Music review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Ten Music Poster Image
Smash debut fuses classic rock with aggressive grunge.

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Kids say

age 9+
Based on 6 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Most of the scenarios in the songs on Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten, are pretty unsavory, but the hit song "Alive," in which a mother unapologetically tells her son that the man he thought was his father isn't, is a sort of survivor song. The young man's situation is bad, but the refrain says, "I'm still alive."

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are a couple of mild love songs on Ten, but many of the songs are about boys or young men who are damaged or just disappointed that they didn't get any of their father's attention. The song "Why Go" seems to be about a girl whose mother has put her in a mental institution.


Violent images -- blood, knives, a bomb -- are often used figuratively to express strong emotions. In "Once," for example, the "bomb" in the singer's head symbolizes the feeling of his head pounding, and the "16-gauge buried under my clothes" is possibly not actually a gun. In "Jeremy," however, the violence is straightforward: The boy in the song, who was thought to be a "harmless little f--k," is ignored by his parents and teased by other kids, and he reacts by biting "the recess lady's breast."


The song "Once" contains a lot of sexual tension. "Black" includes the image of a woman's spread-out body. Also, the band name Pearl Jam is a euphemism for sperm.


About half of the songs on the album use "f--k"; it's used as a curse word, not to describe intercourse.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One song, "Deep," mentions "sinking a needle in."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the imagery in the songs on Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten, is fairly disturbing: They are largely peopled with damaged, unloved kids of indifferent parents; there's a bullying victim ("Jeremy") and even the odd mental patient ("Why Go"). There are also a couple of tracks about lost love ("Black," "Porch"), but most are anthems for tense, angry teenagers. Ten was a huge commercial success when it was released in 1991. The sound of the album rests somewhere between classic rock and the hardcore grunge of Nirvana, and the release was well-received by fans of both genres.

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old August 14, 2020

Album’s great, but CSM forgot something

Jeremy frickin shot himself in front of the class!!! That’s the news story the song is about! It’s not about the kid being bullied. It’s about how he was bullie... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byOmniscient April 3, 2020

One of the greatest debuts of all time

Lyrics of songs "Alive" and "Once" (and Footsteps, a B-side that eventually made its way onto their compilation album "Lost Dogs"... Continue reading

What's the story?

At a time when mainstream country acts and boy bands were topping charts, Pearl Jam and other grunge bands were a breath of fresh air for rock 'n' roll fans. TEN, the band's debut, straddled the line between classic rock and grunge with aggressive but melodic guitar-based arrangements, gritty lyrics, and anthemic vocals from lead singer Eddie Vedder. Pearl Jam, along with other acts like Nirvana, ushered in the hugely popular grunge genre. Ten was a No. 2 album in 1992, and several songs on the album cracked Billboard's Top 20.

Is it any good?

Pearl Jam's influences range from punk to metal to psychedelia. Melodies and guitar riffs are strong and catchy, and the band's lyrics tackle some brutal material. The core of Pearl Jam's sound, however, is Eddie Vedder's throaty, passionate singing. Kids who "discover" this band will likely find the lyrics poetic and significant, and be captivated by Vedder's singular voice.

However, the same qualities that made Pearl Jam more accessible than other grunge acts when they broke in the early '90s now make the band seem relatively mainstream. Pearl Jam's musical approach was never as dynamic or provocative as Nirvana's, for example, and this album doesn’t hold up as a life-changer the way the latter band's Nevermind does.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Pearl Jam's music is different from, or similar to, other grunge/alt-rock bands that hit in the early 1990s -- Nirvana or Soundgarden, for example.

  • What is the statement being made about the young man in "Alive"?

  • Why do you think "Jeremy" -- about a neglected, bullied child who loses control -- was so popular when it was released? (It rose to No. 5 on the charts.)

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