A List of the Top Pearl Jam Songs
Exploding into the world with their 13x platinum debut album Ten, few bands have continually captured inspiration as much as Pearl Jam, who has repeatedly evolved, grown, connected, and diversified their music over their 30 year career.
While any fan will immediately recognize the rocking grunge anthems of their first few albums, Pearl Jam infused their music with an intense sentimentality and contemplation which marks many of their later works. Each song and album represents a different stage of their growth and maturity, from their early struggles with overwhelming popularity to their later connection in a disconnected world.
No one rocks harder than Pearl Jam, but casual listeners and super fans alike can also appreciate the band’s most authentic creativity just as much as their power. To uncover the deepest depths of Pearl Jam’s spirit, along with a taste of their most rocking singles and most unique compositions, Binaural Records teamed up with the PJ Super Fans from the Live on 4 Legs Podcast to assemble this list of the 50 Top Pearl Jam Songs of All-Time, Ranked.
50. Thumbing My Way – Riot Act (2002)
“There’s no wrong or right but I’m sure there’s good and bad…”
“Thumbing My Way” is a cut from Riot Act, the band’s seventh album. It’s a quiet, simple song that front man Eddie Vedder once said is about “hitchhiking your way through a broken heart.” The band can rip extremely hard with an excess of confidence, but when Vedder and company get quiet and reflective, they display an elegant understanding of songwriting and musicianship. “Thumbing My Way” is a powerful track that provides an introspective self-reflectiveness in the midst of the chaos of life.
49. Pendulum – Lightning Bolt (2013)
“My shadow left me long ago…”
“Pendulum” comes from Lightning Bolt, the band’s tenth studio album, over two decades after the founding of the group. It’s a track about the ebbs and flows of life, and Vedder delivers his lyrics with experience. He broods, along with quiet sonic pulsing, and embraces the future while loving the past. It’s a fine display of his growth as a songwriter, and how later career Pearl Jam provides a different kind of energy than those early days.
48. Smile – No Code (1996)
“I miss you already…”
Yeah, that’s a harmonica. This track from No Code is, quite simply, a song about heartbreak. Vedder offers repeated questioning, “Don’t I make you smile?” He’s not shy about his sadness. And it’s not much more complicated than that.
47. State Of Love And Trust – Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1991)
“And the signs are passin’, grip the wheel, can’t read it…”
This song sounds like flying, blasting down the highway, the pulsing guitars making you press the gas harder and harder. Sonically, it’s an embrace of the chaos of life, which Vedder reflects lyrically on this cut from the redux of Ten, also released on the Singles Soundtrack in 1992. “Aimed right at my head, don’t won’t you help me,” he sings. “Help me from myself.” There’s palpable anguish in the contradiction, capturing the complicated emotional cocktail of doubt and confidence.
46. Insignificance – Binaural (2000)
“Blame it all on chemical intercourse…”
There’s an every man energy to Pearl Jam, as Vedder’s long standing hatred of capitalism has helped protect the band from the concept of “selling out” despite being one of the most famous acts in the world since the early 90s. “Insignificance” is a rumination on those struggles, as these big things happen in the world that are out of our control, a desire to understand why we may feel the way we feel at any given moment. Wherever you go, there you are, some might say, and Vedder understands that idea. We cannot escape our humanity. It’s a blessing and a curse — all we can do is push forward our desires, and chase them every day. There are motions created in the world by powerful men that cannot be stopped. “Please forgive our hometown,” he pleads. “In our insignificance.”
45. Leash – Vs. (1993)
“It was their idea I proved to be a man…”
This track is another display of Pearl Jam at their rawest. It comes on their sophomore album Vs., a time when the band was still figuring out their sound that would go on to define an entire generation. It’s pure grunge, pushing back against norms and expectations: “Get out of my fuckin’ face,” Vedder belts, his voice scratching the top of his range. This is what grunge is, a bold stand in the face of the fear of monotony that every day life can shove in our faces.
44. W.M.A. – Vs. (1993)
“Dirty his hands it comes right off, police man…”
The early 90s were a fierce time for political discourse surrounding police brutality and racism. Pearl Jam wrote this song, a cut from 1993’s Vs., in response to that touchy subject, exploring the structural racism that exists in the United States and how policing unfortunately falls into that lineage. Sonically it’s a walloping song, too — pulsing yet reserved. You can feel the restraint from the band’s musicianship. The lyrics aren’t really clear in their sound either, as Vedder’s yelp is difficult to understand at times, but that seems to be part of the point. The frustration is palpable. What else can be done except howl?
