Fifteen Essential Pearl Jam Studio Songs
Today Pearl Jam celebrates the release of their tenth studio album Lightning Bolt. Mostly known for their live show, Pearl Jam also has an established history with releasing excellent studio tracks. Now, here are fifteen essential Pearl Jam studio tracks every fan should hear.
"Nothing As It Seems" Binaural (2000)
The quintessential Pearl Jam studio track. These five minutes and twenty-two seconds are what Pearl Jam fans hope heaven sounds like. "Nothing As It Seems" is a true sonic (binaural) adventure that one can only fully appreciate through excellent headphones. Vedder's lyrics will, to put it bluntly, haunt you (A scratching voice all alone, there's nothing like your baritone/It's nothing as it seems, the little that he needs, it's home) with their overtly dark themes and in-your-face wordplay. Guitarist Mike McCready truly shines with his Gilmour-like tone. In truth, the Binaural sessions came during a dark time in the band's history and this song, along with several others on the record, reflect that. Binaural also serves as Pearl Jam's most experimental album to date.
"In My Tree" No Code (1996)
If not for the line in the beginning that says "I'm trading stories with the leaves instead," this track is a clinic in recording. Drummer Jack Irons, who is credited on this song along with Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder, delivers one of the most stunning drum tracks you'll ever hear, somehow weaving a beautiful melody into a frantic drum beat. While "In My Tree" doesn't have the psychadelic prowess of "Nothing As It Seems" it is still very much a departure outside of the grunge rock sound Pearl Jam developed in the early-90's. The "oh, the blue sky it's his home" section is, up until that point, a crowning achievement in Pearl Jam's studio history.
"Indifference" Vs. (1993)
Of all the powerful songs on Pearl Jam's sophomore album--"Go," "Blood," "Leash" and many more, none carried the weight that the closing track, "Indifference," did. Credited as an Ament/Gossard composition, this track is oddly enough all about Vedder's vocals. The production on Eddie's vocals give the feeling of someone singing this in an empty room, with the reverb bouncing in and out of each channel. Pearl Jam's heaviest record to date fades out with the faint sound of Eddie whimpering while Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament pluck away ever so lightly. No moment of music on the album is quieter, but none is heavier.
"Given to Fly" Yield (1998)
Widely regarded as one of Pearl Jam's best overall songs, that widespread love began the second Yield came out. Mike McCready and Stone Gossard certainly "fly" on this song, as their guitars soar and crash with perfect symmetry. As Eddie screams "fly," the guitars get louder, drummer Jack Irons plays harder and faster and the song figuratively lifts off. Another bit of Pearl Jam studio genius comes when the line "the wind rose up, set him down on his knee" is followed by a guitar build reminiscent of a gust of wind.
"Go" Vs. (1993)
The opening notes of "Go" sounds like a band suffering from cabin fever. Surprisingly enough, the band had just that while recording Vs. as they were holed up in a California studio with paradise a few mere feet from where they sat. Unable to get to said paradise, they lashed out on their instruments with this opening track which features a screaming guitar solo and drum track. "Go" was also the first sign of Pearl Jam's desire to become more experimental, using different vocal effects on Eddie Vedder's voice.
"Nothingman" Vitalogy (1994)
Vitalogy starts heavy and fast, until the fourth track. "Nothingman" isn't just Pearl Jam slowing things down, it's Pearl Jam slamming on the brakes. But this break is welcomed, embraced, and executed to near perfection. Not only is this widely regarded as one of the best lyrics in PJ's catalog, but it shows off a different side of Vedder's vocal prowess.
"Once" Ten (1991)
Pearl Jam's introduction to the world came with "Once," the lead track to their debut album. As if the Phil Collins "In the Air Tonight" intro isn't enough to build the hype, you can vaguely hear Eddie Vedder chanting something in the background before the whole band jumps right into your earspace. "Once" is genius in so many ways, but it is one of those songs that displays everything that makes Pearl Jam great. The angst, the vulnerability, the cohesiveness is all on display in this brief, four-minute track.
