Loading…

“Dolby’s Power Rankings of Pearl Jam Songs, Spring 2019”

When you’re the best band on the planet, blogs do weird stuff like this for you.

But then, I was thinking, it’s almost impossible for music to have an OBJECTIVE quality — the world around is constantly changing, so why shouldn’t the status of songs themselves? I think I’ve gone for a bread-and-butter approach here, songs that sing back to the traditional days of rock and roll and its founding DNA in terms of what it’s supposed to accomplish, on a track by track basis. But as always, at the heart of this operation is that warm, throaty voice of Eddie Vedder, without whom they might have been just another ’90s also-ran.

..

25 “Alive” (Ten)

Crafting a great riff was something both Pearl Jam and Nirvana excelled at and this might be PJ’s finest one to date right here, delivered on Mike McCready’s guitar which just seemed to sing with this orchestral depth and beautiful texture. In the lyrics, Vedder gets into some gritty matters of his childhood, which most people know featured the loss of his biological father when he was at a very young age.

..

24 “Satan’s Bed” (Vitalogy)

For this one the riff got crisper, darker and more intense (so more like Nirvana, in other words, or more like that whip that’s cracking in the pre-song sound bite). Then come Eddie Vedder’s out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire lyrics, depicting a world full of conflict, deception and treachery, and wolves in sheep’s clothing, approximately. A couple more things of note about this song is the “I’m already in love” lyrical lead-in to the second chorus, in which he repeats those words again, and the fashionable way the band had of playing with funky time signatures, here a five-four maneuver in the main theme.

..

23 “Breakerfall” (Binaural)

In many ways Binaural is sort of a sister album to Yield, its predecessor — both albums feature Brendan O’Brien on mixing and have a similar sound, and also both take off with a sort of blistering punk-rocker like this that showcases the band’s love for old madmen like the Buzzcocks, who would once fulfill an opening slot on a Pearl Jam tour.

..

22 “Dissident” (Vs.)

It’s probably a testament to how much Pearl Jam rocks that this song is basically exactly like “Alive” — the same tempo and governed simply by a big, arena-rock riff– and can still pump out of the speakers for all eternity and get our heads nodding, every time.

..

21 “Rearviewmirror” (Vs.)

Indeed, this song does almost convey a feeling of running — not necessarily physically jogging or a horse galloping but just the sense of evasive movement. Sure enough, Songfacts reports that “Eddie Vedder wrote this song about leaving his stepfather… He hated the guy with a passion.” Wikipedia will indeed affirm that it’s Vedder betokened with the songwriting credits. In general, one cool thing about Pearl Jam is how much they share the creative load, leaving things pluralistic, dynamic and fresh.

..

20 “Porch” (Ten)

You know for the longest time I never really listened to Ten because I hated the first song on it so much. To top it off, it seems hard to find good criticism on the album, Rolling Stone just usually being like “It has ‘Jeremy’; ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Alive,’” real illuminating. Still, for the overproduced, arena rock sound and separate mix, it’s still got some kinetic enough rockers on it like this track eight, complete with a funky, rhythm guitar run, and an uninhibited lyrical dive into some good ol’ American obscenity.

..

19 “Aye Davanita” (Vitalogy)

This is the album where they went “interlude crazy,” as producer Brendan O’Brien points out in Pearl Jam Twenty, and yes even though this song is technically an interlude, lacking a verse and chorus the same way that “Pry, to” does, the vibe it gets across is utterly undeniable, even upon verbal gibberish — like a desperation before the facing of a deity and the celestial realization that can come from such desperation.

..

18 “Leash” (Vs.)

The maniacal glory of Vs. for some reason didn’t really hit me until really recently: I’d always thought of it as an non-cohesive collection of autonomous singles, but it’s got a way of weaving between catchiness and pure abrasion that positions in ’90s dominance. “Leash” happily joins “Go” and “Blood” as the album’s proudest moments of rip-roaring rancor, now given a liver sound than ever before by world-class producer Brendan O’Brien.

