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Spin the Black Circle:Pearl Jam

"Spin the Black Circle" is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam, released on November 8, 1994 as the first single from the band's third studio album, Vitalogy (1994). Although credited to all members of Pearl Jam, it features lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music primarily written by guitarist Stone Gossard. The song peaked at number 11 on theBillboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It charted at number 10 in the UK Singles Chart, giving them their only top ten hit in that country.

The song was included on Pearl Jam's 2004 greatest hits album, rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003).


 [hide*1 Origin and recording

Origin and recording[edit]Edit

Guitarist Stone Gossard had originally written the guitar riff for "Spin the Black Circle" as slower, however vocalist Eddie Vedder asked him to speed it up.[1] Vedder on the song:

I remember wanting everything to be faster...Stone gave me a tape with this riff [hums it at slow speed]. I had a speed control on my machine. I speeded it up, came back and said, "Can we do it this way?"[1]

Guitarist Mike McCready on the song:

That's me trying to do Johnny Thunders leads. I actually overdubbed those leads, but when I do it live, that riff is so hectic and frantic, I have to be warmed up or it sounds really shitty.[2]

Bassist Jeff Ament has admitted that he was unhappy at the time with the punk rock direction that the song took. He said that "when we wrote 'Spin the Black Circle'...I was like, 'Ugh!'. I can play the entire Dead Kennedys back catalogue! I didn't really want to make music like that at that time."[3]


"Spin the Black Circle" begins with one guitar playing fast power chords, and then the second guitar kicks in and Vedder begins singing aggressively through the rest of the song. The main guitar riff for the song is reminiscent of the one for Hüsker Dü's "Beyond the Threshold" from the 1984 album, Zen Arcade.


According to Vedder, "Spin the Black Circle" is about his and the band's love for vinyl records. At the band's July 1, 2003 show in Bristow, Virginia at the Nissan Pavilion, Vedder proclaimed "This song is about old records, old records, anyone remember old records?"[4]

The lyrics play on the similarities between drug addiction and addiction to records and music, as many of the lyrics may be interpreted either way. It is unclear to what extent this is intended to be a serious comparison of different types of addiction and to what extent it is just intended to make the lyrics interesting. Jon Pareles of The New York Times referred to "Spin the Black Circle" as "one of the few songs from Seattle in which a needle has nothing to do with heroin."[5]

Release and reception[edit]Edit

"Spin the Black Circle" peaked at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and number 11 on the BillboardModern Rock Tracks chart. "Spin the Black Circle" was the band's first single to enter the Billboard Hot 100. Because of the Hot 100's tracking methods, this high position reflects the single's sales preceding the album's delayed release on compact disc, as well as the album's furious sales during its first week on CD.

Outside the United States, the single was released commercially in AustraliaAustriaCanada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. "Spin the Black Circle" reached the top ten in the UK, Australia, IrelandNew Zealand, and Norway. "Spin the Black Circle" reached the top 20 in Sweden, the top 30 in the Netherlands, and charted at number 92 in Germany. The song remains the band's highest charting single in the United Kingdom to date.

Al Weisel of Rolling Stone called the song a "revvedup thrash tribute to vinyl."[6] David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said that it sounds "a little flabby, like dinosaur rockers trying to prove they're into Green Day."[7]

At the 1996 Grammy Awards, "Spin the Black Circle" received the award for Best Hard Rock Performance,[8] the only Grammy Award which Pearl Jam has ever won. During the band's acceptance speech, Vedder famously said, "I don't know what this means. I don't think it means anything."[9]

Live performances[edit]Edit

"Spin the Black Circle" was first performed live at the band's March 6, 1994 concert in DenverColorado at the Paramount Theatre.[10] Live performances of "Spin the Black Circle" can be found on various official bootlegs and the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set. A performance of the song is also included on the DVD Live at the Garden.

Track listing[edit]Edit

All songs written by Dave AbbruzzeseJeff AmentStone GossardMike McCready, and Eddie Vedder.

  1. "Spin the Black Circle" – 2:48
  2. "Tremor Christ" – 4:10

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Chart (1994) Peak


Australian Singles Chart[11] 3
Dutch Singles Chart[12] 21
German Singles Chart[13] 92
Irish Singles Chart[14] 6
New Zealand Singles Chart[15] 2
Norwegian Singles Chart[16] 5
Swedish Singles Chart[17] 16
UK Singles Chart[18] 10
US Billboard Hot 100[19] 18
US Modern Rock Tracks[19] 11
US Mainstream Rock Tracks[19] 16

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