Pearl Jam and their popularity went mainstream thanks to their landmark debut album Ten, but their sudden success wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with.
Eddie Vedder touches on that in a new interview with Classic Rock magazine in a piece highlighting the 30th anniversary of Ten. The frontman said, “I felt that with more popularity, we were going to be crushed, our heads were going to pop like grapes…I knew it wasn’t graceful, the way we were handling it. At the same time, it’s like being graceful in an alley fight. You’re just trying to get out of there alive. We held tight to each other and held tight to music.”
Guitarist Mike McCready added, “The decision to pull back and to not do videos and to slow down interviews, it was all about Jeff [Ament] and Stone [Gossard] and Ed thinking it was necessary. Ed was getting way more scrutiny than anybody. It was probably overwhelming for him. It was for all of us at the time.”
McCready continued, “But I remember not wanting to pull back, saying: ‘This is what we’ve wanted since we were kids. Let’s keep doing this. Let’s do videos, let’s keep going, let’s embrace this.‘ But they weren’t into it. They said: ‘No, we’ve got to, because this is all gonna fall apart if we don’t.’ And I think they were right.”
McCready credits Pearl Jam’s longevity to those early decisions despite them being the exact opposite of what their record label wanted the band to do.
Pearl Jam: Top 50 Songs Ranked
Always a highlight of Pearl Jam’s live shows, most of Pearl Jam actually don’t appear on the song. It’s Eddie Vedder on guitar and vocals and Jack Irons on drums, with Neil Young on guitar and producer Brendan O’Brien on bass.
The closing song from the band’s second album, it’s quiet and spiritual. The best versions of this song are the live ones, particularly when Ben Harper joins the band and duets with Eddie Vedder.
‘Ten’ is a classic album with not an ounce of fat on it, but ‘Deep’ is one song that could qualify as a, ahem, ‘deep track.’ It’s one last blast of intensity before ‘Ten’ wraps with ‘Release.’ Some fans have postulated that Eddie Vedder wrote the lyrics about Andrew Wood, the late singer from Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s pre-Pearl Jam band, Mother Love Bone.
An acoustic ditty that you might have thought was a cover of an obscure R.E.M. song. Eddie Vedder sings warmly about a woman who never got out of her small town. She sees an old lover who moved on; she barely recognizes him and he probably doesn’t recognize her. More than a few fans may have seen themselves in these lyrics.
A punk riff-inspired jam composed by Stone Gossard (who also plays bass on the track) fuels this rocker. The song inspired the band’s greatest music video, an animated epic by comic book creator Todd McFarlane, which tells the history of humanity in less than four minutes.
One of many songs that references Vedder’s love for the ocean and surfing. According to an interview that Eddie Vedder did with Seattle Sound magazine, he wrote the lyrics while accidentally locked out of the studio. ‘It was drizzling and I wasn't dressed for an outing in the rain. I had a scrap of paper and a pen in my pocket, and they were playing this song [inside]. All I could hear was the bass coming through the wall, this window that was boarded up. So I wrote the song to the bass.’ This remixed version is rawer than the one used on the album, and was a B-side to the ‘Even Flow’ CD single.
All that hanging out with Neil Young really rubbed off on the band; this song sounds like a Crazy Horse outtake. Jeff Ament wrote the music and also played guitar. (Live, he straps on the six string when they perform this, and Stone Gossard fills in on bass).
Some of Pearl Jam’s best covers are of lesser-known artists (see Victoria Wlliams’ ‘Crazy Mary’). This rendition of the Dead Boys’ 1977 punk rock classic brought the cult act to a much wider audience.
Co-written by the entire band -- Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder and drummer Jack Irons -- ‘Red Mosquito’ sounds a bit like Mike McCready was auditioning for the Allman Brothers Band; his slide guitar is incredible. Vedder’s lyrics were inspired by a 1995 Pearl Jam show in San Francisco. He was unable to finish the gig due to food poisoning. The band’s friend and mentor Neil Young stepped in for him. The song’s end refrain “If I had known then, what I know now,” might have deep meaning for fans, but for Vedder it was probably just about wishing he’d avoided some tainted food.
