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“Dolby’s Pre-Release Pearl Jam Song Power Rankings”


25 “Why Go” (Ten)

For the longest time I was in this phase where I just couldn’t stand the production on this album: the big, Bon Jovi drums and all the separation between the instruments. Over time, though, the wild, reckless approach to songwriting hits me on a lot of these numbers and they get across the lawless, free sense of the late ’80s and the pre-Nirvana world, which of course seems pretty foreign to us now.

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24 “Satan’s Bed” (Vitalogy)

It’s funny to think that according to legend this was the exact period when Pearl Jam was the closest to breaking up, with rhythm guitarist and prominent songwriter Stone Gossard reportedly wielding the most umbrage with the group’s functions as anyone, because it’s also an incredibly fruitful period in Pearl Jam’s history where they seemed to just rattle off incessantly infectious and exciting rockers like this one. To me, this song is indicative of the band’s collaborative songwriting approach, with Vedder sort of just chucking the words out there like used index cards, but that’s part of Pearl Jam’s magic too and has helped them pile up such a voluminous catalogue over the years.

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23 “Off He Goes” (No Code)

“Off He Goes” fits squatly into “ballad” territory, in all likelihood, at least by Pearl Jam’s standards, but it’s got an incredible gravity about it conveyed in the personal lyrics and a certain energy as well, despite the slow tempo and soft instrumentation. I’ll never forget what Jeff Ament said about it in Pearl Jam Twenty, too, that it was a song pretty much everybody could relate to: that to me is the ultimate selfless disposition and also the key to enjoying the song’s artistic prowess to the utmost extent.

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22 “Release” (Ten)

“Release” is the unforgettable closeur on the band’s first album Ten and tends to get muddled under the heap of other classic songs on this album, but still rears its head with considerable regularity in their live show, sometimes even opening the show off with its pristine guitar riff and simple, celestial lyricism.

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21 “Blood” (Vs.)

I think Pearl Jam made it abundantly clear right away on Vs. that they weren’t mailing anything in: right away that album cover hits you with its confrontational splendor and the drums’ scrappy way of coming in, dissipating and then pounding back in on opener “Go” sets the tone for a breakneck, gripping grunge gauntlet. “Blood” more than fits the bill for this overall rubric, maniacally flailing its sonic arms back and forth in crazy, manic syncopation that seem to suggest that the album’s initial name of “Five against One” implied that the “one” at hand still wouldn’t back down to anyone, outnumbered or not.

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20 “Nothing as it Seems” (Binaural)

Over time, Pearl Jam developed a reputation for pretty unruly lead singles, or they should have, with the blistering, caustic “Spin the Black Circle” and then this one which is sort of the opposite: an obstinately down, brooding mid-album slab of sludge with a furiously captivating guitar solo, gorgeous melodic sense and some truly haunting lyrics: “Putting in and putting in / Don’t feel like methadone”; “Operations overthrown / A whisper through a megaphone”.

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19 “Black” (Ten)

Though it doesn’t get as much credit perhaps as some of its album mates, “Black” is undeniably among the original pantheon of immediately classic, early Pearl Jam tunes, tackling similar lyrical themes of crushing loss, emotional desolation and the power of one moment to shift an entire life. The words that keep coming to the surface from this one are “I know you will be a star / In somebody else’s sky / But why can’t it be mine?”

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18 “Given to Fly” (Yield)

As far as I know Pearl Jam ended up losing the case against Led Zeppelin the latter had filed claiming that this song lifted from “Going to California” (the similarity is nominally considerable but only if you make the directed effort to notice it) and I still consider it perhaps their best lead single off any album of their career, with energetic riffs and structures and uplifting lyrics about man transforming into the divine, or taking on divine characteristics of the primitive and animalist, which is maybe even more heroic and probably is in Pearl Jam’s doctrinal outplay.

