Pearl Jam first emerged on the music scene as part of the Nirvana-led, Seattle-based grunge wave of the early 1990s. Though less memorable or groundbreaking than Nirvana, Pearl Jam has made their own mark on music history and proved they have remarkable staying power; even after 15 years, they still tour and attract a wide following. Though Eddie Vedder has always sang vocals with Jeff Ament on bass, and Stone Gossard and Mike McCready on guitar, the band historically had a problem finding a drummer, recycling Jack Irons, Matt Chamberlain, Dave Knudsen, and Dave Abbruzzesse before finally settling on former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, who has been with the band for the last 8 years. What follows is a list of their 10 greatest songs, a collection difficult to choose from 15 years of quality hard rock.
1. Jeremy – 1991 – Ten. For the number 1 spot, I chose the best song on their first and most successful album. Ten consistently gains recognition among the greatest rock records of all time, as the album has seven or eight single-worthy songs. With it’s eerie content, suberb vocals, outstanding guitar work, Jeremy rose to #5 on the billboard chart and rightfully so. It’s a brilliant song whose message about the suicide of a pyschologically-damaged suburban boy – and the amazing and shocking music video that goes with it – go perfectly together.
2. Given to Fly – 1998 – Yield. The fourth song on and first single from their later album Yield, Given to Fly represented something of a return to their earlier roots after the more experimental Vedder-led output in the mid-90s (namely, No Code). It’s a strong and forceful song, flush with passionate and memorable lines like and sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky /a human being that was given to fly, and it remains one of their best.
3. Daughter – 1993 – Vs. While not my personal favorite song, Daughter reached number 1 on the Billboard 200 in 1993, anchoring an album that sold almost one million copies in its first week. More importantly for the band, it established to the main stream that they had a softer side that was just as listenable, unlike most other bands labelled as “grunge.” The song’s strongest point is it’s sing-along melody. With the softer guitars and the rolling drums, it remains hard for a listener to not hum or sing the main chorus – don’t call me daughter / not fair to / the picture kept will re-mi-i-i-ind me. What really puts the song over the top, however, is the excellent McCready solo that serves as a bridge.
4. Yellow Ledbetter – 1993 – Daugher B-Side. The B-side to the single version of Daughter (albeit a live version), Yellow Ledbetter quickly evolved into a fan favorite and a song still being played on the radio. The fantastic guitar introduction – heck, the whole song – has a relaxed feel to it, as if it were played on a beach at sunset among friends. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the best songs to end a concert on, a technique Pearl Jam employs often.
5. Do the Evolution – 1998 – Yield. Much like Given to Fly, Do the Evolution anchors Yield and its driving, bitter guitar riff goes perfectly with the song’s message. About the ironic nature of man to “evolve” while devising new ways to kill and suppress, Eddie’s passionate vocals and the machine-like drumming from Jack Irons make the song more angry and realistic and inspired than anything in the catalogs of Metalica or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Also, along with Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, Do the Evolution has one of the top two animated music videos of all-time, a sprawling phantasmagoria of death and destruction, greed and malice directed by comic mastermind Todd MacFarlane. This is noteworthy as Pearl Jam have only made three music videos (this, Jeremy, and one for Life Wasted).
6. Better Man and
7. Corduroy – 1995 – Vitalogy. Pearl Jam’s third album reached the Billboard number one ranking, and can be considered to some extent to be the height of their popularity. These two songs mark the highlights of an overall fantastic album. The single for Better Man hit number one on Billboard’s rock charts, and I challenge anyone to find a better crescendo than the one in this song. Pearl Jam proved again they could play soft and loud with equal skill, and like most of their material directly hit on subject matter that spoke directly to real human drama. Corduroy had less success on the charts, but rocks almost equally as well. The opening guitar hum is one of the best I’ve ever heard, and Eddie’s voice sounds better on the original track than it would for quite some time to come. In a way, Vitalogy represents the band at their best, and you can’t top these two songs.
8. World Wide Suicide – 2006 – Pearl Jam. Not to say anything against Binaural or Riot Act – both have their merits – but neither were up to the level of Yield. With their release of Pearl Jam earlier this year, the band showed they could again make an album worthy of the Vs./Vitalogy legacy. Rolling Stone called it their best work in a decade, and rightly so. World Wide Suicide was the first single and remains the best song on the album. It hit number one on the Billboard modern rock track listing, and brought Pearl Jam back to Saturday Night Live for the first time in twelve years. Though released only six months ago, its impact already demands a place on the top ten (and yes, the song itself totally rocks).
9. Glorified G. – 1993 – Vs. If you didn’t notice from 5. and 8., Pearl Jam has a very political side (left/green) to them. This track, from their second album, calls arms “glorified versions of pellet guns,” and, unlike most of, say, the anti-Bush Riot Act, the song is really catchy. Even the most hardened second amendment freak will be singing the refrain after hearing it. Again the guitar riff is superb and memorable, much in the way it is on I Got Id, Dissident, or Rearviewmirror.
10. Black – 1991 – Ten. I have to choose something else from Ten, and Black wins. It’s a dramatic song chock full of emotion, and Vedder’s vocal abilities are spot-on, staying away from his clunkier moments such as that on Elderly Woman… The song hit number 3 on Billboard’s rock section, and it is probably the best song performed at their MTV Unplugged appearence .
Twenty More In the Debate:
From Ten (1991) – Evenflow, Release, Porch, Once
From Vs. (1993) – Animal, Rearviewmirror, Dissident
From Vitalogy (1995) – Not For You, Last Exit
From No Code (1996) – Hail Hail, Red Mosquito
From Yield (1998) – Faithful, Pilate, Wishlist
From Binaural (2000) – Light Years, Nothing as it Seems, Grievance
From Riot Act (2002) – Save You, Greendisease
From Pearl Jam (2006) – Life Wasted