“Hunger Strike” is a song by the American rock band Temple of the Dog. Written by vocalist Chris Cornell, “Hunger Strike” was released in 1991 as the first single from the band’s sole studio album, Temple of the Dog (1991). It was Temple of the Dog’s most popular song. The song peaked at number four on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
“Hunger Strike” was written by vocalist Chris Cornell. It features a duet between Cornell and vocalist Eddie Vedder. Cornell was having trouble with the vocals at practice, when Vedder stepped in. Cornell later said “he sang half of that song not even knowing that I’d wanted the part to be there and he sang it exactly the way I was thinking about doing it, just instinctively.” “Hunger Strike” became Temple of the Dog’s breakout single; it was also Vedder’s first featured vocal on a record.
Cornell on the song:
When we started rehearsing the songs, I had pulled out “Hunger Strike” and I had this feeling it was just kind of gonna be filler, it didn’t feel like a real song. Eddie was sitting there kind of waiting for a (Mookie Blaylock) rehearsal and I was singing parts, and he kind of humbly—but with some balls—walked up to the mic and started singing the low parts for me because he saw it was kind of hard. We got through a couple choruses of him doing that and suddenly the light bulb came on in my head, this guy’s voice is amazing for these low parts. History wrote itself after that, that became the single.
Guitarist Mike McCready on the song:
I remember thinking that this was a really beautiful song when I heard it. Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) showed me the riff. I had a ’62 reissue Strat and I wanted to use the fourth-position tone setting—between the bridge and middle pickups—for the beginning of the song because I like that softer sound. Then I kicked it to the front pickup for the heavier part of the song. This is one of many amazing songs written by Chris.
Eddie Vedder on the song:
It was during that same week that I was up there [In Seattle rehearsing with Pearl Jam]. Day four maybe, or day five, they did a Temple [of the Dog] rehearsal after our afternoon rehearsal. I got to watch these songs, and watch how Chris [Cornell] was working, and watch Matt [Cameron] play drums. It got to “Hunger Strike” — I was sitting in the corner, putting duck tape on a little African drum. About two-thirds of the way though, he was having to cut off the one line, and start the other. I’m not now, and certainly wasn’t then, self-assured or cocky, but I could hear what he was trying to do, so I walked up to the mic — which I’m really surprised I did – and sang the other part, “Going hungry, going hungry.” The next time I was up, he asked if I’d record it — so it was just me and Chris in the same studio that we made [1991’s] Ten record. I really like hearing that song. I feel like I could be real proud of it — because one, I didn’t write it, and two, it was such a nice way to be ushered onto vinyl for the first time. I’m indebted to Chris time eternal for being invited onto that track.
That was the first time I heard myself on a real record. It could be one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever been on — or the most meaningful.
In the summer of 1992, the album received new attention. Although it had been released more than a year earlier, A&M Records realized that they had in their catalog what was essentially a collaboration between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, who had both risen to mainstream attention in the months since the album’s release with their respective albums, Badmotorfinger and Ten. A&M decided to reissue the album and promote “Hunger Strike” as a single. “Hunger Strike” became the most successful song from Temple of the Dog on the American rock charts. The song peaked at number four on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number seven on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Jim Guerinot, A&M’s senior VP of marketing at the time, said, “I don’t think that anyone would have paid attention if ‘Hunger Strike’ wasn’t a great song.” It still receives regular radio play on many hard rock radio stations.
Outside the United States, the single was released in Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In Canada, the song reached the top 50 on the Canadian Singles Chart. “Hunger Strike” reached the top 60 in the UK.
David Fricke of Rolling Stone said, “Cornell and Vedder . . . turn its four minutes into a veritable opera of rock-star guilt. . . . Cornell turns on the Robert Plant-style napalm full blast, but it is Vedder’s scorched introspection that brings the conscience in the song to a full boil. ‘Hunger Strike’ was his first starring vocal on record; it is still one of his best.”
The original music video for “Hunger Strike” was directed by Paul Rachman who also directed the 2006 punk documentary American Hardcore. A&M decided to reissue the album and promote “Hunger Strike” as a single, with an accompanying music video. The video features the band performing the song on a beach and in a forest. The video was filmed at Discovery Park in Seattle, Washington. The West Point Lighthouse is featured in the video. There are two different versions of the video for the track. The music video is playable in the video game Guitar Hero Live.
The music video for the 2016 mix, also directed by Rachman, was filmed at an abandoned elementary school on March 7, 1991. Only Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder appeared in the video. It premiered on Vevo on September 2, 2016.