"You Are" Riot Act (2002)
New drummer Matt Cameron brought this gem to the studio during the Riot Act sessions in early 2002. The first few seconds of "You Are" sound more like a Radiohead track than a Pearl Jam track, making it totally unique to the PJ catalog right off the bat. No other song is comparable to "You Are" as far as feel is concerned, and one that stands totally alone in Pearl Jam's ten-album deep collection.
"Red Mosquito" No Code (1996)
In four minutes, few bands have the ability to span multiple genres, but Pearl Jam does it on "Red Mosquito." The band mixes in blues, rock and a little folk to create this beautiful hodgepodge of noise that just works all on its own. During the last few bars, the track all of a sudden becomes cohesive as Eddie repeats "if I had known then what I know now" as the song fades out. A highlight of No Code.
"Spin the Black Circle" Vitalogy (1994)
Everyone's favorite ode to vinyl, Pearl Jam offers up their love letter to record players everywhere with this psychotic and absurd track. Even Usain Bolt thinks "Spin the Black Circle" is fast. Again, this is Pearl Jam simply showing off, and it works. Everyone is where they need to be exactly when they need to be there, making this a benchmark track for Pearl Jam and bands who like to play fast. The GRAMMY Award didn't hurt either, I suppose.
"Of the Girl" Binaural (2000)
Binaural offered so many great studio tracks, and "Of the Girl" is certainly one of those. One of the aspects that set Pearl Jam aside from other groups in their genre is their ability to create that musical moment when transitioning from verse to chorus, verse to bridge, or bridge to chorus. "Of the Girl" has just that with the riff that occurs just before the chorus hits. It happens at about 1:56 in the studio track. Tension is created out of thin air in a song that seemingly has no tension. If you're looking for more examples of this, look no further than the connector in "Faithfull" right before the chorus as well.
"Garden" Ten (1991)
"Garden" is a perfect example of Pearl Jam flexing their muscle. Any band can play fast and call it "rock" but few can execute a song like "Garden" where the line between mellow and insane is completely blurred. Although the band has trouble performing this song live now due to the vocal demands, "Garden" will forever have its place on one of the greatest debut albums ever. Often overlooked by hits like "Black," "Alive" and "Why Go," the ninth track on Ten is one of PJ's finest.
"Low Light" Yield (1998)
Another Jeff Ament composition, the bassist not only wrote the music but also penned the lyrics. "Low Light" is a stellar acoustic number that features extensive layering with deep percussion work from then-drummer Jack Irons. Yield offers the best variety for Pearl Jam fans looking to escape the grunge sound, and "Low Light" is a great example of that. Without this track anchoring the back half of the record along with "In Hiding," the cohesiveness wouldn't be there overall.
"Blood" Vs. (1993)
"Spin me around, roll me over, fucking circus" is usually an appropriate way to start a song called "Blood." Mike McCready is mesmerizing on this track, and for all of the crash, bang, boom of "Blood," he provides a breath of fresh air with his work during the verses. This song is great because Vedder is simply demonic throughout. The whole band is, really. This song harkens back to the "cabin fever" theory discussed during "Go." If you like grunge, you like "Blood." It's loud, unapologetic and brash.
"Inside Job" Pearl Jam (2006)
The closing track to Pearl Jam's self-titled album (although often referred to as "Avocado") is simply haunting. "Holding on, the light of the night/On my knees to rise and fix my broken soul again" really says it all, but the song has a uniquely upbeat ending as Eddie chants "oh, life comes from within your heart and desire" repeatedly while Mike McCready solos. "Inside Job" has a strong fan following and is one of the bright spots in post-2000 Pearl Jam recording history.
Honorable Mention: "Lukin," "Come Back," "Sleight of Hand," "Off He Goes" and "Speed of Sound"