..

17 “Better Man” (Vitalogy/Live on Two Legs)

It’s almost just both retarded and bonkers that I didn’t rank this song first. The back story of its creation and its actual structural radiance are equally astonishing. I mean in what other mainstream alt-rock song does the percussion sit the sidelines until exactly midway through the second verse? Sure, those lyrics get a little preachy, it’s another feminist indictment of empty male aggression or whatever, but how about those lyrics that toggle effortlessly between realist and imagist (“She dreams in color she dreams in red / Can’t find a better man”). At the end of the day it’s such an orchestral statement in our culture plotted with such a simple chord progression and that’s a lot of what makes it great.

..

16 “Oceans” (Ten)

It was sort of a gut check moment for me a few months ago when I realized I sort of GET OFF on that old, ’80s style of grunge production which we hear at work on Ten, like the Skin Yard type sound where it sounds like the drums are being played in the cafeteria next to the elementary school auditorium where the rest of the band is located. “Oceans” is a nice multifarious and inviting track in the middle of Ten.

..

15 “Evacuation” (Binaural)

This song to an extent gets things going as the third track on Binaural, but I almost like the background tale tagged to it better than the song itself, which is that it was the first song that new drummer (out of Soundgarden) contributed to the PJ oeuvre and had too complex of a phrasing in the verse for the rest of the band to be able to learn for a while. His explanation too, according to Pearl Jam Twenty, was classic: “’It’s a drummer tune!’”

..

14 “No Way” (Yield)

It’s such a mind fu** trying to keep track of which Pearl Jam member wrote which song… I remember the narrative behind “Faithfull,” which was that McCready called Gossard and made him finish the song over the phone after he’d played the main theme for him, but given Gossard’s goofy, Monty Python obsessing city-boy background, it had somehow slipped my mind his being responsible for this somber, punctilious dirge here, which sounds at the absolute emotional apex of desperation.

..

13 “Nothingman” (Vitalogy/Live on Two Legs)

In a way “Nothingman” is sort of a jolt on the otherwise boisterous and hard-rocking Vitalogy, a methodical ballad right in the middle of the album on which the production always seems perfect, sure, as well as Eddie Vedder’s voice so tactilely ordained for the proceedings that it almost seems like a deliberate component of the production itself, too.

..

12 “Black” (Ten/Live on Two Legs)

The preternatural beast that is Ten, even just in terms of hit singles, can certainly be a tough thing to wrap your mind around sometimes, with this precocious, stately rocker sometimes getting relegated to “red-headed step child” of the pack, but not for glorious riffs or muscular arena-rock purposefulness. “Black” plays as the final band number on Live on Two Legs before a Neil Young cover “Fu**in’ up,” which gets things briskly rocking again and sends the proceedings into the night in style.

..

11 “Brain of J.” (Yield)

It’s hard to pin down what I like about this song — it sort of just tickles me in a way. I guess there’s the fact that it’s about JFK but there’s nothing SAD about it — it’s like this fast, psychotic punk rocker, and there’s also the fact that no other band would have thrown a chorus key change into a song so simple as this and of such blistering speed. I think it might be the same key change we find in Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days,” except it sounds like Bad Brains’ Harvard-going robot-building cousins are playing and singing it.

..

10 “Whipping” (Vitalogy)

I don’t know how this rocker gets continually overlooked in all Pearl Jam discussions over the years, with classic lyrics like “Don’t need a helmet / Got a hard hard head / Don’t need a raincoat / I’m already wet”, and a boisterous, straight ahead punk-type m.o. that cavalcades out of the speakers like something very hype, even today. You’ve gotta like too how Vedder’s vocal evolves throughout the course of the song, to something amusingly close to complete gibberish, at the end.

..