The closing track from ‘Ten,’ it’s the only one that all of the members - Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder and drummer Dave Krusen - wrote together. For Vedder, it was about transcending the family issues of his past, for Gossard and Ament, it was about transcending after the death of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood.
By 1994, Pearl Jam, and Eddie Vedder in particular, seemed focused on establishing their punk rock cred. This jam, influenced by underground punk, is a hard driving ode to vinyl. Stone Gossard wrote the music and it was intended to be a bit slower, but he sped it up at Vedder’s request.
A Stone Gossard/Jeff Ament composition, it features some of Eddie Vedder’s most vague lyrics, but ‘I don't question/Our existence/I just question/Our modern needs,’ was an early example of him railing against trendiness.
Pearl Jam’s most surprising radio hit: it’s a cover of a song originally released by Wayne Cochran in 1961.That version didn’t climb the charts, but a few years later when J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers covered it, it was a hit. Decades later, Pearl Jam recorded it for their Christmas single in 1998, and it ended up becoming one of their biggest hits.
This is Pearl Jam’s second most surprising radio hit. During the ‘Ten’ era, they were so popular that fans and radio programmers were desperate for new music. This song started getting requested on the radio, even though it wasn’t even on the album. It’s McCready at his most Hendrixian (he co-wrote the music with Jeff Ament). Eddie Vedder’s lyrics are fluid and he often changes them in concert.
Possibly Pearl Jam’s funkiest jam, it was composed by Jeff Ament and then-drummer Dave Abbruzzese. The lyrics were among Eddie Vedder’s most politically charged. In a legendary appearance at Jay-Z’s Made In America festival in 2012, the legendary rapper joined them for a medley of this song and his own ‘99 Problems’ (that live version was later released as one of Pearl Jam’s Christmas singles).
One of many songs where Eddie Vedder - an avid surfer - references the ocean and waves. This song seems to compare relationships to waves, and many fans have taken it to be about the band’s bond. As Vedder told the Toronto Globe and Mail: "On the strength of this album, we feel good about where the band is at. Our relationship is long-standing, but it's turned into a forthcoming relationship. We're open and honest. Things go pretty easy – we feel like a gang. We feel like a galvanized group of individuals. As far as waves, I think we're up there."
An Eddie Vedder/Mike McCready co-write, it’s the closest Pearl Jam has come to doing a classic soul song. Vedder has said that it’s about the same character he wrote about in ‘Man Of The Hour’ from 2003’s ‘Big Fish’ soundtrack.
Eddie Vedder started writing this on the same night that he wrote ‘I Am Mine,’ the first song he penned after the Roskilde Festival tragedy where nine fans lost their lives at a Pearl Jam performance. Stone Gossard told Billboard, ‘That song is pretty intense in terms of the perspective of someone who says, 'F*** it. I'm going to go lose my mind. That's how I want to live right now.’
Matt Cameron co-wrote the music with Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder wrote the lyrics, which have a Joe Strummer-ish sense of defiance: “If something’s old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it/When somethings gone, I wanna fight to get it back again.”
Pearl Jam wasn’t the obvious choice to collaborate with film director and goth favorite Tim Burton. But Eddie Vedder saw a screening of the earnest ‘Big Fish’ and turned around the song a day later. It turned out to be the perfect fit (and if you haven’t seen the film, check it out!)
It’s not as surprisingly different as ‘Dance Of The Clairvoyants,’ but it does have more of a new wave influence than most Pearl Jam songs and shows that, even after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Pearl Jam is trying new things.
Pearl Jam had so many great songs for ‘Ten’ that even the outtakes were better than most band’s best songs. “Wash” might have gotten more attention, but “Yellow Ledbetter” was the biggest hit of the ‘Ten’ era B-sides. Still, the slow-burn rocker has made Pearl Jam’s setlist nearly 100 times over the years.
