During the early 90’s when Seattle, Washington became synonymous with the word “Grunge” and the musical genre that word represented produced bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, only one of the original Grunge-era bands still remains in pop culture: Pearl Jam.
An immensely popular band during the first half of the 1990’s, Pearl Jam managed to set a temporary album sales record by selling more than 950 thousand copies of their sophomore album, “Versus,” in only a week’s time.
The media blitz that ensued after the release of the “Versus” album became more of a burden and less a blessing for the members of the band. The pressure associated with being the world’s most popular band almost caused the group to self-destruct.
Six studio albums later, the band has remained intact and still manages to be a vital part of the music community. The songs from their recent self-titled release contain a sense of urgency seldom heard from the bands that saturate the airwaves today.
A Pearl Jam fan since 1992, the band’s music will always hold a Top Ten spot in my music collection. These are my Top Ten Pearl Jam songs spanning the band’s 15 year career.
With its signature 12-string bass intro, this song became one of Pearl Jam’s most commercially successful songs. The success was due in large part to the song’s music video and the heavy air play it received on MTV. The controversial video was based around an actual incident that occurred in a Texas elementary school where a young boy shot himself in front of his classmates. One of the reported underlying causes for the suicide was the ridicule the boy was subject to while attending school.
#9 Yellow Ledbetter
Always a fan favorite, this song features the signature guitar work of Mike McCready and his trusty Fender Stratocaster. His clean guitar tones on the intro and outro of this track are very reminiscent of the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn. The song was never released as an official album track and can only be found on the 1992 CD single for the song “Jeremy.”
#8 Elderly Woman behind a Counter in a Small Town
Fed up with short one word song titles, vocalist Eddie Vedder decided to go all out when naming this particular song. The song’s lyrical reality is not hard to imagine for those of us who grew up in small towns and secretly wondered what would happen if we never managed to escape.
One of the few tracks where Pearl Jam gets a little bit
funky. The song’s undeniable groove is accentuated by driving guitar work and thoughtful lyrics. Eddie lays out a short list of a rat’s social attributes with lyrics such as “they don’t fight. Oppress an equal’s given rights. They don’t starve the poor so they can be well fed…” one can only wonder which species can actually call itself superior.
#6 Do the Evolution
In a word, Raw. This song’s first vocal utterance is a primal howl courtesy of Eddie Vedder. A lyrical snapshot of America’s evolution and imminent self-destruction, this song was the catalyst for Pearl Jam’s return to music videos after nearly a decade’s absence. An animated piece drawn by ex-Spider Man comic artist, Todd McFarlane, who is mostly known for his animation and comic book work for the fictional character Spawn.
#5 Dirty Frank
A bonus track included on some versions of Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten,” Dirty Frank seems to be a song about the deranged brother Jeffery Dahmer never knew he had.
With lyrics such as “Dirty Frank Dahmer’s a gourmet cook yeah . . . Got a recipe for his famous ankle soup yeah…” this is one of the few Pearl Jam songs you can safely place in the fiction category… or can you?
#4 Nothing as it seems
One of the best tracks off of their Binaural album: released in May of 2000. A dark and moody song written by Jeff Ament that features what sounds like a stand-up bass played with a bow. The bass maintains a low groan as it lays the foundation for Mike McCready’s atmospheric guitar solos that echo throughout the piece.
A beautifully mellow song about losing the one you love. Eddie sings of a failing relationship and the “empty stares from each corner of a shared prison cell.” A scene many of us have undoubtedly had the pleasure of reenacting at some point during our relationship careers.
This song, the final single released from their debut album, Ten, proved to be the band’s most popular. The song’s delicate beginning and gut-wrenching ending are framed by personal lyrics outlining the aftermath of a relationship turned sour. The early live versions of this song were especially powerful thanks to Eddie’s passionate singing and the added line of “We…We belong together…together” sung during the song’s final moments.
This introspective song that closes Pearl Jam’s second offering, “Versus,” is best enjoyed in a dark candle-lit room. A soft and hypnotic piece punctuated by Eddie’s repeated inquiry, “How much difference does it make?” A gentle exit to an extraordinary album.