Features

Ranking All 96 Pearl Jam Songs of the '90s

by Benjamin Ray

pearljam-logo_244Pearl Jam’s first decade yielded five albums, a handful of singles and some of the best music of the ‘90s. It is the era most fondly remembered by longtime fans, the era of enduring, moody songwriting, a rotating cast of drummers, the Ticketmaster battle and the band’s solidification as an enduring rock band that outlasted its peers long after “alternative” had become mainstream.

None of this would have mattered had the band not had great songs and albums, and they did in spades. The five albums of this time period all have a definite feel that is different from each other but unmistakably the same band. Once the new century hit and Matt Cameron joined, the band entered into more of a cult status, albeit one with a rabid fan base and great music, but that somehow felt different than its previous incarnation.

Therefore, this list will rank all of the officially released Pearl Jam songs from the band’s inception up through 1999’s monster “Last Kiss” single, collecting B-sides and songs recorded in the era but not released until the CD reissues of recent years. Omitted is the Neil Young collaboration album Mirrorball and any live songs that were never officially recorded or released (“Baba O’Riley,” a band staple, for example). As with any ranking, this is of course subjective, though if you disagree only well-reasoned arguments will be accepted. I’m a fan, so I’m not above reason (it is Pearl Jam, after all). Enjoy!

96. “Bugs,” Vitalogy: I get that Vitalogy was experimental, and Tom Waits is beloved for reasons unknown to me, but this is unlistenable and weird, and disrupts the flow of a great album up to that point. Nothing jerks you out of the excellent “Corduroy” faster than that damn accordion.

95. “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me (aka Stupid Mop),” Vitalogy: The other song of no consequence on Vitalogy, if “song” is the right word for this sound collage. Just like “Revolution 9,” the band had the decency to bury it at the end, in an almost willful shedding of their image up to that point. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it again.

94. “Out Of My Mind,” live B-side: This one was only played twice live and then forgotten. Eddie Vedder later said it was a jam, and it sounds every inch of that. But its obscurity is deserved and un-mourned. If you haven’t heard it, don’t bother.

93. “Sometimes,” No Code: I’d say No Code is the most divisive album of the band’s first decade even to this day, but the bulk of it foreshadows the musical direction the band would take from Binaural forward, and remains quietly arresting in its own way. However, leading off with this willfully difficult song seems more like a calculated middle finger to “grunge” than an organic choice for best leadoff track. Vedder’s scratchy vocals are just painful.

92. “Push Me, Pull Me,” Yield: This is a mishmash of Vedder rambling, the band flailing away with no direction and some Bowie-esque background vocals that made me think of the Labyrinth soundtrack. As a drunken way to blow off steam, it’s understandable, but it didn’t need to be recorded.

91. “I’m Open,” No Code: A close cousin to “Push Me, Pull Me,” this is an instrumental that Vedder decided to talk over top of for a couple minutes. Some vaguely interesting guitar work, perhaps, but not much more.

90. “Bee Girl,” Lost Dogs: I’m not sure what sort of vibe is going on here, some sort of folky coffeehouse acoustic piece with Vedder alternating between singing and philosophical musings, with the occasional laughter break, all in tribute to the girl from the semi-famous Blind Melon video for “No Rain.”

89. “Pry, To,” Vitalogy: Mildly interesting instrumental that lasts all of a minute.

88. “Untitled (red dot),” Yield: Mildly interesting instrumental that lasts all of a minute.

87. “Evil Little Goat,” Ten Redux: A jokey cut recorded in the studio during Ten and left off for obvious reasons, but an interesting little piece that reminds people of this band’s sense of humor, a trait largely forgotten.

86. “2,000 Mile Blues,” Ten Redux: Another song not released in the early days for a reason, but rather an entertaining bit of studio ephemera they found floating around.

85. “Last Kiss,” Lost Dogs, fan club single: The original oldie was fine but not special. Pearl Jam dusting it off for a cover is fine. The massive hit single that it became is unexplainable and, to me, quite disappointing. My hope is that it got new fans on board who then went backward and discovered all the brilliant original music the band had written. Docked probably 40 points for this reason, and if that seems petty, too bad.

84. “Leatherman,” Given To Fly single: Another cover, and one the band liked to play live from time to time. It’s fun but not essential.