43. Fatal – Lost Dogs (2003)
“I wake up and wait up, the answers are fatal…”
This cut appears on 2003’s Lost Dogs, originally an outtake from Binaural. It’s a reflective track, seemingly observing the frustrations of a relationship ending, and the sorrowful inevitability that comes in those moments. Things are over, despite the pleading and justification happening inside your mind. It’s a song about acceptance, and Vedder sweetly croons his understanding, despite not liking it.
“I pledge my grievance to the flag, cause you don’t give blood, then take it back again, we’re deserving of much more…”
This cut from Binaural was inspired by the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. Vedder later said in interviews that he was writing against technology, and this idea that technology is supposed to make things better, but all he saw was an acceleration of the forces of capitalism. The pre-911 turn of the century provided a ripe opportunity for commentary on what technology advances were doing to our society (think about the themes of The Matrix, for example), and Vedder was very much a leader in this energy. Why should we embrace innovation? Just because of the fact that it’s innovating? Sometimes efficiency doesn’t mean things are better. “Grievance” is a stand against that concept, an encouragement of pushing back against the natural inertia of late stage capitalism.
41. Not For You – Vitalogy (1994)
“If you hate something, don’t you do it too…”
Eddie Vedder told the LA Times in 1994 that “I don’t want our music to sell anything — or anyone else use it.” This track, from Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy, was written primarily by Vedder himself as a response to the mainstreamification of the band’s music, and how he felt that the counterculture was being exploited. The refrain, screaming the words “this is not for you,” acts as a desperate plea with the forces of capitalism. There’s a lot of beauty in the appeal, because he also seems aware that it’s inevitable. But that just makes you want to scream louder, doesn’t it?
40. Tremor Christ – Vitalogy (1994)
“A daily taste the salt of her tears but a chance blamed fate…”
“Tremor Christ,” a cut from Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy, was written by all members of the band in a very short amount of time. The story goes that it was one afternoon in New Orleans, and each member has said over the years how it just kind of fell out of them as the lights went down on the city. It’s a spiritual track, tackling the ideas of daily struggle and redemption. It levitates in a way that other Pearl Jam songs don’t as Vedder’s baritone shows a delicate side while still sounding fierce.
39. Animal – Vs. (1993)
“I’d rather be, I’d rather be with, I’d rather be with an animal…”
This is vintage, early 90s Pearl Jam at its finest. “Animal” is a simple, rollicking track that displays Vedder’s bombastic voice against the energy of the rest of the band. It might be corny to say that things fucking ROCK, but this song fucking ROCKS. The youthful power of the band is very apparent on this cut from 1993’s Vs., a dynamic display of what those first few years crescendoing into the mainstream produced. Vs. was the band’s sophomore release, and released as they were in the process of becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet. It’s a sweet spot of grunge and the Seattle scene before going mainstream, just a year before the death of Kurt Cobain, a very specific time in counterculture history when everyone decided that the coolest thing you could do was wear an oversized flannel shirt. The emotional pain of Gen X, brought to you by Vedder’s growl, desiring to live on the street as an animal.
38. Who You Are – No Code (1996)
“Come to send, not condescend”
“Who You Are” is a strong display of musicianship from Vedder and company. The driving drum beat is one of the cooler and stranger approaches to a Pearl Jam song. Drummer Jack Irons said that the polyrhythmic drum pattern was inspired by a Max Roach drum solo (if you’re not familiar, Max Roach is one of the most influential drummers of all time — dude basically helped create bebop) he heard in a music shop. To help with the drum circle feeling of the track, Vedder played an electric sitar. The lyrics of “Who You Are” can be viewed as a self-examination, and then the band puts that against an unexpected sound. It’s a strong display of Pearl Jam’s versatile musicianship.
37. Hard To Imagine – Lost Dogs (2003)
“I’ll tell a story, no one would listen that long…”
“Hard To Imagine” originally appeared on the soundtrack for a 1997 John Cusack movie called Chicago Cab and was eventually released on the compilation album Lost Dogs in 2003. It makes sense, because this song carries a cinematic feeling to it. Vedder repeats himself throughout, recalling his own struggles and channeling nostalgia in a way that’s just vague enough: “Things were different then, all is different now / I tried to explain, somehow.” He yearns in the way that only Eddie can, rattling out his soul.
