Ya know it’s funny, I got a weird feeling while I was compiling this list in honor of Pearl Jam’s 1,000th concert: it feels strange to do a list just on them. Because they are SUCH a band of the community. They are a group of people, for the people. They stuck up for working class concertgoers by boycotting Ticketmaster. Eddie Vedder met Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and said, “I feel like I’m standing next to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards!” (which is odd, since they’re from the Northwest too, that they still wouldn’t have met being such big fans of each other). They wouldn’t have wanted it this way. So consider this just too much cake: listen to these songs with other great bands of the ’90’s, like Third Eye Blind, like Marcy Playground, like Everclear, but know that Pearl Jam beneath it all was still more misunderstood, genuine and powerful than most people realize.
And BY… THE… WAY… apropos of this, you’d think that regarding Eddie Vedder’s subversive grammy speech, any dipsh** would realize that he was just bemoaning the weirdness of no awards having been doled for masterpiece songs like “Alive” and “Dissident,” and on the possibility of some spite on the part of the award administrators, trying to stick their dirty hands in Pearl Jam’s unorthodox single selection of “Spin the Black Circle,” which for that matter at very least rivals for absolute worst song on Vitalogy.
Pearl Jam practices a democratic songwriting oeuvre, and so I’ve noted the accreditations next to the given songs.
(*) = information gathered from the commendable biography Pearl Jam Twenty
Pearl Jam Personnel:
Dave Abbruzzese (drums on Vs., Vitalogy)
Jeff Ament (bass)
Matt Cameron (drums on Binaural, Riot Act, Pearl Jam, Backspacer, Lightning Bolt)
Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar)
Jack Irons (drums on No Code, Yield)
Dave Krusen (drums on Ten)
Mike McCready (lead guitar)
Eddie Vedder (vocals)
50 “Smile” (No Code) [Ament]
Slow and deliberate, awkward and memorable, this song plays as the perfect paean to grunge itself, with the chorus of “I miss you already”, coming as it did in ’96 when rabid critics were foaming at the mouth to gnash Alice in Chains and Soundgarden to shreds. Hey, man, that’s McCready’s heroin hookup!
49 “Last Exit” (Vitalogy) [Abbruzzese, Gossard]
I like that Vitalogy opens with a 5/4 number — it sets the tone for the weirdness of the rest of the thing, and the ferocity is there in Eddie Vedder’s voice all the way. This is one of those classic Pearl Jam songs which is sort of neither in a major chord nor a minor one, a pretty common trait of jazz, actually.
48 “Don’t Gimme No Lip” (Lost Dogs) [Gossard]
It’s ironic that Gossard wrote this song, because apparently when he first met Jeff Ament, he said something really sarcastic to him, HE was the loud-mouthed one, and Ament apparently almost punched him. (*) Must be a displaced perspective commentary, and such a complex one, too.
47 “Insignificance” (Binaural) [Vedder]
By this time Eddie Vedder had really evolved into a proficient lyricist: “All in all it’s no one’s fault… Blame it all on chemical intercourse.” It’s funny when bands like this, or Sleater-Kinney who released “Combat Rock” in ’02, seem to PRESAGE disaster, the mental foresight I guess being a great precaution against getting punished for such dissenting things.
46 “Animal” (Vs.) [Gossard]
This song might be more bark than bite, but already on showcase simultaneously are the band’s tightness, and Mike McCready’s ability to coax a wicked riff out of his Strat which doesn’t stand apart, but just reinforces the band’s whole groove.
45 “Release” (Ten) [Ament, Gossard, Krusen, McCready, Vedder]
Way trippy intro to this one, which reminds me of another album closeur The Offspring’s “Pay the Man” (which obviously would come later)… great opportunity for some serious lighter waving right here, and hopefully holding someone close to.
44 “MFC” (Yield/Live on Two Legs) [Vedder]
I’m not sure, but I think this might be a reference to Dane Cook’s joke of “monkey fu**in’ a coconut.” Sorry, it just gets hard to find something to say about all these songs, and this one’s basically a stock rocker, though I dunno if I’ve ever skipped over it, on Legs or Yield.
43 “Hail, Hail” (No Code/Live on Two Legs) [Gossard, Ament, McCready]
I remember my friend’s Dad rocking out to the live version of this one, and we were making fun of him for how into it he was, a cloud of weed smoke probably billowing out of his bedroom. Again, Vedder just seems amazingly genuine and personal, and it becomes a thing where if you’re really a fan, it’s impossible to truly judge someone who’s this non-judgmental in the first place.
42 “Porch” (Ten) [Vedder]
This song proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Eddie Vedder could have been a rapper had he wanted to, right along with the ridiculous song “Lukin” off No Code which I kinda sorta considered putting on here. Interesting production technique at the end of “Lukin”: I’m PRETTY sure that is actually the miked natural sound of the snare drum’s vibration, turned way up in reactionary ploy for the end of the song.