83. “Whale Song,” Lost Dogs: The second song from the Music For Our Mother Oceans compilation, a chance for the band to stretch and Vedder to include his love of surfing.

82. “Gremmie Out Of Control,” Lost Dogs: The same as “Whale Song,” but more fun (and a cover to boot). You won’t know it’s Pearl Jam unless you looked.

81. “Dead Man,” Lost Dogs, Dead Man Walking soundtrack: A bit of a downer, but understandable considering its themes. “Footsteps” (see further down the list) would have worked too; this one is so melancholy as to fade away not long after hearing it.

80. “Soldier Of Love,” Lost Dogs, fan club single: Another ‘60s cover, played live, that was the B-side to “Last Kiss.” The original was good, the Beatles’ version was fine, and this one adds nothing to those two. Vedder seems to enjoy singing it, though.

79. “Mankind,” No Code: No disrespect to Stone Gossard, half of the founding team of this band, a great songwriter, an anchor of the guitar sound, but this is not a great song. Better than any that I have written, mind you.

78. “Nothingman,” Vitalogy: A yawner of a song, breaking up the flow of what had up until then been a stellar album.

77. “Blood,” Vs.: The other run-of-the-mill track on the band’s second album, another pummeling screamer with some great McCready funk guitar in between the riff. Unlike other noisy Pearl Jam tracks, this one seems only to exist to break free from Ten and inch closer to the punk/Nirvana camp that was also in vogue in 1992. It’s tough to sit through and easily the weakest song on the album.

76. “Don’t Gimme No Lip,” Lost Dogs, No Code outtake: The most non-No Code-sounding song of the band’s career, a cheerful Stone Gossard-written number that sounds almost nothing like the band’s other recorded output. A curiosity, to be sure, if you happen to come across it.

75. “In My Tree,” No Code: What the hell is this about? And why? If you get past the opening minute, good on you, because it gets a little better musically, but songs like this and “Sometimes” are why people frown on this album.

74. “Around The Bend,” No Code: A dull song, one that doesn’t stick in the memory for long after it ends.

73. “Release,” Ten: The stately, would-be-epic closer on the otherwise stellar debut. Live, the song has plenty of power, but on record it sort of drones on for a while without getting to where one hopes it would. Look, Ten is truly an amazing record, as the Top 20 of this list will show, but this is the only song I routinely skip without feeling like I’m missing out.

72. “All Those Yesterdays,” Yield: I get the lyrical sentiment, but the song itself doesn’t do anything for me (nor does the hidden track at the end). Mileage may vary, as with most PJ songs.

71. “All Night,” Lost Dogs: An unreleased No Code rocker that’s better than much of that album, so solid that the band chose it to leadoff the double-disc Lost Dogs collection. I suspect Vedder’s somewhat low-key vocals and the wordless vocals in the chorus and bridge contributed to the shelving, since the band is firing on all cylinders.

70. “Dirty Frank,” Lost Dogs, “Even Flow” B-side: At a much later concert, Vedder would simply say this song sucks, but it’s a pretty funny ode to the band’s bus driver who may or may not have been a cannibal/serial killer. It’s got a propulsive energy and, like a few other non-album songs of the era, a midsection that drags without purpose. That said, the version on Lost Dogs is longer, better produced and an improvement over the original B-side.

69. “Aye Davanita,” Vitalogy: The fourth experimental piece on the third album is the best, a chant set to a groove with some neat guitar work on top, and a great bridge between “Betterman” and “Immortality,” together making up the final chunk of the album.

68. “Black, Red, Yellow,” Lost Dogs, Hail Hail single: Very much a B-side, as it wouldn’t really fit onto any other Pearl Jam album, but a decent tune worth a few spins if you can find it.

67. “Just A Girl,” Ten Redux: An unjustly forgotten early Ten outtake, featuring the same sort of dramatic flourishes, vocals tics and riff-rocking – albeit of an ‘80s flavor – as the debut album. The band sounds a bit tentative here, particularly in the aimless instrumental break, leaving this as a could-have-been number that still has its charms.

66. “Present Tense,” No Code: You have to be in the right mood for the first half of this long, sparse song. The second half is great, as is the climactic buildup to it, but it takes so long to get there that one may lose interest. A decade later, Pearl Jam would refine this songwriting approach with the masterful “Inside Job,” highly recommended to those who stopped listening to this band around the turn of the century.