Like many songs of this era, the lyrics saw Eddie Vedder coming to terms with Pearl Jam’s fame. Ironically, as ‘No Code’ was released, their popularity was shrinking as times and tastes were changing. The music, composed by Mike McCready, seemed to demonstrate that you can get through tumultuous times: it starts out slow, gets a bit frantic, and then slows down again.
Mike McCready wrote the music, it’s one of his most accessible songs. Eddie Vedder’s platinive vocals make this one of Pearl Jam’s best ballads.
The first song that Eddie Vedder wrote after the Roskilde Festival tragedy where nine fans lost their lives at a Pearl Jam performance. At a show at Madison Square Garden in 2003, Vedder introduced the song thusly: ‘This song’s about personal safety, and the feeling of being secure, and even free.’
Co-written by Jeff Ament (music) and Eddie Vedder (lyrics), “Jeremy” was a disturbing song that was based on two stories: one, from a newspaper article about a 15 year old boy named Jeremy Wade Delle from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his teacher and his English class. The other from Vedder’s junior high school classmate who fired a gun in a classroom. Weirdly, this was the song that brought Pearl Jam to MTV and mainstream fame, but it showed that they didn’t flinch when looking at dark subjects.
The second song from Pearl Jam’s 1995 EP “Merkin Ball,’ the companion piece to the Neil Young/Pearl Jam album ‘Mirror Ball.’ The Vedder composition is a tribute to loved ones we’ve lost. This recording features Vedder singing and playing guitar, Neil Young on organ and backing vocals, Jeff Ament on bass and then-new-drummer Jack Irons. Vedder recorded another version with Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the 1996 ‘Dead Man Walking’ soundtrack. Perhaps the best version, though, was the one that featured Vedder, Young and Mike McCready on the post-9/11 “Tribute To Heroes” televised concert special.
One of Pearl Jam’s best ballads. Written by Eddie Vedder, it’s been covered by Willie Nelson, and it’s one of the few post-2000 songs that makes his sets. It’s also been covered by Jennifer Warnes (yes, the one who sang ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’ from ’Dirty Dancing,’ and who duetted with Joe Cocker on ‘Up Where We Belong’.)
Another one of Pearl Jam’s loveliest ballads. Written entirely by Stone Gossard (including the lyrics) it’s also one of their few openly romantic songs. It’s also one of the few songs that we can think of with the word ‘byzantine’ in the lyrics!
A moody, almost Pink Floydian song, it was written by Jeff Ament (including the lyrics). It was an odd choice to be the first radio single from ‘Binaural,’ but by 2000, Pearl Jam were definitely not looking to make things easy for themselves or their team. The song is always a concert highlight, as it allows Mike McCready to stretch out and play some wild solos.
One of Pearl Jam’s funkiest songs, it’s composed by Jeff Ament. The lyrics imagine a world where rats have taken over, and quotes from an early Michael Jackson ballad ‘Ben,’ from the 1972 film of the same name. It’s about a colony of rats taking over the human world. Ben is the lead rat who befriends and protects a sick young boy with heart trouble.
Co-written by Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam’s then-new collaborator, keyboardist “Boom” Gaspar, it addresses the 2000 tragedy at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, where nine fans died. Quoting the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” it’s a sad and bittersweet eulogy to “nine friends we’ll never know.”
This has become an in-concert favorite, but many fans may not be aware that it’s a cover. At the least, when Pearl Jam released this song in 1993, between ‘Ten’ and ‘Vs.’ when their popularity was at fever peak, it’s unlikely that many of their fans knew who Victoria Williams was. A critically hailed Americana singer-songwriter, her career was taking off in 1992 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That led to the formation of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, to help musicians in need of health care. The ‘Sweet Relief’ album featured Soul Asylum, Lou Reed and Matthew Sweet, but Pearl Jam’s presence undoubtedly brought a lot of money and attention to the cause. Williams hadn’t released her own version of the song yet. That’s her on backing vocals.
