Ah, Pearl Jam. The band founded in Seattle just over 25 years ago and long-associated with that city’s grunge scene of the early-'90s has continued to inspire as much fandom as it has vitriol in the music community. Outspoken activists with strong political leanings, their well-publicized battle with Ticketmaster cemented them as musicians of integrity.
Widely acknowledged as the greatest band of the '90s, Pearl Jam has continued to produce music on its own terms, maintaining a strong following even through some unpopular decisions, like refusing to play out its megahit “Jeremy.” With ten official albums and numerous side projects completed by this point, say what you will about the band, but its collective pool of creativity runs deep.
Fronted by enigmatic and polarizing singer Eddie Vedder, anchored by Jeff Ament’s bass, and sonically charged by the guitars of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam suffered like many other bands do from drummer turnover early on but has found a rallying beat in Matt Cameron, who has helmed the back line since ’98.
To hype the kickoff of Pearl Jam's North American tour this Friday at BB&T Center in Sunrise, we've turned to fans and New Times contributor Jesse Scheckner (whose love for the group's lesser-known and underappreciated tracks was invaluable in compiling this list) to count down the band's ten best tracks of all time, album by album.
10. “Release,” Ten (1991)
“Their debut album, lyrically, was Vedder’s attempt to exorcise his demons — specifically about the deception and rejection he faced as a young boy,” says Scheckner. “The famous story of his mother’s deceit— telling him that his real father was a family friend who recently died and not the man who raised him — is known by almost everyone at this point. But in 'Release,' Vedder seems to finally make peace with everything.”
9. “Rearviewmirror,” Vs. (1993)
“Pearl Jam is on my list of guilty pleasures,” acknowledges Bleedingpalm.com and MIFF darling Ronnie Rivera. Former local zine-ster Rob Cleves (Mulch) confesses: “The only song of theirs I'd still put on a mix.”
8. “Last Exit,” Vitalogy (1994)
“The opening track of this album is a killer,” says Scheckner. “With two albums behind them, Vedder had clearly emerged as the creative spearhead for the band and opted to steer them in a harder, less arena-rock-oriented musical direction. ‘Last Exit’ starts with the band tuning up and then Dave Abbruzzese’s smashing drums sounding off before the rest of the band converges in a new sonic direction. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness poetry and stand up when read independent of their musical accompaniment.”
7. “Lukin,” No Code (1996)
“I love the song because it doesn't sound like a Pearl Jam song,” says Moon Pigeon and Hit Play! bassist Gaston de la Vega. “It sounds like they're playing a cover. It's a very short song. Probably a little bit over a minute long. They usually time in the next song, which is called ‘Present Tense.’”
6. “Do the Evolution,” Yield (1998)
Tim Moffatt likes this one because “it’s PJ doing their best Mudhoney impression.” It is rapper and punk-rock collaborator E. Grizzly’s favorite because “Eddie Vedder sounds like a fucking maniac on that song.” On the hip-hop tip, LMS also finds resonance in it: “The song was very uncharacteristic of their sound in comparison to their previous singles. Add to that the powerful imagery in both the lyrics and the video and it's one of those songs that, especially now, not only be should be credited but needs to be credited as one of Pearl Jam's finer works, if for no other reason than to bring as much social commentary as possible to the forefront of popular music.”
5. “Sleight of Hand,” Binaural (2000)
“Echoing, almost spoken-word verses make up this haunting, detached tale of a man who’d all but succumbed to the daily grind," explains Scheckner. “'Routine was the theme,’ the song opens. ‘He’d wake up, wash and pour himself into uniform — something he hadn’t imagined being.’ But like the titular character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he dreamed of more.”
4. “All or None,” Riot Act (2002)
“Vedder and the rest of the band were very outspoken against the war in Iraq and dedicated several songs to the subject on this album, which was written and recorded not long after the September 11 attacks,” says Scheckner. “This song borrows that theme and looks inward, recognizing the cyclical nature in which we live our lives, constantly trying to work out past failures presently.”
3. “Inside Job,” Pearl Jam (2006)
“The usually reserved Mike McCready largely penned and wrote the music for this closing track,” says Scheckner, whose extensive knowledge of the band’s personnel lends gravitas to his reflections. “On the other side of bouts with drug and alcohol abuse, ‘Inside Job’ is about McCready coming to terms with emotions he’d buried deep inside him. The song starts slowly, with a single acoustic guitar, but surges in its more than seven minutes into an anthem of forgiveness of self.”
2. “Johnny Guitar,” Backspacer (2009)
“This unique, infectious little rocker is one of the more lighthearted tunes in PJ’s catalog,” according to Scheckner. “Told from the perspective of a member of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s backing band, who is in love with one of Watson’s many groupies, its lyrics, written by Vedder, weave through riffs almost surf-like.”
1. “Pendulum,” Lightning Bolt (2013)
“A haunting, trudging, piano-and-drums-driven track, ‘Pendulum’ expresses the highs and lows of life," says Scheckner. “Hardships and periods of good fortune. Light on lyrics, the song largely relies on melody, featuring a rare overlapping set of vocal tracks from Vedder. He and the band are notorious studio aces known for recording each instrument on a single track.”
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BONUS TRACK: “Yellow Ledbetter”
From a quick sampling of Facebook friends, this track is the most popular among Pearl Jam fans. It should’ve been on Ten, but it didn’t make the final cut. Who knows what other gems the band has lying around that might someday become a fan favorite?
Jesse Scheckner is a contributor to New Times as well as one of South Florida’s most prestigious MMA journalists, with work in outlets like MMA Owl, MMA Sucka, and TuffGnarl.com. He’s been an avid Pearl Jam fan since the beginning. You can follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.
7 p.m. Friday, April 8, at BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. Tickets cost $66.75 plus fees via (surprise, surprise!) Ticketmaster. Visit thebbtcenter.com.