10 Best Pearl Jam Songs
Out of the depths of the Seattle grunge scene, after losing a lead singer and going through two name changes, came a little band called Pearl Jam. Now, more than 20 years later, this group of five has proved to be timeless. Along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam emerged as the face of the “Grunge Era,” although we can all agree their music is way more than that. Through nine albums and hundreds of songs, I dug through the catalog and picked (and this is just one fan's opinion, of course) the 10 best songs in Pearl Jam's rich history. Pearl Jam's last album, 'Backspacer,' proved to be a solid disappointment to us PJ fans outside of a couple of songs (Unthought Known is the best song off 'Backspacer), so I'll just go ahead and put out there that you won't see a song from that album on this list.
‘I Am Mine’
Written right after the tragedy at the Roskilde Festival that killed nine people, “I Am Mine” is a prime example of Eddie Vedder writing a song from a situation that shook him to the core. With strong guitars, a terrific melody and perhaps Pearl Jam's greatest lyric — “I know I was born and I know that I'll die. The in between is mine. I am mine. — make up a brilliant piece of Pearl Jam.
‘Off He Goes’
Admittedly written about himself, “Off He Goes” is a fascinating view of our surroundings and the people around us. “This song is about being friends with an asshole,” Vedder is quoted as saying, then pointing at himself. “Off He Goes” is a fascinating example of Vedder showing off his vocal ability, which is incredibly underrated.
Easily the most covered Pearl Jam song of all-time, 'Black' often gets the same treatment as your 'Free Bird' and 'Stairway to Heaven' songs. Overplayed on radio, sung at every bar you go to — but before you get to that point, you love this song. 'Black' was just one of many songs off Pearl Jam's debut album 'Ten' that was so personal, so touching. It hit all of us right in the gut.
'Better Man' is the example of a Pearl Jam song that swept the world despite never being released as a single. Written in high school, Eddie Vedder took on the inner battle of his experiences as a teenager. 'Better Man' is definitely one of Pearl Jam's more “poppy-sounding” songs, but as it progresses, you can't help but get caught up in it.
Eddie Vedder's painful view of abused children and the lives they are faced to live afterward is painted, as ironically as it sounds, beautifully in 'Daughter.' Guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready do nothing short of bringing it in this one.
‘Given to Fly’
One of my top three personal favorites (the others you'll see in a moment), 'Given to Fly' captures you from the very beginning, takes you for the ride and lets you down softly at the end, as if taking you on this very journey Vedder talks about. He said it best: “It's a fable, that's all. The music almost gives you this feeling of flight, and I really love singing the part at the end, which is all about rising above anybody's comments about what you do and still giving your love away.”
‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town’
Eddie Vedder admits this song took him 20 minutes to write after spending the night in a bathroom. It strikes all of us all too well — we grow up in a small town, do nothing but dream of getting out and then one day we might get out, but we might end up staying there the rest of our lives. Such is the case in this song, where a woman encounters an old love, who got out of the small town, and she can't bear to speak to him. 'Elderly Woman' is undoubtedly one of Vedder's lyrical masterpieces, no matter how long it took him to write it.
I like to refer to 'Release' as Pearl Jam's most underrated song … ever. You go through the tracks on 'Ten' and you get 'Alive,' 'Black,' 'Even Flow,' 'Porch,' 'Jeremy' and so on before you ever get to 'Release,' which oddly enough, is the 11th song on the album. It's almost forgotten, and you have to wonder if that was on purpose since the song comes from such intense pain of losing someone you love. Pearl Jam opened their 'PJ20' concert with 'Release Me,' which made the song not so forgotten anymore.
It was the song that made Pearl Jam … well, Pearl Jam. The powerful lyrics, the even more powerful voice, the explosive riffs and capped by Mike McCready's legendary solo, 'Alive' encompasses every aspect of the legendary band. By just hearing the chorus one might get the feeling of inspiration, when being alive in this case, is nothing short of a curse. 'Alive' is, no matter how many times I hear it, my favorite PJ song.
Sure, we can wonder what the hell Eddie Vedder is singing throughout most of the song, or we can accept its mystery. One of the greatest guitar songs of the last 20 years, 'Yellow Ledbetter' was released as a B-side track on the 'Jeremy' single, but you almost have to correlate the song to 'Ten' since it was written at the same time. The riff and story Vedder tells throughout the song makes 'Yellow Ledbetter' a truly legendary rock song.