20 Years Ago: Neil Young Teams Up With Pearl Jam for ‘Mirror Ball’
Neil Young spent the first half of the '90s being hailed as the "Godfather of Grunge," both for his music and the uncompromising way he managed his career. On June 27, 1995, he bridged the generation gap when he released Mirror Ball, which featured Pearl Jam as his backup band.
The legend and the upstarts had crossed paths a few times in the years leading up to the album. They were both on the bill in October 1992 for the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert, and shortly thereafter, Pearl Jam played Young's annual Bridge School Benefit. A year later, the two displayed their friendship on national television when Young joined them for "Rockin' in the Free World" at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Shortly after performing with them at the Voters for Choice benefit concerts in Washington, D.C. in January 1995., Young booked Seattle's Bad Animals Studio and, over the course of only four sessions in two weeks, banged out the 11 tracks that comprised Mirror Ball.
But this wasn't a true collaboration. The songs were all Young's, except "Peace and Love," which was co-written with Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, who duetted with Young on the track but was relegated to background vocals elsewhere.
Still, the raw, live feel of the record and the camaraderie between Young and Pearl Jam was reinforced by the decision to include some of the studio chatter between songs. The three-guitar attack of Young, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard provides plenty of sludge, and, for all the heavy themes in the lyrics, there's even a bit of levity at the midway point on "Downtown."
“I was completely honored to be playing with him,” McCready told Guitar World. “We’re enamored of him [...] and I’m honored he says he’s into us. I think he just likes where we’re coming from. He sees a lot of honesty in our music.”
However, American fans of both acts hoping for a tour were out of luck. At the time, Pearl Jam were suing Ticketmaster, which left them incapable of playing venues big enough to hold their audience. Instead, they only played 11 shows in Europe.
The friendship has continued throughout the years, with Pearl Jam playing Young's annual Bridge School benefit nine times, most recently in 2014.
See Pearl Jam and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the '90s
Criminally Underrated Rock Albums