Today’s Classic Bass Line is “Alive” by Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament‘s line is striking; his ominous fretless tone is accented by snake-like slides up and down the neck followed by chiming distorted harmonics. Classic.
The first single and video from Pearl Jam’s smash 1991 debut, Ten, “Alive” wasn’t the huge hit that its follow-ups were, but its late-night airplay on MTV was crucial in helping break the band into the big time. While “Alive” had a big, stadium-ready chorus, it was also subtler, less macho, and less grandiose than true arena rock. Acoustic guitars played an important supporting role underneath the warm fuzz-tone of the electrics, and the slower tempo gave vocalist Eddie Vedder a chance to hold back and show the gentle side of his rich, sonorous voice, thus creating a greater contrast when he kicked up the intensity. The opening riff creates a sort of seesaw effect, sliding back and forth from a power chord to a single-note melody rising as though out of a cloud.
Jeff Ament proves himself a terrific bassist, never riding the root note of the chord but sliding up and down, often providing a contrasting harmony with the single-note part of the riff. Vedder’s lyrics seem to concern traumatic episodes in the past, whether in family or love; however, the specifics are often left unclear, communicating the discomfort only through a sort of hazy, impressionistic, half-repressed memory. It’s probably safe to assume that the intent of the chorus (“I, oh, I’m still alive”) is to make the song a tough-survivor anthem, although one does wonder if the singer feels any ambivalence about the value of having made it this far. “Alive” closes with an extended guitar solo by Mike McCready, whose licks are inspired by blues rockers like Clapton and Hendrix, but aren’t really bluesy themselves, instead sounding filtered through classic rock. It adds a final epic touch to the song, as though the lyric-centered part of the song simply wasn’t enough to achieve complete catharsis.
Below are the videos of the original song, the isolated bass, and a good cover. The TABS are here. Learn it!
“Alive” Original Recording
Cover by AndresDirk