41 “God’s Dice” (Binaural) [Ament]
Tightness, tightness, tightness: this is another 4 x 100 meter relay, and the band runs it all in astonishing lockstep, tackling existential issues with the requisite anger characteristic of anyone who would be, you know, actually living this sh**.
40 “Satan’s Bed” (Vitalogy) [Gossard]
This is about as close as Pearl Jam gets to the positive connotation of “dumb” typically ascribed to Nirvana, and sometimes it gets to be a bit much and I want something a little more orchestrated like the great backing vocals of “All Those Yesterdays” (which mind you I’ve criminally neglected to include on this list).
39 “Wish List” (Yield) [Vedder]
Big Pearl Jam Chicago story here: I’m looking for a place to live in Cicero and the first house I go to, I’m not lying, has a basement that’s decorated with like 50 skeleton faces: 50 orange or black cartoon figures of skulls adorning the walls in all shapes, positions and sizes. The next place I visit is this uncompromising 250 pound Mexican mother fu**er, and when we get to his vinyl collection I compliment him on Yield, and he busts into a singing rendition of none other than this very troublesome track. The thunder in the background is Brendan O’Brien’s handy work, who cut the song down in studio time from its original seven minute stature. (*)
38 “Unemployable” (Pearl Jam) [Cameron, McCready]
It should say something to commend the chorus and lyrics of this song that the verse is a ripoff of “Born in the U.S.A.” to an entirely hilarious extent. This avocado album probably owns the dubious distinction of second worst Pearl Jam album next to Riot Act, but Vedder sounds reckless and thumb-nosed as ever here, and you can tell Matt Cameron’s adding some energy and enthusiasm to the whole project.
37 “Glorified G” (Vs.) [Vedder]
In a rather ballsy move, to make an understatement, Eddie Vedder wrote this ABOUT his bandmate Dave Abbruzzese, who’d just bought a gun, much to the singer’s chagrin, and resignedly tagged it as a “glorified version of a pellet gun.” (*) I have to say this is our first taste of what would become the resident twisted Stone Gossard riff.
36 “Aye Davanita” (Vitalogy) [Abbruzzese, Ament, Gossard, McCready, Vedder]
Officially a less stupid selection than “Bugs,” this song is described in producer Brendan O’Brien’s statement that ‘We got interlude crazy’ (*). It helps to be drunk when you’re listening to this song, either on alcohol, or on, well, the rest of the album.
35 “Yellow Ledbetter” (“Jeremy” single b-side/Lost Dogs/Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991-2003) [Ament, McCready, Vedder]
This is sort of the novice favorite Pearl Jam song, but the deeper you get into their catalogue the more you see it as a lacking a certain ferocity, a relentlessness characterizing say “Satan’s Bed” or “Go.” But it’s definitely a rounded ditty at the end of the day, and with some great lyrics, too.
34 “Untitled” (Live on Two Legs) [Vedder]
This song is so good that the absurd audience clapping doesn’t even ruin it. If I wanted to be some completist I could maybe locate it on Lost Dogs or some bootlegs or something, but to me it’s always been an integral part of one of my favorite recorded live experiences.
33 “Given to Fly” (Yield/Live on Two Legs) [McCready]
Oh, Led Zeppelin, keep your hands out of the honey pot. In no way is this song a ripoff of “Going to California,” which a judge unfortunately concurred that it was by way of lawsuit… live version is essential I must say.
32 “Off He Goes” (No Code/Live on Two Legs) [Vedder]
Now, it’s clear, both from reading lyric citations and from actually just listening to the song closely, that the first words are “Know a man,” but I happen to think it’s a double entendre for the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.” Jeff Ament put it best when he said: “‘(“Off He Goes” is) a song all of us can relate to.’” (*)
31 “Not for You” (Vitalogy) [Vedder]
As if Vitalogy could get any more disconcerting than it already is, this is the deliberate, climactic non-single, which follows the barely listenable, vituperative “single.” “Not for You” made it onto the excellent grunge documentary Hype! by way of full-band-plus-some-others performance, and Rolling Stone named it the “essential track” on Vitalogy for their 2002 reader’s poll. So all my instincts tell me to rebel against it, but it really is a great song.
30 “Better Man” (Vitalogy/Live on Two Legs) [Vedder]
Having been born in ’83, I must admit I was a little more into like Kris Kross and Vanilla Ice when this came out, plus we didn’t have MTV at this time, so it’s hard to know how it stacks up, but what stands out is that this song almost didn’t even get released on an album because it meant so much to Vedder. It took the convincing work of producer Brendan O’Brien, and then his contribution on pipe organ for the intro and verses. (*)
29 “Do the Evolution” (Yield/Live on Two Legs) [Gossard]
Ol’ Stony’s back on this one. Surprised it didn’t get him locked up and the key throwed away.
