“Black” is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam. The song is the fifth track on the band’s debut album, Ten (1991). Featuring lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music written by guitarist Stone Gossard.
The song originated as an instrumental demo under the name “E Ballad” which was written by guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990. It was one of five songs compiled onto a tape called Stone Gossard Demos ’91 that was circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer for Pearl Jam. The tape made its way into the hands of vocalist Eddie Vedder, who was working as a San Diego gas station attendant at the time. Vedder recorded vocals for three of the songs on the demo tape (“Alive”, “Once”, and “Footsteps”), and mailed the tape back to Seattle. Upon hearing the tape, the band invited Vedder to come to Seattle. On his way to Seattle, Vedder wrote lyrics for “E Ballad”, which he called “Black”.
In the 2011 book Pearl Jam Twenty, Vedder said about the meaning of the song: It’s about first relationships. The song is about letting go. It’s very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull and where it’s going to take people and how they’re going to grow. I’ve heard it said that you can’t really have true love unless it was a love unrequited. It’s a harsh one because then your truest one is the one you can’t have forever.
“Black” became one of Pearl Jam’s best-known songs and is a central emotional piece on the album Ten. Despite pressure from Epic Records, the band refused to make it into a single, citing it as too personal and expressing fear that its emotional weight would be destroyed in a music video. Vedder stated that “fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t think the band wants to be part of it.”