9 “Even Flow” (Ten/Live on Two Legs)

This was always both arguably Pearl Jam’s biggest hit and the one that people made fun of the most, saying it was like total gobbledygook after Vedder uttered drew the line “Eeeveen” out for a full two bars or so. I have to say that the Live on Two Legs version stole my innocence big time, with its sped-up tempo and voracious energy, so I can barely even listen to the studio version anymore, but hey it still beats Silverchair, I guess.

..

8 “Wishlist” (Yield)

This was the number that the band chose for their ’98 performance on David Letterman, a song that the producer strangely thought was sort of empty, recording what I think is pool balls crashing in the background during the second verse and also sometime toward the end. The live performance holds up fine without that background noise and also this is the song this Mexican I was about to live with busted into, impromptu, during our discussion of his Yield vinyl copy.

..

7 “Daughter” (Vs./Live on Two Legs)

Yeah I guess I’m like that nerdy guy who has to have the live versions of all these songs… but listen to that rhythm guitar sound on Stone Gossard’s instrument here! That’s gotta be the best guitar tones I’ve ever heard and of course that “Rockin’ in the Free World”/”W.M.A.” segue on this version doesn’t hurt either.

..

6 “Release” (Ten)

In terms of Pearl Jam being the best, most important band on the planet still and writing music that is unifying and also soothing for everyone privy to it, you could do a lot worse than this epic Ten album closeur, built around a steady, hypnotic guitar riff and full of illuminating lyrics about “tension and release,” literally, and I think the burden of artistic vision and then music’s suffusing power to render things whole and fructifying once again.

..

5 “Do the Evolution” (Yield/Live on Two Legs)

It’s been a couple of, um, eventful days since I first put this list together, and I’d forgot I’d even slapped this sucka on here but just a second ago I had the urge to share this song on Facebook — that fast, Zeppelin-like guitar riff is just infectious (somebody just shared a story about Zeppelin to my wall a second ago, knowing I’m a huge fan of them) and more than ever this tune just seems to sprint along at the speed of life itself, with the requisite anger before all of the banal things that humanity can seem to do sometimes.

..

4 “Off He Goes” (No Code/Live on Two Legs)

Again here is a song that’s undeniably anthemic in terms of it being able to apply to anyone, to serve the general ego and the “hungry heart,” the everyday person in search of meaning and transcendence in these modern, sometimes sterilized times we live in. It makes a powerful statement all over relatively easy volume, with Eddie Vedder’s hearty voice tying the whole thing together and sympathizing with a narcissist the way arguably only the great ones can do.

..

3 “Immortality” (Vitalogy)

You could make a strong case for this as the best Pearl Jam song and also the most poignantly placed, seeing as they first performed it live in basically exact concurrence (04/06/1994) with Kurt Cobain’s death. All along, it seems, Pearl Jam was almost too respectful of Nirvana for their own good, given Nirvana’s habit of bad-mouthing them (which arguably led to their downfall, as it were), right down to their ’94 SNL appearance where I think Vedder wore the letter “K” on his shirt. “Immortality” caps off the excellent Vitalogy in undeniable style.

..

2 “Save You” (Riot Act)

This is sort of my left-brain favorite Pearl Jam song in that it has probably my favorite guitar riff in terms of melody they’ve ever laid down, my music theorist’s go-to track full of a unique kind of psychotic, frenetic energy that seemed so right for the war in Iraq era and still does today. I got to see the band in Noblesville, Indiana on this tour and was not disappointed.

..

1 “Elderly Woman behind the Counter in a Small Town” (Vs./Live on Two Legs)

Just to top things off, apropos of the band’s ability to unify everyone and stand as an ironic sort of moral benchmark for all people to enjoy, here you have to admit is a special case of feeling the maladies of other people’s plights with undeniable potency, taking shape in the form of a love song to this elderly woman who’s perhaps seen too LITTLE in her life, has not changed at all, but from whom people know what to expect and know where they stand. Eddie Vedder saw beauty in that. And that my friends is why he’s a hall of fame front man.

..

 

Leave a Reply