36. Save You – Riot Act (2002)
“And fuck me if I say something you don’t want to hear…”
This pulsing banger is an anthem in the name of survival. The band feeds off the energy of the track, too. Guitarist Matt McCready has spoken in interviews over the years about how the recording sessions for “Save You” were just a blast. Moreover, the musical intensity of this cut from Riot Act is matched by the song’s lyrics. Vedder and co. had seen many friends and fellow musicians die throughout the years to substance abuse. This song is not quiet with it’s message. It’s trying to intervene in someone’s life and quite literally save them. It’s heavy subject matter that grinds against an energetic sound. With its release, “Save You” also resulted in the band’s first music video in four years.
35. Yellow Ledbetter – B- Side from “Jeremy” (1992)
“I said I don’t know whether I’m the boxer or the bag…”
Pearl Jam’s ballads kind of set the tone for the next few decades of rock ‘n’ roll, the blueprint for bleeding heart lyrics sung boldly through anguish. “Yellow Ledbetter” isn’t that complicated of a song — simple lyrics sung over a simple chord progression — but this B-side’s easiness is what gives it power. Vedder utilizes his voice as an instrument, relying as much on the words of the song’s verses as the tone. He’s howling, in pain, and you can howl right along. Who gives a shit what he’s saying? That’s not what it’s about. That’s never what it’s about.
34. Jeremy – Ten (1991)
“My jaw left hurting, dropped wide open, just like the day, oh, like the day I heard…
With its catchy riff played on a 12-string bass and its visceral vocal power, “Jeremy” is a Pearl Jam classic. It’s based on the true story of a boy named Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself in front of his high school English class in 1991. Eddie read about the incident in the newspaper and was inspired to transform the boy’s story into a song, dignifying and exploring the teenager’s personality and struggle at his school. Ultimately, Eddie remarked that it’s sad that someone would act like this, as a way of getting revenge against his classmates. Real revenge in a situation like that, Eddie said, would have been to live on and to put it behind him. Either way, “Jeremy” is a great hit and fan favorite.
33. Porch – Ten (1991)
“All the bills go by, and initiatives are taken up by the middle – there ain’t gonna be a middle anymore…”
“Porch” just straight-up rages, there’s no question about it. It’s one of Pearl Jam’s hardest-hitting rockers, coming off their debut, heavy-grunge album Ten. If you ever see the band live – which you should absolutely go do, by the way – you might be able to get your mosh on in the pit with this one. At first, I never could figure out the lyrics to this song, to be honest. But as it turns out, “Porch” is one of the band’s first songs highlighting civil problems and concerns. There would be countless more of these songs in the years to follow.
32. Off He Goes – No Code (1996)
“Nothing’s changed but the surrounding bullshit that has grown…”
A slow, drifting acoustic ballad off their fourth album No Code, “Off He Goes” is a song about a friend that comes and goes into and out of your life. Eddie revealed that the song is about himself, apologetic for being a lousy friend to so many people during the height of Pearl Jam’s success. The song’s gentle melodies and rhythms complement the motion of its characters, with the uplift of a return and the remorse of realizing that this person isn’t who you thought they were. Even if he’s been a bad friend from time to time, Eddie’s still a great songwriter, and “Off He Goes” really hits the heart in a special way.
31. Wash – Lost Dogs (2003)
“Oh please, let it rain today…”
Recorded in some of their earliest sessions, “Wash” is a slowed-down, deconstructed grunge banger. Dave Krusen’s splashing drums give the feel of rain throughout the song, complemented perfectly by the band’s mellow, dark grooving. Eddie sings of a tarnished mind, pure at its core, renewed by a falling rain. “Wash” was released on the European edition of Ten, and later released on the Lost Dogs compilation album.
30. Breath – Singles Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1991)
“If I knew where it was, I would take you there, but there’s much more than this…”
One of their first songs, and played at their first performance in 1990 at the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle, “Breath” is a Pearl Jam classic. It’s a straightforward rocker that was originally developed by Stone Gossard when he was playing with Mother Love Bone. Stone and Eddie filled out the song to be featured in the 1992 Singles movie soundtrack, a romantic comedy about the Seattle grunge scene. The song was a fan favorite, but it got dropped from setlists after 1994. During the 1998 Yield Tour, fans started a campaign to bring back “Breath.” They succeeded – everyone rocked out to “Breath” together again at the September 11th show at Madison Square Garden, and it’s returned to setlists since then.