65. “Pilate,” Yield: Follows the loud/soft dynamic adeptly, good chorus, but otherwise unmemorable.

64. “Drifting,” Lost Dogs, fan club single: Harmonica is slathered all over this folk tune, as are solid vocal harmonies, but it’s fairly boilerplate PJ otherwise that doesn’t really go anywhere. Drifting, indeed.

63. “Crazy Mary,” Vs. outtake: A fine song, not especially notable in this retelling, but up in this slot because of its ubiquity at PJ live shows. Along with “Baba O’Riley” and “Rockin’ In The Free World,” I believe this is one of the band’s most-played covers.

62. “Strangest Tribe,” Lost Dogs, fan club single: Good sentiment in the lyrics, sent to a somewhat moribund musical arrangement, sounding like a lost No Code track.

61. “Habit,” No Code: Pearl Jam by numbers, though with pointed lyrics about addiction.

60. “Cready Stomp,” Vs. outtake: Like “Brother” before it, this was a rollicking Zeppelin-inspired instrumental that dispensed with any BS and just rocked out. Unlike “Brother,” no vocals were ever added and one of the great Pearl Jam riffs just sort of vanished, unfinished. Kudos to the Vs. reissue for finally publishing the song, a reminder of what could have been.

59. “Faithful,” Yield: The slower songs on Yield are better written and less awkward than those on No Code, so where “Faithful” may lack energy, it has a quiet authority and a grounded chorus. Probably nobody’s favorite on the album, but an essential part of the fabric.

58. “Dissident,” Vs.: Noisy and jerky in the verses, but McCready pulls out a heroic guitar sound in an attempt to make the song more exciting than it is.

57. “Who You Are,” No Code: A minor little gem toward the beginning of No Code, not a memorable song by the band’s standards, but a cheerful piece nonetheless.

56. “Leash,” Vs.: A cousin to “Blood,” an angry rocker with plenty of cursing that moves further away from Ten, in an attempt to continue growing. This wouldn’t fit on any other Pearl Jam album, and it’s best enjoyed sparingly, when you’re feeling cranky.

55. “Satan’s Bed,” Vitalogy: A snarling party rocker; you may find yourself tapping your foot or nodding your head without realizing it. The band could tap into a groove when they needed to.

54. “Indifference,” Vs.: Pearl Jam only nailed album closers a handful of times, and this is a pretty good one, a slow, thoughtful number with one of Vedder’s best vocal performances of the decade, which is about the only draw for the song. One expects it to eventually open up and climax, but it sort of trudges along for 5 minutes and then fades away.

53. “I Got ID,” Merkinball EP: Released between albums, concurrently with Mirrorball, was this solid guitar-heavy rocker. If you’ve forgotten about it, go rediscover it.

52. “Oceans,” Ten: There had to be a palate cleanser after “Jeremy,” and invariably it wasn’t going to be as good. The track is ponderous considering its brief length but still retains a certain gravity. It wouldn’t have worked anywhere else on the album.

51. “Brain Of J,” A rollicking tune and good choice for album opener for Yield, showing this would be a different album than its predecessors. One of the two songs on the album that harken back to the nervy punk energy of Vs., although after the moment ends it doesn’t linger in the memory.

50. “U” (“You”), Lost Dogs, “Wishlist” B-side: Every so often the band would write short, punchy, happy-sounding numbers that wouldn’t really fit anywhere else but a B-side, and this is one of those. It’s lyrically second-tier, but you can feel the band (especially Jack Irons) grinning throughout.

49. “Hard To Imagine,” Lost Dogs, Vs. outtake: A bit ponderous, but reminiscent of the slower numbers by Mother Love Bone and a reminder that these guys could create an epic sound in those early days. The song stays with you.

48. “Last Exit,” Vitalogy: Solid choice to open the band’s third album, building on the sound of Vs. with the warmer production of Ten, but only hinting at what was to come. The better songs on the album bump this to second-tier, but it’s an effective song anyway.

47. “Let Me Sleep,” Lost Dogs, fan club single: Aw, the band does a Christmas song. It’s pleasant, it’s hard not to like, and the instrumentation is off-kilter and different than anything on Ten, which was pretty much all anyone knew of the band in December 1991.