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17 “Mind Your Manners” (Lightning Bolt)

Overall I have fairly good things to say about Lightning Bolt and yet admittedly it’s rare that I gravitate back to it and listen to the whole thing. This track, in particular, though, wields an undeniable energy and that raw, confrontational Pearl Jam swagger we grew to know on their early work and have embraced whenever possible ever since.

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16 “Immortality” (Vitalogy)

One of my mini-spiels or mini-factoids about this song is the poignancy of the fact that I think the first time they performed it was April 6, 1994, or somewhere around there, which would of course fall snugly between Kurt Cobain’s carbon date and when they discovered his body out in that shed. I don’t think enough can be said, either, about the class with which Pearl Jam carried themselves, in the face of harsh criticism and discursive rancor from Kurt Cobain, and with rallying to support him and his family after his death. Ultimately, this is a classic tune that, though slow and lugubrious, still carries a high-powered, synergistic guitar solo or two, in quintessential grunge form.

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15 “Garden” (Ten)

Boy is this song SNEAKY, almost literally: for the longest time I’d cast aside Ten out of aversion to the opening track “Once,” and then there are so many mid-album classics to sift through, but I love the haunting, otherworldly and expansive feel conveyed by this tune, with Mike McCready’s incessant riff perpetuating things into a gripping, memorable but methodical chorus.

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14 “Leash” (Vs.)

I don’t think Pearl Jam was familiar with the CONCEPT of regular quarter notes in the recording of this album, a predilection to the syncopated and wild that may have been spawned by newly enlisted producer Brendan O’ Brien, whom they’d retain for the next five albums as well for producing and/or mixing duties. The full-on rock assault is there, the intimidating lyrical squall but more than anything the sense that the band was having fun writing and recording music, which is probably the bulk of what’s gotten them this far and allowed us all to enjoy them all these years.

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13 “Yellow Ledbetter” (rearviewmirror/“Jeremy” single)

Probably up there pretty high in the “best b-sides of all time” race, “Yellow Ledbetter” appeared only on the “Jeremy” single in the ’90s but still found its way onto radio through perhaps rogue procedures on the part of DJ’s, and then landed on the band’s best-of compilation rearviewmirror (greatest hits 1991-2003). It’s easy to see why, with its gorgeous and addictive guitar riff intro and Eddie Vedder’s world-weary lyrics of clear and present danger and the resignation of at least temporarily not giving enough of a fu** to deal with it just right now.

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12 “Brain of J” (Yield)

Like with “Satan’s Bed,” “Brain of J” for some reason to me just smacks of songwriting plurality and the assembly line approach to production of albums, ironically igniting things even more than if just one person were writing the songs like in the laborious cases of Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins, by comparison. These songs bounce out of the speakers at you and are almost entrancing for their puerile, effortless qualities.

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11 “Breakerfall” (Binaural)

A sister raucous opener to “Brain of J” on Yield’s sister album Binaural, another excellent LP, “Breakerfall” takes a typical Eddie Vedder blueprint of exercising sympathy for a woman in the dating world, here moving from wedged too far within a volatile dating conundrum out to a romantic vacancy of the single female, for whom “Only love will breakerfall”.

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10 “Whipping” (Vitalogy)

For the first three albums I think Eddie Vedder had to get his tough guy high jinks out of his system and so before we graduate to “I’m in hiding” and “There’s just one word I still believe in / It’s love” we get “Don’t need a helmet / Got a hard hard head” and of course the simple but might chorus of “They whipping”, permutated into those closing repetitions complete with the “ah!” exclamation toward the end, in beautiful form.

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9 “Porch” (Ten)

“Porch” seems to be more wild, confrontational mania set to exciting, pioneering grunge song interfaces, perhaps lifting the “porch” reference from “Yellow Ledbetter” or from the same incident he’s referring to there, but either way bubbling forth with much more tension, rage and energy than that song’s able to muster and sewing side b of Ten together in unruly form.

