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.