46. “Glorified G,” Vs.: Great lyrics (“Got a gun, fact I got two / That’s OK man, ‘cause I love God”) that are as relevant today as ever, but the song construction itself is a bit awkward and jangly. Which, I suppose, is keeping with the theme of the album.

45. “Leaving Here,” Lost Dogs: Another cover, but a rollicking pro-feminism rave-up done in the Who style. Maybe it’s not the first cover that comes to mind when you think of these guys, but it’s a fun little jam all the same.

44. “Low Light,” Yield: Like “Faithful,” a pleasant slower number that sounds better early in the morning or late in the evening, when, well, the light is lower outside and you’re feeling reflective.

43. “MFC,” Yield: A decent rocker that injects some energy into the second half of Yield, and that’s about all I can say.

42. “Long Road,” Merkinball EP: Achieves a magnificent resonance through its mantra-like construction, mostly riffing on the same chord for six minutes, “Long Road” is a mood piece that has been on a handful of soundtracks. You can hear the genesis of Vedder’s solo Into The Wild soundtrack here.

41. “Footsteps,” Lost Dogs, “Jeremy” B-side: The third song of the fabled “mama-son” trilogy, started with “Alive” and continued with “Once.” Like most trilogies, the third installment is the weakest of the three and was left off of Ten; a version with different lyrics appears on Temple of the Dog when it was called “Times Of Trouble,” before Vedder rewrote the lyrics to close the trilogy. The song’s wistful lyric and harmonica lick is reminiscent of time spent in a jail cell or a front porch reflecting on life.

40. “W.M.A.,” Vs.: Long yet hypnotic, but eschewing any sort of standard verse-chorus structure, the first half of the band’s sophomore disc closes with this screed on police brutality and white privilege, a good 25 years before those became Facebook memes and/or political talking points. The title stands for White Male American, if that’s any indication. Vedder sounds like he’s singing 10 feet away from the microphone, but Dave Abbruzzesse’s intricate drums and Jeff Ament’s nimble bass drive home the more earthbound aspects from the piece. The fact that the guitars are subdued in what one would expect to be a guitar-raging piece only points to Pearl Jam’s creativity, forcing one to pay more attention to the words.

39. “Tremor Christ,” Vitalogy: Clankingly catchy album track, with a reminder of one’s ability to affect change: “The smallest ocean still makes / Big big waves.”

38. “Smile,” No Code: Sounding like an overt Neil Young-inspired piece, perhaps because it came out the year after the Mirrorball collaboration, featuring a split harmonica/guitar solo that the Godfather of Grunge would have been proud of. At times No Code makes you want to give up hope, but this is one of the bright spots.

37. “Red Mosquito,” No Code: A solid, muscular rocker, one of the better songs on the album and a minor alternative Billboard chart hit.

36. “Breath,” Singles soundtrack: The second and lesser entry from the legendary soundtrack (one of the best of the decade) is still a powerful, spacious rocker, albeit one lacking the drama of the best songs on Ten. But at this stage, Pearl Jam knew what they wanted to sound like and how to get there.

35. “Whipping,” Vitalogy: A brief blast of hard rock, the second such piece on the album and a good way to wake the listener up after the moribund “Nothingman.” Other bands would be happy to have filler tracks like this on their albums.

34. “Wishlist,” Yield: A simple, straightforward track, not going above and beyond, but retaining a power of its own. The album wouldn’t be complete without it.

33. “Porch,” Ten: The band will stretch this song out in concert and give McCready a chance to shine, adding power to the song. On record, it’s pretty good, but that may be owing more to the production than the song itself, which ends up as a lesser entry on the disc (though that’s like saying ham is a lesser entry on pizza…it’s no sausage, but it’s still pretty darn good).

32. “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, Vs.: Amid the fierce and off-putting songs on the album came this acoustic gem, a fan favorite that still gets some airplay. Acoustic songs would soon become normal on a PJ album, but this is one of the earliest and best examples of the stripped-down sound that the band could achieve while telling a relatable story.

31. “Alone,” Lost Dogs, “Go” B-side: Written during Ten but released two years later, and a great example of how the band was knocking it out of the park repeatedly in the early years. Just look at how many great songs Gossard and Ament wrote between their various bands from 1989-1994; they were on a roll.

30. “Wash,” Lost Dogs, “Alive” B-side: Seek out the Lost Dogs version of this song, which is better than the B-side, and another example of the great songwriting of the band’s early days. A full album could have followed up Ten with all the B-sides and unreleased cuts of this era, much like Oasis’ The Masterplan, and have fit perfectly in the discography.

