Eddie Vedder explained in the Pearl Jam Twenty book that this song is about first relationships. "The song is about letting go," said Vedder. "It's very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth's gravitational pull and where it's going to take people and how they're going to grow. I've heard it said that you can't really have a true love unless it was a love unrequited. It's a harsh one, because then your truest one is the one you can't have forever."
By September 1992, Pearl Jam had taken off, with three singles released from their debut album Ten: "Alive," "Even Flow" and "Jeremy." Sony Records was hot and heavy to released "Black" as the next single, and it was the obvious choice, since it was getting airplay as an album cut and was a ballad that could cross them over to other formats. The band, however, took a firm stance against releasing it, as Eddie Vedder didn't want to make a video or have to go through any more of the promotional process. Vedder won that battle and "Oceans," which got very little attention, was released as the fourth and final single from the album. This was a big moment for Pearl Jam and their manager Kelly Curtis, who stood up to Sony and their powerful CEO Tommy Mottola, who pressured them to issue "Black" as the single.
Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard wrote the music for this song, which he called "E Ballad" before Vedder put words to it.
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