‘Gigaton’ probably won’t be Pearl Jam’s ‘Achtung Baby,” but the first single from the album was as different to anything Pearl Jam had done before as “The Fly” was to U2’s previous work. They really switched things up here: Jeff Ament is playing keyboards and guitar, and Stone Gossard plays bass; Talking Heads and Gang Of Four seem to be primary influences. Besides being a great song, it showed fans -- and the music industry -- that, over a quarter of a century into their career, Pearl Jam still has something to say and they still have surprises up their sleeves.
Many songs from ‘Ten’ are built around monster riffs by Stone Gossard; ‘Why Go’ is built around a monster riff by Jeff Ament. Like many of Pearl Jam’s songs, the lyrics address an outsider being treated unfairly. This one appears to be a girl who has been institutionalized against her will, with the help of her parents.
The same song, with different lyrics, was released as ‘Times Of Trouble’ on Temple Of The Dog’s album. It’s a testament to both Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder’s talents as lyricists and singers that both versions are classics. ‘Footsteps’ is the final part of the ‘Mama/Son’ trilogy, which also features ‘Once’ and ‘Alive.’
The one song that Eddie Vedder wrote by himself for ‘Ten,’ it was one of the highlights of their live shows early on. The long instrumental break always led to -- and still leads to -- some incredible jamming. Vedder no longer ventures into the audience as he used to, but the song hasn’t lost any of its excitement.
This version is different than the one from the ‘Singles’ soundtrack. This version was recorded during the ‘Ten’ sessions with original drummer Dave Krusen (the ‘Singles’ version was later recorded with drummer Dave Abbruzzese). A Mike McCready/Jeff Ament composition written for ‘Singles,’ it’s one of the band’s most straight-ahead rockers.
A gorgeous ballad composed by Stone Gossard and featuring one of Eddie Vedder’s most emotional vocal performances. “I know someday you'll have a beautiful life,” he sings. “I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky, but why can't it be mine?” Even the “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doos” are incredibly moving.
Or, ‘How Eddie Vedder Learned To Relax And Deal With Success.’ On ‘Yield,’ Pearl Jam found themselves, for the first time, pretty far from not only pop culture’s zeitgeist, but also rock’s. By now, many of Vedder’s peers had quit their bands, and in some cases, started getting “real” jobs. Pearl Jam was still an arena-headlining band, and this simple and sweet song saw Eddie Vedder seeming to realize that success might not be so bad after all, as he sings, “I wish I was as fortunate as me.”
Pearl Jam’s first top 40 single. It also topped the Billboard’s Album Rock and Modern Rock charts. It’s an acoustic-based jam composed by Stone Gossard, but the upbeat tone contrasted with the lyrics by Eddie Vedder, where he takes an empathetic look at young people with learning disabilities. As he told Melody Maker, “It's only in the last few years that they've actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities that before were looked at as misbehavior; as just outright rebelliousness, but no one knew what it was. These kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they'd end up getting the s--- beaten out of them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down, so that the neighbors can't see what happens next. What hurts about s--- like that is that it ends up defining people's lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just… destroyed."
If you picked up Pearl Jam’s debut album, ‘Ten,’ on the release date, it was probably because you were a fan of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s previous band, Mother Love Bone, or Stone, Jeff and Mike McCready’s supergroup Temple Of The Dog with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron. Both of those projects had pretty slick production, as opposed to the dirty garage sound of most of the other Seattle bands. And ‘Once’ is a pretty produced jam -- the intro almost sounds like a Peter Gabriel record. But the song -- one of many on the album that is powered by Stone Gossard’s incredible riffs -- packs a hell of a wallop, which is fitting, as it’s about someone on the edge of insanity… or maybe a few steps past that point.
In their early years, Pearl Jam seemed like a classic rock band trying to prove their indie cred. Lead guitarist Mike McCready -- supposedly one of the nicest guys in the music business -- never appeared to struggle with that. So it’s no surprise that he wrote the music here, which veers very close to Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California.” And, as it turned out, it was one of their most successful songs on radio.