29. “Lukin,” No Code: Less of a song than an excuse to flail away for a minute with pent-up punk energy while paying tribute to a friend and fellow Seattle musician.

28. “Hold On,” Lost Dogs: A Ten outtake, written in the same style as the other songs from 1990-91, perhaps lacking a satisfactory outro, but with some great guitar work.

27. “Off He Goes,” No Code: Never one to shy away from self-reflection, Vedder pretty much wrote this song calling himself out for being a flaky friend. The song is melancholy and lovely.

26. “Deep,” Ten: Even the album tracks on Ten are fantastic, though a small part of me always wonders how much the production plays into that, especially after the Ten Redux remixed the album to sound like the band’s other output. This one gets overlooked, which is a shame.

25. “Rats,” Vs.: The guitars get turned down and Jeff Ament writes a great bass riff to drive this deceptively funky tune, in which Vedder compares rats to humans (spoiler: the rats win), with a callback to a 1972 Michael Jackson song at the end. I mean, why not? Further proof of the band’s growing ambitions at the time.

24. “In Hiding,” Yield: One of the band’s better album tracks, starting as a midtempo piece like the rest of the album, but then soaring in the chorus to an unexpected height. McCready’s guitar fills occupy the space between the verse and chorus with Gossard laying the foundation, a good example of the twin-guitar attack being used for more than just heroics.

23. “Garden,” Ten: One of the great non-hits from a record full of masterpieces, “Garden” is a band favorite from the album with a fair amount of soul and drama in the songwriting and arrangement. The lyrics remain open to interpretation, and Vedder has shown no interest in explaining them, but the music is so enveloping that the listener will likely imagine their own meaning.

22. “Hail Hail,” No Code: The best song on this maligned album is about a struggling couple, a very relatable concept, set to the most hard rock of the album sans “Lukin.” Note the rapid chord changes in the chorus and Irons’ punchy drums, which only let up in the relatively lighter bridge section. The track was a rock radio hit, and deservedly so.

21. “Why Go,” Ten: Vedder’s lyrics on Ten don’t shy away from serious topics – homelessness, school shootings, broken homes, divorce – and this tune about a girl misdiagnosed with a mental illness is another in that entry. The anthemic sound of the album is a perfect fit for the lyrical content, and each member seems to have a lead instrument, from Ament’s pushed-forward bass to original drummer Dave Krusen’s powerful drums, which serve as an arresting welcome. Note Vedder’s distaste for the system as well, never being afraid to call out absentee parents: “She’s been diagnosed by some stupid fuck / And mommy agrees … Put me here, don’t come visit, mother / Why go home?”.

20. “No Way,” Yield: Perhaps this seems a strange choice to be this high on the list, but it’s always been a favorite, simply because of how different it is from the band’s 90s output. A strangled, muted guitar riff provides a backdrop to Ament and Irons’ rhythm section, which drives the song forward, while Vedder’s observational lyrics. So far, so good. But then the bridge goes into an ascending five-note riff that folds back in on itself on repeat, and the song just gets better. This isn’t the first song one thinks of on Yield, but it’s one of the best on the album.

19. “Yellow Ledbetter,” Lost Dogs, “Jeremy” B-side: One could make a case for the “Jeremy,” “Footsteps” and “Yellow Ledbetter” single as among the greatest of the decade, and it’s hard to argue. “Yellow Ledbetter” is beloved by fans and played at nearly every concert as the finale, allowing McCready a chance for a long solo within the song’s rather loose structure (the original solo made Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitar solos list). The joke is that nobody knows what Vedder is singing, and nobody cares, but he sounds fantastic doing it. The riff is iconic (and has been used in media, such as the “Friends” finale) and the song is a languid masterpiece, one that actually charted without being released as a single of its own, and one that was intended for Ten but was left off for whatever reason. A shame, as it would have been a better album closer than “Release.”

18. “Go,” Vs.: A chugging tune with a low-end riff that repeats in the verses, then snaps into a dissonant roar in the chorus, over which Vedder pleads “Don’t go on me.” An effective rocker with a squealing closing guitar solo. This was not the Pearl Jam of 1991, and they wasted no time in sharing that with the listeners (akin to how Nirvana went a different way on In Utero).

