As a band approaches their third, and even fourth decades, they usually start to dwindle in quality, surviving off the often vast catalog of hits they may have created during that time. For Pearl Jam, who’s long weird journey began in 1990, being a band in their 30’s has only made them more independent and aware of what works. They still play 3 hour sets each night, often with a drastically different setlist than the nights before and after. Today, a week before a post about the bands 30 year career, we discuss the bands Top 10 best songs. This list is sure to get people talking, with more than 11 albums featuring some truly remarkable songs. This list features some stuff you’ll immediately recognize, and hopefully plenty of others you’ll grow to enjoy. Thanks for reading! What are some of your favorite PJ Tracks? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on instagram at @the deathofthemixtape.
10. LOVE BOAT CAPTAIN: RIOT ACT
When I first encountered “Love Boat Captain,” it was the opening number of the now legendary first appearance by the band at the Bonnaroo festival. The song enters in a slow emotional manner, reminiscent of a road weary man marching himself towards a greater goal of love. The song speaks to the need for admiration, for love, for partnership, but it’s written with an earnestness you’ll find in plenty of stuff created by Vedder himself or the band. As we open the countdown, “Love Boat Captain'' shows the strength of knowing your place in the universe is meaningless at best, but for a certain few in our world, we get to share love and the craziness of the planet as we fight against being meaningless.
9. LIFE WASTED: PEARL JAM
One of the best straight rockers in this list, “Life Wasted” comes from an album later in the band's career, but it spits with all the urgency of a band hungry for relevance, which they still had for many middle aged grey haired dads across the world. The guitars by (Gossard & McCreedy) are rushed and antagonizing, with Vedder's voice harping on the life you've abandoned, with the catch coming during the moments of the song you realize his attacks and pleading are all focused inward on himself. He’s trying to get his road straight, and with the urgency of the music under your wings and your ears, you’re transported to a place where pushing yourself is the only way to succeed.
8. NOTHINGMAN: VITALOGY
Even though this is a band very often overlooked in terms of genuine, beautiful “ballads,” there still exists plenty of soul crushing slow tunes in the catalog. While most are amazing, tear inducing, and heartfelt, “Nothingman” is the most obvious choice for me. It’s slow, somber, and wonderful. The vocals are day dreams of an abandoned illusion consisting of what dreams we chose to forget and not pursue. It’s this emotional pull and push that makes the song so beautifully tragic. I’ve still never gotten to see this live, but hopefully someday I will. I’d like to talk more about this, but some songs are best left to let you hear, rather than for you to read about.
7. DO THE EVOLUTION: YIELD
Even before we discuss the actual song, we shouldn’t forget the brilliance of the Todd MacFarlane video for this classic apocalyptic track. The animation presented in the clip ties in perfectly to the nihilistic approach permeating this journey through times and platitudes. The vocals are scratchy, while the guitars and drums both feature tinges of the garage rock days of the band's journey to the top. It brims with the intensity of a world undone by itself, and we’re all mammals trying to not be part of the next extinction.
6. JEREMY: TEN
For me, this song is a sad reminder of wasted youth, and how we as humans are so quick to forget bad events, as long as they don’t interrupt our important lives. But then you still have to factor in the polarizing video. The video, which is still tough to watch, portrays a bullied teen, ignored by his self-important parents, and harassed by his peers, brutally taking the lives of the people he should have been feeling free with in the afternoons and weekends of his adolescence. It was a shocking video to say the least, but in the end it didn’t matter, because the mass population still overlooks shootings as something that just “happens.”
5. ALIVE: TEN
Most folks hearing “Alive” believe it to be a song seeping with positivity at having made it through the difficult thing called life, but in reality it’s far more downtrodden. The song is indeed a roaring anthem, but buried in the subconscious of the song is the massive pain felt by Vedder at the early age of his father. The song, written in regards to the turbulent relationship between his step father, who for a long time he believed was his actual father. In truth. His dad died during his still developing years, and the impacting death made the creation of this song possible. Just remember, when we’re singing and hollowing to the “I’m Alive,” at your next Pearl
Jam show that it was never about Eddie, but instead about the complicated relationships with his fathers.
4. ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND A COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN: VS
Like the forgotten dreams of a teenager destined to be stuck in a shitty go nowhere town, “Elderly Woman…” tells the story of the long years gone by, the regret as we all carry with us, and the knowledge that we were meant for better things, if only we could escape. The song itself tells such a normal, painful story that it’s easy to forget that this came out so long ago, but it hasn’t changed the meaning and merit behind it. It’s not instrumentally aggressive like other tracks on their often overlooked second record, but it’s humility and. Eye opening regret make it worth the love it gets among long time PJ fans.
3. GIVEN TO FLY: YIELD
Overwhelmingly optimistic once you get through the rough parts. That’s one way to start. Another would be to say It’s a quite beautiful song, and the music alongside Vedder's simmering, soaring voice really helps to bring me to a place where everything is right in the world. This song exemplifies so much of what life is really like. Darkness, murder, power, love and optimism. I can’t help but think that life is supposed to be experienced, and not to be ruined by pleasing other people, or how much money you have in the bank. Life is what happens when you’re busy trying to figure out what's next. At number three, with its call to soar and to be free, is “Given to Fly.”
2. REARVIEWMIRROR: VS
Like a speeding car roaring away from a shitty relationship, This bad boy kicks all kinds of ass. It’s immediately in first gear, and the flow of the song never lets up, especially in the chorus. Musically it’s rooted in the heyday of the grunge era, but the emotions presented lyrically are the things we never share as they're happening, saving them for the inevitable meltdown. Musically it has everything a PJ fan would love. That bass line going underneath everything also helps to tie the song into a perfect bow. The vocals at the end are what ultimately makes it an amazing song. It’s clear whatever he’s dealing with, he wants to be done, or as he says it, he wants it in his “ Rearview Mirror.”
“Black” may be the band's darkest song, but more Importantly it might also be their best. This song is so emotional in so many ways. The song has so much sadness and desperation in it, but it still brings out pure raw emotions that ultimately make it a priceless song. As a listener I never feel at home in the world of “Black,” rather I feel lost and in the dark as the narrator fights for his redemption for all the damage he’s done. Again, as a listener, the song speaks to the turbulent life of the narrator, and when he speaks to the things “All washed in black,” you know the damage is done, but his heart is broken and full of regret. Moment after moment during “Black” leaves you reeling emotionally, even as you hope for the best outcome you’re certain won’t come. In fact, during the closing moments of the song you don’t get that repeal, instead watching that special one venture away from you and your “Black.” Even more meaningful for me was the first time I saw this performed, which ruled just as much as you might think. If you haven’t yet heard this song, please track it down. It’s the emotional core of not only that album, but the core of the band. Thank you for reading!
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Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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