There are few hard rock albums packed with as much raw emotion as the stellar Temple of the Dog record.
The 1991 masterpiece from the Seattle supergroup was conceived and written by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell as a tribute to his good friend Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Lovebone, who died on March 19, 1990 after overdosing on heroin. Interestingly, the name Temple of the Dog comes from the opening lyrics of the Mother Love Bone track “Man of Golden Words”: “I want to show you something, like joy inside my heart, seems I been living in the temple of the dog.”
Cornell and Co. made the record in just 15 days from November to December at Seattle’s London Bridge Studios.
It’s a one-off record that’s about as organic as you will ever hear in rock. Temple of the Dog consists of Cornell, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready (guitar), Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (guitar), as well as Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. Additionally, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder sang on the hit song “Hunger Strike”.
For Ament and Gossard, who were in Mother Lovebone with Wood, making the album was something of a cathartic process, as it no doubt was for Cornell as well. He and Wood were roommates at one time.
On the collaboration, Ament noted it was “a really good thing at the time” for Gossard and himself. Gossard recalls the recording process as a “non-pressure filled” situation with no pressure from the record company. The guitarist later stated it was “the easiest and most beautiful record we’ve ever been involved with.”
Cornell was the principal songwriter, writing all the lyrics, and most of the music. Two tracks in particular “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down” were written directly in response to Wood’s untimely death. In the chorus of “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, you can just hear the raw emotion in Cornell’s voice, which should give most listener goosebumps, especially near the end of the song.
The late Cornell recorded those two songs, which he described as the first time he’d written anything specifically for a person, as demos and played them for Ament, who suggest the Soundgarden frontman should record them.
Cornell told Rolling Stone he thought Soundgarden could record the two songs on an album as a tribute to Wood. As it turns out, Cornell asked Ament if he’d like to help record the songs. From there they decided to make an entire album, forming Temple of the Dog in the process.
The members of band recall the impact Cameron had on the record. “Once we started playing with Chris and Matt, the songs took on a different life, especially from Matt’s end. His playing becomes the hook on a lot of the songs. The part that he came up with on “Wooden Jesus” is such an iconic drum song to me. It’s such a riff and so musical. His playing dictated that we leave space in those songs. To my ears, that’s what makes the record really unique and fun to listen to,” Ament said in Rolling Stone.
Another standout, emotional track is “Times of Trouble” which details the trappings of heroin and how a user can hold on and overcome the addiction, even when it seems there is no hope left. Sadly, Wood’s addiction got the best of him just as Mother Lovebone was about to serve notice as a premier Seattle rock and roll band.
After laying down nine songs, Cornell wanted to make it an even 10 tracks to fill the Temple album. That’s when the band decided to lay down “Hunger Strike”, which Cornell had written a few months prior to the Temple sessions. It wasn’t finished but he recalls how Vedder, who had just joined Pearl Jam at the time, came to add vocals: “I thought that “Hunger Strike” would be a good message to end the album on, but it wasn’t complete. It was just one verse. I was singing the chorus in the rehearsal space and Eddie just kind of shyly walked up to the mic and started singing the low “going hungry” and I started singing the high one. When I heard him sing, the whole thing came together in my brain. I just felt like, ‘Wow, his voice is so great in this low register. He should sing on it. I’ll sing the first verse and then he’ll come in. Even though it’s the same lyrics, it’s a different singer and it’ll feel like two verses’,” recalled Cornell in a Rolling Stone interview.
For Temple of the Dog fans, there are rumors out there that a live album might soon be released with songs taken from the band’s 2016 tour.
With Cornell’s death in 2017, there will never be another Temple of the Dog tour or album. Fortunately, music fans can still reach out and listen to the 1990 masterpiece, which will stand the test of time.
Originally published at www.rocknrollinsight.com on March 1, 2019.