17. “Once,” Ten: The leadoff on the debut and the second song of the “mama-son” trilogy is the part where the hero takes tragic action after learning that his father is actually his stepfather in “Alive.” The clanging guitar riff announces the song (after the moody introduction), Krusen’s drums roar to life and, just like that, the world is introduced to Pearl Jam. Maybe there are minor quibbles to be had, such as Vedder’s holding of the “I” to start each stanza, which seems like an awkward pause, but it all comes together at the end.

16. “Immortality,” Vitalogy: The second-best slow song from the album, and one in which the lyrical content has been disputed for a while. Ostensibly it is about Kurt Cobain, but Vedder has denied this, saying instead it’s about someone in a similar situation to the one in which Cobain found himself toward the end of his life, the “parallel track” theory. Vedder’s lyrics – and songwriting, which was mostly his alone – sound hurt and passionate, maybe quietly desperate, giving the song more layers than are first noticed. Certainly, some critics haven’t been kind to the song, but it was released as a single (that charted here and in Canada) and on the band’s best-of compilation, so what do they know?

15. “Brother,” Lost Dogs, Ten outtake: A contender for the best track on Lost Dogs, a guitar-slathered instrumental that proves how underrated Mike McCready is when talking about the best guitarists of the last 30 years. Only the dragging midsection weighs this down a bit. Once it was uncovered, the band put some vocals on top and re-released it on the Ten Redux bonus disc, which was enough to get the song some rock radio airplay. As noted above, the band was bursting with ideas and great songs during this time period, which is why so many were shunted to B-sides, soundtracks or just left behind. Which version is better is up to the listener; I’ve always preferred the instrumental take, just to hear McCready’s work without distractions.

14. “Animal,” Vs.: Just when you thought it was safe after “Go,” the band rips into one of its hardest rockers ever, a Gossard-penned track that emulates the teeth-baring anger of the caged beast on the album cover. Five against one indeed, though the target of the song is never really defined (the media? The record company? The struggle of making music as a band?). No matter.

13. “Given To Fly,” Yield: The first single off Yield, one of the band’s more enduring tracks (a No. 1 single on the Mainstream Rock chart) and a majestic, soaring song about love and endurance despite those who would drag you down.

12. “Betterman,” Vitalogy: A fan favorite for concert singalongs, to the point where Eddie will simply tip the microphone to the crowd for the first chorus, before the drums come in. The lyrics speak to the heart about a nameless woman stuck in a bad relationship with a guy that she enables, aware of the cycle, but not able to do anything about it (possibly based on Vedder’s own mother and stepfather). It could be a dreary topic if the song was dull, but the sturdy foundation keeps the listener’s attention and the song ends on a hopeful musical note.

11. “Corduroy,” Vitalogy: One of the band’s best-realized songs, a tight, tense yet classicist rocker with an outro jam, a good riff and a somewhat different song structure (nothing is repeated; the chorus changes each time). Lyrically the tune is about dealing with fame, not something to which we can all relate, but certainly a huge concern of the band at the time.

10. “Spin The Black Circle,” Vitalogy: The source of Pearl Jam’s Grammy in 1995, which led to them taking the stage and mumbling something to the effect of “I don’t know what this means.” Certainly, better Pearl Jam songs deserved the honor. Certainly, other songs from 1994 deserved the honor. It’s a rampaging three-minute love letter to vinyl, an art form Pearl Jam championed long before it became cool again, even releasing Vitalogy on vinyl initially before CD (I still have a copy). But its punk energy is infectious; even if you don’t know why Vedder is screaming most of the lyrics, you get caught up in the head rush of the moment.

9. “Do The Evolution,” Yield: Where “Given To Fly” is hopeful, “Do The Evolution” is its polar opposite, sarcastic and dissonant, injecting hopeful optimism with a dose of reality. The song is pure punk, but slow and deliberate, featuring a ton of great one-liners when Vedder adopts the point of view of a modern “evolved” entitled rich white hypocrite asshole. But the crowning moment might be the shift from the angry delivery of the song into the gospel-inspired bridge, where Vedder drops to his lowest register to sing “hallelujah” along with a church choir. The lines that precede it? “Them ignorant Indians got nothin’ on me / It’s evolution, baby / I’m a thief, I’m a liar / There’s my church where I sing in the choir!.”

