FFWDing to the Best Part: “Hunger Strike,” Temple of the Dog (1991)

Courtesy of new guest poster Mark in Chains

Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter in my chocolate! And the commercials would lead you to believe that this was the birth of the Reese’s peanut butter cup. This is how I felt the first time I heard Temple of the Dog … you got your Soundgarden in my Pearl Jam – and I love it.

I have a confession to make — I don’t like Nirvana, never really did. There were some interesting stereo battles in the Fightmaster household growing up, as my brother (the denizen of the bedroom next to me) and I would see who could play their special brew of Seattle’s finest louder. Werk Road was dominated by a battle of the bands between Pearl Jam and Nirvana, with neither of us relenting.

But I digress. Let’s take a look at the best song to come from the eponymous Temple of the Dog album — “Hunger Strike.” Ask yourself, what is it about this song that is awesome? Hold that answer and let me explain to you what I feel is the best part.

You want the 90s? You want to feel grunge? Fast-forward to the 2:50 mark. This superchunk of awesome starts with a Mike McCready guitar solo that is kicked off by a terrifying puke face. That said, the orchestra of grunge choreographed by McCready, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament that flows from 2:50 through 3:22 is pure, unrelenting angst that sounds just so damn good. Throw in the brief crooning of Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder and the pounding drums of Matt Cameron, and you have grunge distilled to its essence: anger, power, metal, and melodic wailing. Speaking of wailing, don’t cut this segment short; proceed on through the 3:36 mark so you can hear the beautiful voice play between Vedder and Cornell. This segment should be put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a definition of grunge.

Other highlights include the 2:30 mark, for two reasons. Reason one: it shows you what drove a majority of my ill-fated fashion choices of the early 90s. Reason two: it shows that Cornell is not only a gifted singer, but he is also a fine guitar player. The final highlight is a feature of every Pearl Jam video of the era, the Eddie Vedder crazy face. From 1:42 through 1:51, Vedder’s face contorts to levels of crazy only he can achieve. Seriously, I’m a 40-year-old father of four and I can’t find the Vedder crazy face unless I go off my meds for a month.

Ladies and gentlemen, two great tastes that taste great together: Temple of the Dog.



3 thoughts on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “Hunger Strike,” Temple of the Dog (1991)

  1. Hm, Eddie Vedder does often grin like he’s about to chase Shelley Duvall around an empty hotel, doesn’t he? Most supergroups operate on the theory that if you get the most impressive members of various bands together, they’ll spark an explosion of awesome even better than the sum of their parts. That rarely happens; it turns out that band chemistry matters at least as much, and supergroups rarely have a lot of that.

    This track does exemplify grunge, both for better and for worse. On the “better” side, there’s the lack of posturing and jockeying; this supergroup was more of a one-off labor of love for a dead friend. On the “worse” side is the fact that Andrew Wood died of heroin overdose; abuse of really destructive drugs was one of the reasons that grunge musicians so often seemed, and were, miserable creatures with unkempt hair and unwashed flannels. On the “better” side, we see two excellent vocalists trading licks, as you described above. On the “worse” side, I don’t hear anything on the instruments that your average band of eighth graders couldn’t pull off. Probably if I were in eighth grade I would put that in the “better” column though, which speaks to the way grunge functioned as a reaction against hair metal and arena rock, whose impressive musicianship also frustrated the young would-be imitator. The two chord non-solos of songs like this put rock music back in the shooting range of every kid in his garage.

  2. Pingback: Lyric Theory: “Yakety Yak,” The Coasters (1958) | Neurotic City

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