Your Savior” and “Four Walled World” as well, but his involvement was something totally serendipitous. “When I asked him, it seemed like he was flattered,” said Cornell. “It wasn’t anything any of us had planned. He was just there and he’s a great guy and an amazing singer. I was like this is a fun project, so why not have him involved as well?”
That spirit remained throughout the process. Gossard stated, “The whole situation was just so non-pressure filled. Nobody expected this to be anything, so when we just went in and did it, the record company wasn’t around. We basically paid for it ourselves to start out with.” The band turned around the disc in about 15 days.
The group recorded the album at London Bridge Studios in Seattle with producer Rick Parasher in 1990 and decided to focus on original material rather than covering Wood’s songs because of the politics that might be involved.
But as stated, the album arrived with little fanfare when it first dropped in 1991. That was before Soundgarden’s Superunknown and Pearl Jam’s monster debut Ten catapulted both bands to new heights. By 1992, A&M had the idea to reissue the disc with “Hunger Strike” as the single and to shoot an accompanying video featuring the band members who were now among MTV’s most requested acts.
“Hunger Strike” would skyrocket up the charts and become a Top 5 single at rock radio. “I remember thinking that this was a really beautiful song when I heard it,” stated Mike McCready in a Guitar School piece. “Chris Cornell showed me the riff. I had a ’62 reissue Strat and I wanted to use the fourth-position tone setting — between the bridge and middle pickups — for the beginning of the song because I like that softer sound. Then I kicked it to the front pickup for the heavier part of the song. This is one of many amazing songs written by Chris.”
The success of the song also aided album sales as the once stagnating disc topped out at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 charts and went on to be a platinum seller. The follow-up single, “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” also reached the top 5 at rock radio, but a third single, “Pushin Forward Back,” failed to follow the success of the first two tracks.
The album also featured the aforementioned “Reach Down,” one of the two tracks Cornell penned to start the project. McCready recalls, “That was my first lead on an album, and I was so excited. I’d been in a studio before, but never to record an album or anything. I did that in one take! I soloed through the whole thing and ended up with the headphones wrapped around my face. I was totally flushed. The guitar work in that track represents one of my proudest moments.”
Over the years, both Cornell and Pearl Jam have occasionally dipped into the Temple of the Dog catalog, pulling out not only “Hunger Strike,” but also “Reach Down,” “Call Me a Dog,” “All Night Thing,” “Pushin Forward Back,” “Wooden Jesus” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” for live sets. Anytime there’s a cross pollination of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden members, it typically yields great anticipation for a Temple of the Dog reprise.
In 2016, the members of Temple of the Dog released a special 25th anniversary edition of the classic album and played a run of touring dates in support. This would be the first extended touring ever in support of the album as the all-star collective were unable to tour upon the disc’s initial release.
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