As far as band anthems go, Pearl Jam have an interesting history with ‘Better Man’. Originally written by Eddie Vedder when he was still a teenager, ‘Better Man’ managed to go unrecorded by the band for their first two studio album, 1991’s Ten and 1993’s Vs. According to producer Brendan O’Brien, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Pearl Jam and O’Brien originally cut a version for Vs., but it only took one comment from O’Brien to throw the song back in limbo. “There’s a great song we recorded for Vs., ‘Better Man,’ which ended up on Vitalogy,” O’Brien revealed to Spin in 2001. “One of the first rehearsals we did they played it and I said ‘Man, that song’s a hit.’ Eddie just went ‘uhhh’. I immediately knew I’d just said the wrong thing. We cut it once for Vs., he wanted to give it away to this Greenpeace benefit record, the idea was that the band was going to play and some other singer was going to sing it. I remember saying to the engineer, Nick [DiDia], ‘This is one of their best songs and they’re going to give it away! Can’t happen!'”
O’Brien managed to keep the Vs. version of the track out of the hands of Greenpeace and convinced the band to give the song another go during the sessions for 1994’s Vitalogy. But when Vedder was originally playing the song with his first band Bad Radio, ‘Better Man’ was closer in sound to a song that Vedder based the song’s progression on: The Beat’s ‘Save It For Later’.
Both ‘Save It For Later’ and ‘Better Man’ are rooted in the key of D, and both songs utilize a simple I-V-IV progression for their respective choruses. Vedder liberally borrowed elements of The Beat’s melody for ‘Save It For Later’ in ‘Better Man’, but Vedder managed to avoid a songwriting claim from Dave Wakeling.
Despite (or perhaps because of ) its obvious hit potential, ‘Better Man’ never received a commercial single release. Pearl Jam were also avoiding music videos at the time, but the lack of proper promotion didn’t stop ‘Better Man’ from becoming one of Pearl Jam’s biggest songs. Frequent spins on alt-rock radio made ‘Better Man’ an anthem, and when Pearl Jam were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2017, ‘Better Man’ was one of the songs the band chose to represent their career.
These days, it’s not uncommon for Pearl Jam to include a snippet of ‘Save It For Later’ during performances of ‘Better Man’, with Vedder paying tribute to the song’s compositional forefather. Check out one live pairing of the two tracks from a solo Eddie Vedder concert down below.