“Eddie’s singing on it changed the feeling of the lyrics, it became more meaningful”: the inside story of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell's duet on Hunger Strike

Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell in 2014n
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

There have been many Pearl Jam side-projects over the years, from Stone Gossard's Brad and Mike McCready's Mad Season to Eddie Vedder making a record of songs solely performed on the ukulele, but none possess the poignant spirit of adventure that runs right through the sole album by Temple Of The Dog.

Initiated by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, the idea behind Temple Of The Dog was to pay tribute to late Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood by recording two songs - Say Hello 2 Heaven and Reach Down - that Cornell had written in the wake of the death of his former room mate.  But teaming up with ex-Mother Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, plus Mike McCready, the guitarist from their fledgling new band, and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, it quickly blossomed into a full-blown record.

The song that would become the album’s standout track wasn’t in the initial batch, however. In fact, Hunger Strike was only written because the obsessive-compulsive Cornell didn’t like the fact that the number of songs they had  - nine - was on an odd number.

“So I had this other song that I whipped up so we could have ten, because I just have to have ten,” said Cornell in Pearl Jam Twenty, the book documenting their career that Pearl Jam published in 2011.

That the song became an iconic duet between Cornell and future Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was down to pure coincidence. Vedder had arrived in Seattle for a rehearsal – his first – with his new bandmates on a day that Cornell had booked a Temple Of The Dog practice. Keeping himself to himself in the corner of the room, he stepped up when he noticed Cornell struggling to reach one of the vocal parts he’d written.

“I feel this shadow presence over my shoulder,” Cornell recounted. “And there’s only one mike, and the chorus comes around again, and he sort of moves his shoulder in just to let me know he’s got a plan. And I don’t know him. We had said hi… So he hit the “Going hungry,” I sang the high part and then he hit it again. All of a sudden, a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘Fuck, his voice sounds incredible in that deep register.”

Cornell then had the idea to get the new guy more involved, suggesting that they both take a verse each.

“It was fucking jumping off immediately,” recalled Soundgarden's singer. “Eddie’s singing on it changed the feeling of the lyrics, too. It suddenly became more gospel. It became more meaningful to me.”

In the wake of Chris Cornell's 2017 death, Hunger Strike’s back and forth vocal sounds even more powerful. It was aso the song that brought one of modern rock’s greatest frontmen into the limelight, proving to Vedder's future bandmates that they’d found The One.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.