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8 “Wishlist” (Yield)

A fan favorite to a considerable extent, “Wishlist” was classic right from the start, garnering much deserved radio play and even a singalong, impromptu, one time by my prospective Mexican roommate in Cicero who was responding to my compliment of his vinyl copy of Yield. It’s like their thoughts are too big for their size and I think Vedder in particular has always had something of the unrealistic idealist in him, but at least on “Wishlist” he gave definite form and groundwork to his silly, pie-in-the-sky dreams.

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7 “W.M.A.” (Vs.)

About as funky as Pearl Jam gets, “W.M.A.” is wild, spooky and relentless, lunging out right smack in the middle of Vs. and doing full justice to that LP as a whole with cocksure swagger and compelling lyrics like “Do no wrong / So clean cut / Dirties his hands / It comes right off / Policeman”. And as much as I credit their unorthodox project, the “Daughter” annexation on Live on Two Legs featuring part of this song really doesn’t do the original version full justice.

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6 “Amongst the Waves” (Backspacer)

I have this cheesy song “Free” by Jack Johnson and Donovan Frankenreiter that I sort of with tongue in cheek call my “nice day” music or my “day off” music but it’s hard to imagine anything fulfilling these needs better than this Pearl Jam tune, which came along on ’09’s Backspacer which I don’t think anybody expected to produce a classic tune, a song which albeit unfurls as universal and certainly not bound to any specific time frame in rock, other than maybe any setting where a lot of drugs were available.

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5 “Alive” (Ten)

Maybe lyrically, this is the focal point of Eddie Vedder’s career, seeing as he lets us in on the calamity of never knowing the true father which per report actually pertains to him in real life (“What you thought was your daddy / Was nothin’ but uhh”). Still, what patches this classic radio rocker together is the infectiously simple chorus that even a monkey could memorize, and the anthemic zeal that such a thing transmits, in car or in concert.

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4 “Parachutes” (Pearl Jam)

Ah, what to say about “Parachutes”? I really needed this song in 2006, finishing up my bachelor’s degree over the summer that this came out, uneasy about the future and starved for hypnotic, satiating melodies like this. It’s a great straight-ahead, midtempo rocker not unlike “Thin Air” and “Off He Goes” but for some reason I feel like this song really put Pearl Jam over the hump: it’s just got this feel about it like an electricity in the room that was channeling through every man in that studio, playing those instruments, manning that sound board and forever internalizing this phenomenal creation of lyric and melody.

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3 “Even Flow” (Ten)

I’ve been on such a Ten kick lately that I don’t even need the live version of this song: surely they nailed the studio run-through but in all fairness that Live on Two Legs reincarnation of this classic is the definition of ferocious, sped up, swaggered out and complete with a great Vedder-ism leading into the guitar solo: “Lemme introduce you to Michael.”

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2 “Do the Evolution” (Yield)

And not to beat a dead horse but the live version of this one on Two Legs comes thoroughly recommended likewise, as does I think the cartoon music video which was the first cinematic spot the band had shot I think since “Black.” The politics of this song ring true as ever today, sure, but it would be nothing without that twisted, maniacal guitar riff pummeling the entire expedition and nailing your head to the dashboard, in reactive motion.

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1 “Jeremy” (Ten)

I’m probably not going to win any “eccentricity” points putting “Jeremy” on top of this list but come on, it’s obviously the quintessential Pearl Jam song, from the horrifyingly pernicious subject matter, the watery, picturesque guitar sound, the undeniable energy and groove and of course who could denounce those “Ooh-ooh-ooh”’s following the second chorus. The entire band seemed to be getting their hands dirty on this one and it’s a song so big that it’s hard to imagine a trio pulling it off, with its thickness and its relentless vibe, all at once. Either way, for all the accusations against other bands of being Pearl Jam ripoffs, it’s certainly hard to imagine any group of musicians hearing “Jeremy” and thinking they had any chance in he** of duplicating it, or its energy or haunting depravity.

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