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(Credit: Danny Clinch)

Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to Pearl Jam

There was something in the air in Seattle, during the late 1980s and early ’90s, something majestic – kind of like an infectious virus, that upon catching it, makes you angry, passionate and somewhat of a musical making machine. Seattle, Washington, was on fire during a period of sonic boom.

Mother Love Bone had a lead singer, Andy Wood, who was the epitome of the West Coast grunge rock hero, he taught them all: Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, among many more, I’m sure. He was the absolute original in every way, unfortunately, this would mean that he was also one of the many victims of the grunge scene to overdose.

Following the dissolution of Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam was formed after recruiting a crucial piece of the puzzle, Eddie Vedder. While Vedder’s vocals has helped define the definitive sound of the grunge genre that has come out of Seattle, Stone Gossard, the rhythm guitar player, was largely responsible for developing Pearl Jam’s early sound, specifically on Ten. 

Not only did their debut break them into the mainstream but it also became one of the best-selling records of all time, going platinum thirteen times over. 

One of the most interesting aspects of Pearl Jam is that despite their astronomical success, they have actively shunned the idea of fame, which was not such an uncommon trait found among Seattle grunge bands.

While the band has released 11 albums in total, their debut, Ten, remains the most iconic and most successful.

Here, we took a look at the six definitive songs of Pearl Jam, the ones that you should not live without.

Pearl Jam’s six definitive songs:

‘Rearviewmirror’ – Vs.

It’s hard to follow up with an album that can compete with the likes of Pearl Jam’s debut 13-time platinum-selling record, but the grunge band did their best, and they did a pretty good job with their sophomore record, Vs.

On Vs., the band started writing more as a group, although Vedder would take the lead on this as it was also the first song to feature Vedder on the guitar while singing. The song, Vedder pointed out, was about leaving a bad situation, in his case, it was his step-father: “We start off with the music and it kinds of propels the lyrics. It made me feel like I was in a car, leaving something, a bad situation. There’s an emotion there. I remembered all the times I wanted to leave.”

‘Once’ – Ten

It is hard not to include every song from their debut record – it is a masterpiece. When Gossard, Ament, and McCready were looking for a lead vocalist, they had sent out a demo tape that eventually found its way into Eddie Vedder’s hands through Jack Irons, who they were also auditioning for drums.

Vedder, who seemingly clicked with the music, recorded vocals over three songs and sent them back. ‘Once’ was one of the songs he did. The songwriting partnership, as many of their songs are, is accredited to Vedder and Stone Gossard.

‘Even Flow’ – Ten 

Probably one of their most memorable songs, ‘Even Flow’ was the second single off Ten. Lead guitar player, Mike McCready, said about his massive contribution to the track:”That’s me pretending to be Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a feeble attempt at that. Stone (Gossard, Pearl Jam guitarist) wrote the riff and song.” Before adding,

He added: “I think it’s a D tuning. I just followed him in a regular pattern. I tried to steal everything I know from Stevie Ray Vaughan and put it into that song. A blatant rip-off. A tribute rip-off, if you will.”

‘Corduroy’ – Vitalogy

‘Corduroy’ came out on their third album, Vitalogy, and Pearl Jam were once again under immense pressure to perform with their very recent and very quick progression to fame. The song, fittingly enough, was about this very thing – the pressures of fame. 

“It is about a relationship but not between two people. It’s more one person’s relationship with a million people. In fact, that song’s almost a little too obvious for me.” Vedder wrote it, and pulled out all the stops on this one, he was never afraid to say exactly what he meant. 

“That’s why instead of a lyric sheet we put in an X-ray of my teeth from last January and they are all in very bad shape, which was analogous to my head at the time.”

‘Daughter’ – Vs.

The second single off their second album, ‘Daughter’ was as good as their material from their first effort. Their longtime collaborator and producer, Brendan O’Brien, along with Pearl Jam, had a formula that was platinum selling – perhaps the group were trying hard to emulate that first experience, which is a dangerous trap.

Drummer, Dave Abbruzzesse, was especially challenged by O’Brien: “When we were originally working on ‘Daughter’, I did a lot more stuff on the toms. But when we went in to record it, Brendan [O’Brien] suggested trying something different, to just use the kick and snare. That was a trip, because we’d already been playing that song for half a year, and I was kind of used to what I was doing.”

‘Black’ – Ten

While this is another song off their debut, no Pearl Jam list would be complete without this track. The producer, on this song alone, was different from the rest of the album. Rick Parashar worked on this promotional single after the band underwent increasing pressure from their record label, Epic Records.

You would be hardpressed not to hear this song on any classic rock station, as it has steeped into the fabric of popular culture. “The song is about letting go,” Vedder stated. 

“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,” he added. 

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