One of many songs written by Eddie Vedder during the band’s early era where he struggled with their incredible popularity. On some level, though, he must have known that things would be changing -- he sings, “All that’s sacred, comes from youth.” Fortunately, though, he lived long enough to grow old(ish). But then, as now, he still clings to punk rock ideals, which is a big reason why Pearl Jam and their new music still matter.
In Pearl Jam’s early days, Stone Gossard cranked out incredible riffs that propelled some of the band’s greatest songs, and “Animal” is one of the best. A semi-title track to ‘Vs.,’ the album was originally going to be called ‘Five Against One,’ based on this lyric. When Pearl Jam performed this song at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards just days before the release of ‘Vs.,’ fans knew that they were about to get another classic album; Pearl Jam was not going to be a one-off phenomenon.
In the early ‘90s, there was a fair amount of resentment among alternative-rock purists, and fans of lesser-known Seattle bands, about Pearl Jam’s success. The smoother production of the ‘Ten’ album was partly to blame, and so was this song: a mid-tempo ballad/anthem that had a Springsteenian sense of transcendence. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics and Stone Gossard’s music gave an ambivalent generation a jam that recognized how awful the world could be, but reminded everyone that you could get through it. That wasn’t Vedder’s original intent: as he said at the band’s episode of VH1 Storytellers, ‘In the original story, a teenager is being made aware of a shocking truth that leaves him plenty confused...It was a curse: 'I'm still alive.'’ But the fans changed the way Vedder viewed the story. ‘They lifted the curse,’ he said. ‘The audience changed the meaning for me." Mike McCready’s solo at the end is one of his best.
One of their most obvious hits (Eddie Vedder loosely based the song on the English Beat’s ‘Save It For Later’), the band actually rejected the song when it was submitted for ‘Vs.,’ according to Rolling Stone. Ah, the ‘90s - the era where the bands in the spotlight struggled with whether or not they wanted to be popular, and whether or not radio hits were ‘cool.’ We’re glad they listened to reason and finally agreed to release the song on ‘Vitalogy.’
‘Ten’ is filled with incredible Stone Gossard riffs, and this might be the best one. Inspired by funk acts like Parliament-Funkadelic, his playing here drives the song, while Mike McCready channels Stevie Ray Vaughan on his iconic solo. The song is about a homeless man, who might be struggling with mental illness: he sleeps ‘on a pillow made of concrete’ and ‘looks insane,’ which is understandable, as his ‘thoughts arrive like butterflies/Oh, he don't know, so he chases them away.’
The bands from Pearl Jam’s generation, and particularly from their hometown, definitely had a dark and depressing vibe, even if it was packaged in anthemic rock chords. One thing that set Pearl Jam apart was a Clash-like sense that you don’t take crap lying down, you don’t accept it, and if you fight and hang in there, things might get better. “Rearviewmirror” is a great example of that: in the song Eddie Vedder sings (over a fantastic, propulsive R.E.M.-ish riff) about transcending darkness, literally leaving it in the rearview mirror.
Another song that saw Eddie Vedder struggling with fame. In an interview with The Onion’s AV Club, he said, “That song was based on a remake of the brown corduroy jacket that I wore. I think I got mine for 12 bucks, and it was being sold for like $650. The ultimate one as far as being co-opted was that there was a guy on TV, predictably patterned, I guess, after the way I was looking those days, with long hair and an Army T-shirt. They put this new character on a soap opera, so there was a guy, more handsome than I, parading around on ‘General Hospital.’ And the funny thing is, that guy was Ricky Martin.” Over the years, many of Pearl Jam’s peers couldn’t cope with the spotlight and imploded (or worse.) Others fell out of favor and got day jobs. We’re glad that Stone, Mike, Jeff, Matt, and Eddie figured it out: they never broke up, and they’re still headlining stadiums and arenas today. “Corduroy” remains their most powerful anthem; it’s about living life on your own terms and not being for sale. It could be the band’s theme song, it certainly seems to have been their mantra for three decades.