Sometimes, avidly following a rock star from their first footsteps on to the music scene through a legendary career, soundtracking your own growth as you go, can usually end with a twist of conservatism that render your previous punk rock allegiances useless. Not so for Eddie Vedder who, despite being the lead singer of one of the most important rock bands of modern times in Pearl Jam, has always managed to maintain his surfer dude image — a chilled guy who happens to write some of the most compelling songs we’ve ever heard.
As a celebration of Vedder, we’re taking a look back at ten of his greatest songs both with and without Pearl Jam. Naturally seen as one of the greatest lead singers of all time, his baritone voice has become a staple of the global rock scene, despite his localised beginnings. Vedder, and the rest of Pearl Jam for that matter, were born in the underground Seattle music scene that would find favour during the early nineties with America’s disenfranchised youth.
The eighties had been a notoriously decadent time for music. Freedom and creativity reigned in pop music, but bands were generally going one of two ways within the rock sphere. In Britain, punk rock had turned into a dark and dangerous post-punk drone, endlessly languishing in the greys of English shores. Conversely, in America, established rock music had been given an electric shock of fame and fortune — hair metal was at the top of the agenda, and the only real qualifier for being a great band was the number of sexual conquests you could rack up. Pearl Jam, among a host of other bands, kicked back against that.
Instead, Vedder and his band delivered emotional fraught pieces set to some abrasive guitar sounds. Although certainly aligned with the grunge sound, Pearl Jam averted the ‘pop song in a brand new disguise’ motif that Nirvana found so much success with and instead managed to make the heartbeat of the band the most integral sound. Unlike many acts before them, the group, with Vedder leading the charge, wrote songs deeply entrenched in his emotions and weren’t afraid to show it.
It’s certainly part of what has made Eddie Vedder such a welcome relief among a machismo set of rock legends. His talent has always been in songwriting and judging by the ten songs below, it will never be forgotten.
Eddie Vedder’s 10 best songs:
10. ‘Better Days’ – Eddie Vedder
Written as part of the Julia Roberts adaptation of Eat Pray Love, this Vedder solo number had long been considered a cut from Pearl Jam. A beautiful and inspiring track, the song has transcended the confusion to become a bastion of Vedder’s sincere songwriting.
Vedder’s artistic credibility shot up after this track, despite the release on such a cheesy film, as it showcased the singer’s ability to jump into a song and a theme with utter authenticity — no matter the brief.
9. ‘Rearviewmirror’ – Pearl Jam
2004’s greatest hits album was always going to be a huge release and when the band titled the LP after one of their biggest songs, diehard fans knew things were going to be a bit special. Originally released on 1993’s Vs, ‘Rearviewmirror’ is considered a classic from the band’s impressive canon.
The song is supposed to be reminiscent of driving away from a bad situation and only looking back through the rearview mirror. It’s a piece of the band’s legacy that remains highly inspiring to this day.
8. ‘Man of the Hour’ – Pearl Jam
Though technically written for Pearl Jam, there is a certain honesty to this song which lets you know that it was all Vedder’s creation. As well as the oceanic motifs, fitting considering it played out the final moments of the 2003 film Big Fish, the song is also drenched in the singer’s unique tone.
An acoustic number at heart, the song is wonderfully accented by the slide guitar and provides Vedder’s vocal with a worth counterpoint. Released with Amazon, it was the first song the band released without a label.
7. ‘Better Man’ – Pearl Jam
The track is of significant emotional significance to Vedder and it was actually written while he was a teenager in angst at his stepfather who his mother remarried following his father’s death. At some shows, Vedder has been known to dedicate it to “the bastard who married my mother”.
Despite the song’s instantly catchy appeal, Vedder decided to hold back against releasing the song with Pearl Jam following the huge success of Ten. To him, the song could be construed as a cheap pop number, and it was clearly more important than that. Eventually, Vedder relented, and the band released the song to widespread adoration.
6. ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ – Pearl Jam
Now, there’s no point in us trying to tell you about the magical lyrics of ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ because, if we’re all honest, none of us knew what they were until we could google them, such was Vedder’s mumbled vocal.
Originally released as a b-side to ‘Jeremy’ the song is now rightly seen as an integral part of the band’s legacy and, after closing out some of their shows, is considered a fan favourite. The song was inspired by a friend whose brother had been involved with the Gulf War and the trepidation surrounding his return.