28 “Swallowed Whole” (Lightning Bolt) [no credit listed]
And so Pearl Jam has still only made one bad album, in my opinion, which would be Riot Act… as Lightning Bolt gets mozying at a pert pace and doesn’t leave off, the defining quality the inexplicably plangent quality of Eddie Vedder’s voice, never really witnessed before in this exact mode.
27 “Low Light” (Yield) [Ament]
A light number here for late at night, notable for its wonky timing leading into the verses, and for more pristine backing vocals from one fine collaborative band.
26 “Nothingman” (Vitalogy/Live on Two Legs) [Ament]
On the live album, but it works great on Vitalogy too, and it works great LIVE live, as in when I got to see them in ’98 at Alpine Valley.
25 “Bugs” (Vitalogy) [Vedder]
Ok, haha, I’m stupid for putting this one on here. Please don’t swat me.
24 “Black” (Ten/Live on Two Legs) [Gossard]
This one sends Live on Two Legs into the night before hurling into the Neil Young cover “Fu**in’ up,” and is no unworthy constituent in doing this, as stalwart as it is reflective and brooding.
23 “Dissident” (Vs.) [Gossard, McCready, Ament]
I couldn’t think of what to say about this one for a while, because to be honest I find the lyrics sort of stupid… it’s just ANOTHER spiel about domestic abuse, and what the hell is “Escape is never the safest bet” supposed to mean anyway? But yup, I ranked it 23rd. Some pretty damn good music backing it, in other words.
22 “Tremor Christ” (Vitalogy) [Ament, McCready]
This is around where Pearl Jam becomes just astonishing: because not only is this their third spellbinding studio album in four years, but their song titles are just so imagistic, metaphorical and conceptual. “Tremor Christ” actually does not feature a meter unorthodoxy, which is almost surprising given the sheer artistic breadth which surrounds it.
21 “Rearviewmirror” (Vs.) [Vedder]
This one spawned the title of the greatest hits collection, and you could probably make a case that it is Pearl Jam’s best song, if you wanted to. It’s their best fighting song.
20 “Breakerfall” (Binaural) [Vedder]
Yup, just more Eddie Vedder towering over the world, ruling with his humanly intuitive vocal blow horn. I can see why people hate this guy.
19 “No Way” (Yield) [Gossard]
Yield is a nice guy’s rock album. And I sort of have a funny thing about it, because I remember being in high school and realizing, nice guys really don’t stand a chance in this world, unless the incur the mercy of another. This begs the question as to whether “No Way” is the quintessential Yield song. And boy is it a fun question to listen to.
18 “Alive” (Ten) [Gossard]
Epitomizing Pearl Jam’s stylish way of incorporating key changes, “Alive” has one of my favorite signature simple choruses, like R.E.M. songs such as “Talk about the Passion” or “Cuyahoga.”
17 “Nothing as it Seems” (Binaural) [Ament]
Probably the closest audible approximation to what being high on heroin is like (and no I don’t know from experience, for the record), this song was if not an odd choice for first single off Binaural, a very RUMINATIVE one, and one which ended up paying off as I do remember hearing it on what I believe was Chicago’s WXRT circa 2000.
16 “Even Flow” (Ten/Live on Two Legs) [Gossard]
If Pearl Jam had just gotten rid of “Once,” and opened their first album Ten with this song, I doubt as many people would have hated them, like Kurt Cobain and Mike Judge, et. al. I like the live version a little better ‘cause it’s sped up, and finally that becomes not only the formative trait but the only trait of the song: blistering speed.
15 “Amongst the Waves” (Backspacer) [Gossard]
I have to admit, when Backspacer came out I was like, there’s no way there’s any good songs on this album. I mean what band DOES this, just keep putting out all these albums without doing any notable side projects or anything? But then maybe that’s just Pearl Jam’s essence, related to how they’re a songwriting democracy: the creative well is astonishingly deep. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to tell DD things like this.
14 “Go” (Vs./Live on Two Legs) [Abbruzzese]
If “Immortality” is a comment on Kurt Cobain’s eventual suicide, then this is the song that initially killed him: because NO band had cooler cover art, no band had a cooler album opener, no band had a cooler initial PART to the first song, and finally, on Vs., no band had a cooler producer. This track, and album, established Pearl Jam as a rabid dog prowling the earth.
13 “Immortality” (Vitalogy) [Vedder]
I’m ranking these “songs,” but at the same time, I don’t really think this song can be divorced from the rest of Vitalogy: it caps off the album (before the goof-off track “Heyfoxymophandlemama, That’s Me”), and it sends the listener’s head reeling with a hauntingly rich account of suicide, ironically performed for the first time two days after Kurt Cobain’s death.