29. Nothing As It Seems – Binaural (2000)
“The little that he sees; is nothing, he concedes – but it’s home…”
Binaural is, of course, one of our favorite Pearl Jam albums here at Binaural Records. The album heightens the level of experimentation and production that the band had been toying around with since the early 90s. “Nothing As It Seems” was the album’s first single, written by Jeff Ament about his upbringing in rural Northern Montana. It is a psychedelic, swirling hurricane of sound. Mike’s screeching guitars eerily wail above a droning acoustic while Eddie sings about disillusionment with the place you grew up. Personally, this is one of my absolute favorite Pearl Jam songs – its soundscape is incredibly intense and simply incomparable.
28. Better Man – Vitalogy (1994)
“She lies and says she’s in love with him – can’t find a better man…”
Despite never being commercially promoted as a single, “Better Man” still managed to top Billboard’s rock charts for eight weeks after it was released. Although it wasn’t released until the mid-90s, Eddie wrote “Better Man” as a teenager in high school. It clearly tells the story of a woman who stays in an abusive relationship; Eddie later would bitterly recount that it’s about his mom and stepdad.
27. Nothingman – Vitalogy (1994)
“And he who forgets will be destined to remember…”
The other “man” off from the band’s third studio album, Vitalogy. Isn’t this song something? “Nothingman” is a soft ballad in the wake of a lost love. Eddie once said that the song is about how, once you’ve lost a love, you’re left with even less than nothing. The combination of regret and nostalgia are palpable in the song’s harmonies and swaying, slow rhythm.
26. Sad – Lost Dogs (2003)
“An undertow of futures laid to waste, embraced by the loss of what he could not replace…”
There’s no irony in this song’s name – it’s one of the saddest tunes in all of Pearl Jam’s canon. The lyrics remorsefully tell the story of a man who has lost his love in a terrible accident, and he now clutches at scraps of memories as he locks himself away in his room. The pain is so raw, and there is nothing that can be done. But it is with songs like these that Pearl Jam capture a potency of emotion and dignity beyond any other rock band. In typical PJ fashion, it also rocks and swings, bringing out the power of the tale.
25. Long Road – Merkin Ball EP (1995)
“And the wind keeps roaring, and the sky keeps turning grey, and the sun is set, the sun will rise another day…”
In a 1995 collaboration with Neil Young, Pearl Jam released the Merkin Ball EP, which featured the songs “Long Road” and “I Got Id.” A gentle, ringing ballad describing a lost friend (front man Ed Vedder later revealed the song was written about the loss of his high-school drama teacher), “Long Road” is a graceful, longing tribute filled with emotional lyrics and melodic ambiance.
24. Unthought Known – Backspacer (2009)
“A distant time, a distant place, so what ya giving?”
Each of Pearl Jam’s albums reflects another step in their growth and maturity as their lives have progressed through different personal and global climates over the decades. Don’t sleep on their 2009 album Backspacer, which was their most uplifting, positive album to date, borrowing sounds from pop and new wave music. “Unthought Known” is an exploration of the human psyche, uncovering the beautiful things for listeners to discover in their lives. With their characteristic depth, the lyrics describe the bliss of an emptied, peaceful mind.
23. Love Boat Captain – Riot Act (2002)
“Lost nine friends we’ll never know, two years ago today…”
The greatest tragedy of Pearl Jam’s career came in 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, when nine fans were crushed and killed in a crowd surge. It was a turning point in the band’s career, and they took some time off to process the incident before releasing Riot Act in 2002. The existential struggles that pervaded earlier albums suddenly had taken on a challenging new meaning, and songs like “Love Boat Captain” show the difficulty the band continually faced as they tried to fight the negativity of the world while bringing light to their fans through their music.
22. Red Mosquito – No Code (1996)
“I was bitten, must have been the devil…”
Transitioning between their early 90s heaviness and later spacious contemplation, No Code captures two distinct sides of Pearl Jam’s sound and mixes them with great lucidity. Songs like “Red Mosquito” both rock you and make you want to sit back and think for a moment about what this all means. “Red Mosquito” was written after a concert incident in 1995, when Vedder had food poisoning in San Francisco and couldn’t make it through the whole show. He wrote the song to remind himself that the devil is never far away, and that things don’t always go as planned.