8. “Black,” Ten: One of rock’s great divorce songs, where the narrator’s regret oozes through every line. The wordless repeated falsetto “doo” at the end makes the song recognizable, but the real moment of truth is Vedder’s melancholy cry of “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life / I know you’ll be the sun in somebody else’s sky / Why, why, why can’t it be mine?,” with that last word stretching a good six-seven seconds before the closing riff and instrumental outro starts. It sends chills up one’s spine.

7. “State Of Love And Trust,” Singles soundtrack: One of the great entries in the Singles soundtrack started in the Ten sessions and was eventually recorded with Abbruzzese on drums, and lyrically based on what Vedder took from the plot of the film (which boils down to faithfulness and battling one’s instincts in a relationship). The song is ferocious and fun to sing.

6. “Not For You,” Vitalogy: A howling cry to those who just don’t get it, taking the sentiment of five against one from “Animal” and setting it to a screed against the music industry users and hangers-on. Nothing new, of course, but where Pink Floyd had done this in 1975, Pearl Jam updated the sentiment to the grunge-crazed era of 1994. Music is between the listener and the artist, Vedder argues in the lyrics. Not MTV, not radio, not promoters, not second-rate copycat bands, not managers. Yet the music refrains from anger, instead following a menacing three-note riff that repeats in the background, then explodes into the chorus before transitioning into a four-note ascending/descending arpeggio in the bridge. And it’s one of the few times where Vedder’s profanity is earned in the outro.

5. “Daughter,” Vs.: Little has been said here about Pearl Jam’s legendary live show, a marathon 2.5-hour event where the band plays a different set list every night and has played nearly every song in its history because of this, plus a handful of choice covers. One of the gems when it is played is “Daughter,” a de-tuned acoustic piece that works as a companion to “Why Go,” about a girl with a learning disability that is undiagnosed and so is seen as rebellion by her abusive parents, which lends a chilling reality to lines like “the shades go down” and “she holds the hand that holds her down.” The song was a No. 1 rock radio hit, still gets airplay, was nominated for a Grammy and by all accounts is among the band’s finest slowest moments. But the live show takes things up a notch, using the loose ending to the song as a means to incorporate riffs and covers (such as “It’s OK” and “Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2”). The best version of all is on the three-disc Seattle live show that closed out the Binaural tour, in which Vedder works the crowd with an escalating call-and-response that ends in a sustained wordless note, to which the crowd goes wild.

4. “Even Flow,” Ten: A Stone’n’Jeff song that started life before Vedder was even in the band, this rocker remains a radio and concert favorite, hitting a groove early and staying there on a song about homelessness and creeping mental illness. It’s another classic on an album full of them and frequently places on “best of” lists for rock songs, guitar songs, ‘90s songs, Pearl Jam songs, you name it.

3. “Rearviewmirror,” Vs.: A stunning midtempo rocker with a clear message about walking away from a bad situation. Think of any moment in your life where you had to or chose to leave – a soul-sucking job, an abusive relationship, an oppressive home life – and think of how good it felt to drive away. The song doesn’t have to be taken literally, but there’s something so right about literally driving away, faster and faster, and leaving something terrible behind, and this song musically and lyrically encapsulates that feeling perfectly.

2. “Alive,” Ten: The other twin peak of the debut, a rampaging, perfectly-written rock song with perhaps the best guitar solo of the decade, and a rallying cry for youths everywhere who endure, whatever it might be. You’ll go through some shit. You’ll come out of it alive, arms raised, like the band on the cover locking raised arms as one. The song itself is the first part of the “mama-son” trilogy in which a boy (Vedder, autobiographical here) learns at 17 that his father is actually his stepfather, and he doesn’t know his real dad. Talk about a gut punch. But McCready is the hero, proving his worth on the band’s very first single and nearly its greatest moment.

1. “Jeremy,” Ten: The band’s single best song and breakthrough hit retains its dramatic power all these years later, an enduring true-life tale of a school shooting that remains relevant with each news story about children turning to firearms as the only answer to what they see as a dead-end road. The riff is memorable, the production is spacious, the chorus is memorable and the long outro (with Vedder alternately moaning, yelling and wordlessly singing) gives the song the denouement it needs, allowing the listener to absorb what Jeremy has done and its aftermath. A powerful classic in every way.


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