12 “Red Mosquito” (No Code/Live on Two Legs) [Ament, Gossard, Irons, McCready, Vedder]
For all the testosterone-fueled machismo of “Go” and “Even Flow,” this is still the song which benefits most from the live album, and I like hearing these songs that are deliberate and heroic, in their own way, just because even though other bands probably COULD do this, no one else really does.
11 “Rival” (Binaural) [Gossard]
I probably like Binaural a little more than the average person: maybe it’s because it’s got TWO producers instead of just one, Tchad Blake to initiate the “binaural” technique of two recording pods, and then the erstwhile helmsman Brendan O’Brien for mixing, “making it heavier.” This song opens with Tchad Blake’s dog barking, and then, well, what is it? I’m gonna stand back a bit, ‘scuse me.
10 “In Hiding” (Yield) [Gossard]
Oh, rock and roll. Let’s be honest, it always comes back to the voice of the singer: and Eddie Vedder seems almost half crying in this one, belting it out so as to make you lose any notion of falseness. The song is credited to Stone Gossard on Wikipedia, but it sure sounds like a readymade Eddie quagmire, and the way he sings it sells it too.
9 “Elderly Woman behind the Counter in a Small Town” (Vs./Live on Two Legs) [Vedder]
And again: the live version is what it’s all about here, I can’t even listen to the Vs. one. Apropos of how Pearl Jam is a very active unit, and this is their 1000th show coming up, you can even look up the “total plays” on setlist.fm and they had this one at 580, albeit by “11 artists.” They’ve actually played this song more than “Better Man.” But yup, this means 10 bands have covered it (which I’m glad is back it its full title, and not just “Small Town”). Should make for fair game for this upcoming Temple of the Dog tour.
8 “Thin Air” (Binaural) [Gossard]
Here is the melodic Pearl Jam again, capable of reeling off these rounded, memorable ballads as if all of the stacks shredding and screaming never happened at all. “Thin Air” caps off side A of a brilliant album, and probably goes unnoticed to a lot of people; hopefully slightly less now.
7 “Brain of J” (Yield) [McCready]
It’s easy to miss the key change in this face-melting roller coaster ride, as it is the falsetto in Vedder’s voice when he hits that high note in the chorus: because what pronounces itself is the boisterous lyrical call to arms, to think about who’s pulling the strings and why we keep losing all our nation’s key leaders, and what will happen by way of this next.
6 “Save You” (Riot Act) [Ament, Cameron, Gossard, McCready, Vedder]
This is another brisk, ripping sort of number, about apparently someone in need with some emotional instability or something, but then halfway through the song he goes “Why are you hitting yourself? / Come on let me instead”. Per the general fascination with psych wards and the insane, I guess, this song culminates as an amalgamation of “Heyfoxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” et. al., and what the message is, I dunno, but it’s clear that Vedder himself is even tired of caring about it anyway.
5 “Whipping” (Vitalogy) [Vedder]
When I’m alone playing guitar in my more hard-rocking or angry moods, this is basically the exact technique I go to: sort of half punk rock and half rockabilly, played fast, blues-scale chord changes. One extra cool thing about this song is that opposite of what’s typically held as the overused “grunge” formula, the soft verse and loud chorus, this one fires up the opposite, until of course the cathartic, unforgettable explosion at the end.
4 “Jeremy” (Ten) [Ament]
Sex sells, and violence ain’t far behind. Sure, Ten is by and large pretty overproduced, and the band had yet to gather showstopping knob twirler Brendan O’ Brien, but I think the metallic sheen and the butt-rock snare sound almost lend themselves to this particular cut in a weird way. The lyrics, and the video, are bombastic and theatrical, and so the concert performances of it should be as well.
3 “Daughter” (Vs./Live on Two Legs) [Gossard]
For all of the songs which appear on the live album, I’ve included its association here, and in no case is this indication more important than for the live version of “Daughter,” which boasts some of the absolute best guitar sound of all time. In the outro he busts into a twisted, minor-chord cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”; it’s more a distinguishing ornament than artistic bulwark, but still, very Pearl Jam, so to speak.
2 “Of the Girl” (Binaural) [Gossard]
The ukelele/banjo combination here is utterly otherworldly: or like some great George Harrison sitar piece. A Led Zeppelin “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” vibe is summoned, another great defining moment for a band which cements them as legendary, but more importantly, cohesive.
1 “Faithfull” (Yield) [McCready]
Not only is this Pearl Jam’s best song, but it’s got the best story behind it: Mike McCready had written the verse and the final, cathartic portion of the chorus, but didn’t think he had a good enough way of tying them together, so he called Stone Gossard up and played the two parts to him, leaving Gossard to invent a conjoining bridge, on the spot, and play it back. (*)