21. Indifference – Vs. (1993)
“I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room…”
In a quiet, tense ode about wandering through hell, “Indifference” closes Vs. with an existential ballad. In later works, Pearl Jam would solidify this sentiment, trying to understand how they could help others transcend struggle using their music. Listeners of the band’s most famous music from its earliest years might mistakenly think that Pearl Jam only plays grunge, aggression, and heaviness. In reality, their softer, deeper side has always been present right there from the beginning. “Indifference” reflects a stoicism that the band would ultimately suffer through again and again to create meaning from their, and everyone’s, struggle.
20. Daughter – Vs. (1993)
“She holds the hand that holds her down…”
Many of the themes appearing on Vs. describe tales of social injustices and challenges. A raw track featuring a unique acoustic guitar groove, upright bass, and driving rhythm, in “Daughter,” Vedder sings about a girl with a learning disability who is beaten by her parents who don’t understand her challenges. It was one of the band’s first ventures into darker social themes, which would become central throughout their later albums.
19. I Got Id (aka “I Got Shit”) – Merkin Ball EP (1995)
“If just once I could be loved, I’d stare back at me…”
Pearl Jam collaborated with alt-rock legend Neil Young to create his album Mirror Ball, released in 1995. They wrote an extra two tracks together that weren’t released on Mirror Ball, which instead the band decided to release on their Merkin Ball EP. You might catch the Youngian songwriting style on “I Got Id,” which tells the story of an anxious lover coming down from a manic state. The lead guitar is played by Young himself, making for an interesting twist on a Pearl Jam classic.
18. In Hiding – Yield (1998)
“I’m no longer overwhelmed and it seems so simple now…”
An anthem for introverts, Vedder has said that the lyrics to “In Hiding” are actually about writer Charles Bukowski, who was known to disappear for several days at a time to separate himself from the world and recharge. It’s easy to see how Vedder would relate to this after struggling in the spotlight for several years in the mid-90s. Unlike much of Pearl Jam’s earlier music, the overall tone of “In Hiding” is optimistic and uplifting, suggesting that Vedder and the band had finally found a way to process and address their struggle in a healthy way. Their 1998 album Yield features a few songs of this style – it has tracks describing the disgusting injustices of political negligence, and others about managing to live through it by embracing solitude, contemplation, and maturity.
17. Do The Evolution – Yield (1998)
“I can kill ‘cause in God I trust, yeah – it’s evolution, baby!”
Following their 5 year war with Ticketmaster throughout the mid 90s, Pearl Jam was left dissatisfied with the American justice system and the capitalist establishment, which they felt was exploiting their fans, who were without any powerful advocates. Many of the songs on Yield point vehemently at this injustice, while others show the band’s emotional maturity to rise above it. “Do The Evolution” is one of Pearl Jam’s harshest attacks on the establishment, with its aggressive groove and Vedder’s distorted vocals while he sings about pervasive bigotry. Be sure to check out the song’s music video, which puts together an animated history of millions of years of human evolution, leading up to bombs, chaos, and death.
16. Footsteps – Jeremy Single (1992)
“I did what I had to do, if there was a reason, it was you…”
Originally recorded as the finale of the Momma-Son trilogy and released as a B-side to their Jeremy single in 1992, “Footsteps” is one of the legendary songs featuring Eddie Vedder’s sheer vocal power, accompanied by Stone Gossard on acoustic guitar. The song was later released with a harmonica accompaniment on the 2003 B-sides collection, Lost Dogs. Though it’s a soft song, “Footsteps” is a stripped-down version of Pearl Jam’s sound, accomplished through Vedder’s growling vocals and Gossard’s harmonic darkness. Written in the early 90s, it foreshadows the band’s future acoustic explorations.
15. Last Exit – Vitalogy (1994)
“Let the sun shine, burn away my mask…”
Vitalogy’s tracks rock hard, but their aggression reflects Ed’s and Pearl Jam’s growing discomfort with their fame and lack of privacy from being in the spotlight continuously. “Last Exit” is a chaotic, fast song with verses in an extremely tense 5/4 meter with aggressive snare hits on every beat. Vedder’s lyrics hint as if he is three days from a suicide that, thankfully, never came. Perhaps it was by expressing and releasing these feelings through the music that the band was able to survive their overwhelming popularity. Several other grunge bands were not so fortunate.