5. ‘Alive’ – Pearl Jam
When Eddie Vedder was getting ready to work with Pearl Jam, they had sent him a tape of some instrumental recordings they had been working on. One of those tracks was ‘Alive’ which, upon hearing Vedder turned into one of the band’s most potent tracks and a story of his own childhood unfurled.
‘Alive’ deals with many sad moments from Vedder’s childhood, including being told that the man he thought was his father was actually his step-dad and that his biological father had died a few years prior. The song also contains hints of incestuous behaviour “There was no incest in my situation,” Vedder told Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt in 2006.
“But people who knew my dad — women — would come over and stare at me when I was a teenager like you wouldn’t believe. They were looking at me because I have his face and he’d been dead for 10 years at least. So they can’t take their eyes off me. And I probably caught my mom — you know, she’d just stare at me.”
4. ‘Society’ – Eddie Vedder
Released in 2007, as part of Vedder’s debut solo record Into The Wild, which acted as the soundtrack to the iconic film, ‘Society’ is a standout moment of Vedder’s career. The singer’s tracks help narrate the film’s story, and there’s no doubt they enhance it, but, listened to on their own, the songs offer a real sense of Vedder’s own story.
Vocally, some of his finest work, the track (and the entire album, in fact) offers some of the most blissful moments of resplendence, with serenity and charm pervading every single note.
3. ‘Jeremy’ – Pearl Jam
Of course, when a song is written about the tragic suicide of a teenager then you’d expect some tears but this heart-wrenching song — so far from the rest of the rock world at the time — shows exactly what Vedder and Pearl Jam are about. It’s guaranteed to not have a dry eye in the house.
Vedder wrote ‘Jeremy’ about a 15-year-old from Texas who committed suicide in front of his English class back in 1991. Reading the story in the newspaper, Vedder was compelled to pick up his pen and write an ode to the lost soul. A simple but effective video followed and the song became an MTV mainstay. It is one song which showed the power of the band and amassed many fans because of it.
2. ‘Hunger Strike’ – Temple of the Dog
Though Soundgarden and Pearl Jam would flourish in the nineties following the explosion of the Seattle sound, there was one band who had trodden the path to major label success first of all — Mother Love Bone. When lead singer Andrew Wood would die from a heroin overdose before their debut LP could be released, Vedder joined in as a guest vocalist on a song from Chris Cornell titled ‘Hunger Strike’. Though the legitimacy of calling it ‘Vedder’s song’ may be called into question, there’s no doubt the talent he brought to proceedings.
Cornell and Vedder would become extremely close friends and the Pearl Jam singer was bereft by his passing. “I’ve had to be somewhat in denial,” Vedder said during a recent appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show concerning Cornell’s own tragic passing. “I don’t even feel like I had a choice. I was just terrified where I would go if I allowed myself to feel what I needed to feel or what I was instinctively wanting to feel or how dark I felt like I was gonna go. And because I didn’t see him that often in the last 10 years – probably only, like, four or five times, and usually at a gig or something – I still haven’t quite dealt with it. I’ll get stronger as time goes.”
Below is the final time the two sang the enigmatic track with one another.
1. ‘Black’ – Pearl Jam
The rise of Pearl Jam is a truly fascinating one. Their monumental set at the travelling circus that was Lollapalooza ’92 played a pivotal role in establishing their dominance for decades to come but, in truth, it was the music that kept the band in their top spot. The performance came a year after Pearl Jam had released their debut record Ten which ‘Black’ features on.
After Ten became a commercial success in 1992, Pearl Jam’s record label Epic Records urged the group to release the song as a single but Vedder and the band refused because of the song’s personal nature, an effort which he wrote straight from the heart about the dissipation of his first love. Despite not having a commercial release, the song has managed to become one of their most popular songs as the decades have passed and it’s undeniably one of the definitive Pearl Jam tracks.
“It’s about first relationships. The song is about letting go,” Vedder said in the 2011 book Pearl Jam Twenty. “It’s very rare for a relationship to withstand the Earth’s gravitational pull and where it’s going to take people and how they’re going to grow. I’ve heard it said that you can’t really have a true love unless it was a love unrequited. It’s a harsh one because then your truest one is the one you can’t have forever.”