14. Inside Job – Pearl Jam (2006)
“How I choose to feel, Is how I am… I will not lose my faith, It’s an inside job today…”
Pearl Jam’s eponymous 2006 album and touring reflected their growing disgust towards the American political establishment and the George W. Bush administration. But Avocado came at a time in their careers where the band had grown up – one critic said that they had risen above being boys to do “a man’s job of rocking.” The album tells stories of political unrest and injustice, often told through the perspectives of protagonists and accompanied by aggressive grooves. “Inside Job” closes the album in a much lighter tone. It is one of the band’s first tracks to extensively use a piano, combining it with acoustic guitars to form an ambient floatiness. It is also Pearl Jam’s first song to feature lyrics by guitarist Mike McCready, who describes the “Inside Job” as the work to look within oneself that is required to make artistry come to life. Eventually, the song rises to a powerful resolution, closing the album on an emphatic note.
13. Brain Of J – Yield (1998)
“The name they gave me – the name I’m letting go…”
Kicking off 1998’s Yield is a fast, straightforward rocker about socio-political issues. “Brain Of J” points to the loss of justice in American politics, with bigots standing beside the stars and stripes who have lost the Brain of JFK. It’s easy to see where their frustration is coming from, after their 5-year-long war with Ticketmaster led nowhere, thanks to the US justice system. Besides a few uplifting tracks on Yield about rising above the struggle, songs like “Brain Of J” show Pearl Jam’s emerging and continuous concerns about social and economic justice that would characterize their following few albums.
12. Hail, Hail – No Code (1996)
“I don’t want to think, I want to feel!”
While many of No Code’s tracks are experimental and mellow, “Hail, Hail” captures the powerful essence of the rocking tracks we expect to hear from Pearl Jam’s early years. Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament drive the song with Jack Iron’s aggressive beat to define its heavy sound. Vedder vocalizes the struggles of both sides trying to hold a relationship together, complemented by the intense groove from the rest of the band.
11. Light Years – Binaural (2000)
“We were but stones, your light made us stars…”
After their fiery start and fast rise to fame with their first few albums, Pearl Jam’s compositions grew increasingly intricate throughout the 90s, and their 2000 release Binaural reflected a new level of complexity. It’s amazing to listen to their growth over this era, and considering their journey, it’s beautiful to contemplate the story behind songs like “Light Years.” The second single from Binaural tells a story of loss, with the gentle sway and resolution of its rhythms. Instead of simply knocking your socks off, Pearl Jam invites you to join them in a deep meditation.
10. Given To Fly – Yield (1998)
“And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky, a human being that was given to fly…”
In 1998, Pearl Jam released Yield, following up their experimental and mellow No Code with a positive, classic rock-infused return to their grunge roots. Many of the album’s songs have the band’s characteristic heaviness, but with a new sophistication and uplifting tone. “Given To Fly” is the top single from Yield, written by McCready on a snowy day in Seattle, who describes it as a huge wave building and flowing. Vedder’s vocals are beautiful and inspiring as he sings about rising above criticism to do what you love – simply because you love.
9. Alive – Ten (1991)
“Now I can’t see, I just stare…”
Besides being one of the band’s best songs, “Alive” has a special place in Pearl Jam’s history. After the death of Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood in 1990, MLB’s Stone Gossard got together with Mike McCready and Jeff Ament to record a demo and find a new vocalist. The demo found its way to Eddie Vedder in San Diego, and “Alive” was the first song that he heard and wrote vocals for. The rest is history: Gossard, McCready, Ament, and Vedder, along with drummer Dave Krusen, formed Pearl Jam and released “Alive” as one of the top singles from their 13x platinum debut album, Ten, in 1991.
8. Go – Vs. (1993)
“Please don’t go on me…”
“Go” is pure delight for those who love to mosh and head-bang. Many of the tracks on 1993’s Vs. explored a rawer, heavier style than had been featured on Pearl Jam’s already-quite-raw-and-heavy debut album Ten. Vs. has many lyrical themes of abuse and mistreatment, and “Go” is the story of an abusive relationship as told from the side of the abuser. It opens the album, setting the fast paced and aggressive tone for the songs to come.
7. Immortality – Vitalogy (1994)
“Some die just to live…”
One of the most misunderstood songs in Pearl Jam’s repertoire, many fans believe that “Immortality” is about Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, whose suicide brought him more notoriety than ever and changed the grunge scene permanently. The song sounds eerily like one of Nirvana’s compositions, from its melodic intro and its acoustic guitars to its melodramatic Cobainian lyrics, but the outro vamp groove returns the song to Pearl Jam’s sonic signature. Vedder has said that the song is not about Cobain, but that he could easily see the parallels between their two situations, as both frontmen struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle and privacy in lieu of their popularity.
6. In My Tree – No Code (1996)
“Let’s say knowledge is a tree, it’s growing up just like me…”
Hats off to Jack Irons for the drums on “In My Tree,” whose thundering beats lay an intricate marching groove for the song to build off. As with many of the songs on No Code, “In My Tree” is a branching from Pearl Jam’s earlier sounds into leafy, experimental, laid-back, psychedelic territory, with mellow vocals and flanging tastefully applied in passages throughout. The song’s lyrics reflect the bliss of being alone above the storm, as the band surely felt while recording the respite album after years of aggressive touring and overwhelming publicity, not to mention their ongoing war with Ticketmaster.
5. Rearviewmirror – Vs. (1993)
“Saw things clearer once you were in my rearviewmirror…”
“Rearviewmirror” was one of the first songs recorded by Pearl Jam with Vedder on rhythm guitar, which he would later play more of on Vitalogy and beyond. He wrote the song completely, and the band loved it, recording it in its initial form. Centered around a bluesy riff that gets grunge-ified, “Rearviewmirror” is a classic power anthem. I can’t be the only person who’s shouted along to this song while flying down the highway – it’s a state of total release. Listen closely to Stone and Mike jamming perfectly together in the outro – it doesn’t get better than that!
4. Release – Ten (1991)
“I’ll ride the wave where it takes me, I’ll hold the pain – release me…”
A power ballad that is sure to bring tears to your eyes, “Release” is the living, breathing soul of Pearl Jam. Closing their anthemic grunge debut record Ten, “Release” delivers on its promise to free listeners from the tension that had been building throughout the album. Ed’s soaring vocals combine with Gossard and McCready’s guitars to form a thundering soundscape that will pull you out of your head and back into the present moment with an unbreakable clarity and new resolve. (The second half of the track, featuring psychedelic rhythms and textures, is actually a different song — it is the second half of the “Master/Slave” segment that opens and closes Ten.)
3. Black – Ten (1991)
“All the love gone bad turned my world to black, tattooed all I see, all that I am, all that I’ll be…”
“Black” is probably Pearl Jam’s most popular song, and for good reason. The emotional climax of Ten tells of reminiscing in the wake of a lost love. Nowhere in the Pearl Jam canon can Vedder’s lyrical genius and powerful, howling vocals be heard better than on “Black,” where he captures the essence of his artistry: transcending pain by turning it into visceral beauty. Rumor has it that you can still feel the emotive intensity of “Black” reverberating around the studio where it was recorded to this day. It’s still there on the recording, that’s for sure.
2. Present Tense – No Code (1996)
“It makes much more sense to live in the present tense…”
1996’s release No Code felt like Pearl Jam’s first breath of fresh air, finally getting a space of clarity after the intense pace and touring of the previous five years. The band branched out in many new experimental directions, and No Code explored themes of self-examination and growing up. “Present Tense” is one of the album’s most spacious tracks, taking listeners on a ride through a lullaby-like meditative trance and lyrics contemplating regret and acceptance, life and death. It finally opens up into one of the band’s all-time best jams, with a cosmic, murky rhythm groove by (at the time) drummer Jack Irons, before it eventually returns to its relaxed spaciousness.
1. Corduroy – Vitalogy (1994)
“Take my hand, not my picture…”
Everything you love about Pearl Jam is captured in “Corduroy,” from the dark, moody intro to its rocking riffs, melodic choruses, and powerful outro. Released on Vitalogy in 1994, it’s one of the album’s many songs describing the challenges of the band’s early popularity and fame. Vedder has described the song’s lyrics as being about a relationship between one person with a million other people — inherently one-sided and superficial. “Corduroy” tells Pearl Jam’s story as it was forged in the early 90s, capturing both their trademark high-power sound, plus the intense personal sentimentality and loving advocacy that would stamp their lives and careers.
So, there you have it, Pearl Jam’s Top 50 songs of All-Time, ranked by Super Fans from the Live on 4 Legs Podcast. Was your favorite track left off? Agree? Disagree? We want to hear from you! Leave your thoughts below.