Top Ten Pearl Jam Songs

I’ve been following Pearl Jam for the past 25 years. I was a freshman in high school when they burst onto the rock / grunge / alternative scene in 1991. In honor of their recent induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, here are my Top Ten Favorite Pearl Jam Songs:

  1. “Black” from Ten. This has always been my favorite PJ song. Dark, brooding, evocative, emotional…it checks all the boxes. Most meaningful line: “And now my bitter hands / cradle broken glass / of what was everything.”
  2. “Better Man” from Vitalogy. Never released as a single, “Better Man” is one of the band’s most popular songs. As with most of their most emotionally resonant songs, this one comes from Vedder’s relationships — in particular, his stepfather. Most meaningful line: “She dreams in color / she dreams in red / can’t find a better man.”
  3. “Release” from PJ20 soundtrack. Vedder’s ode to his deceased father is cathartic for me. Most meaningful line: “I am myself / Like you somehow.”
  4. “Nothingman” from VitalogyThere are probably many ways to interpret this song, but as this album was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school, I can’t help but think of it in light of my mother’s death. Most meaningful line: “Once divided / nothing left to subtract.” Do you know that feeling?
  5. “Just Breathe” from BackspacerWith age, PJ’s perspective has shifted to more hopeful reflections. The best of these cuts is 2009’s “Just Breathe.” Most meaningful line: “Yeah, I’m a lucky man / To count on both hands the ones I love.” I know that feeling, too.
  6. “Dissident” from Vs. The guitar work here is still some of the band’s finest. Most meaningful line: “When she couldn’t hold, she folded / A dissident is here.”
  7. “Come Back” from Pearl Jam. Another entry from the band’s second decade. Gossard’s outro is just awesome. Most meaningful line: “And sometimes you’re there / And you’re talking back to me / Come the morning I could swear you’re next to me.”
  8. “Daughter” from Vs. Most meaningful line: “She holds the hand that holds her down / she will rise above.”
  9. “Yellow Ledbetter.” How did this song not make the final cut for Ten? And how good were those recording sessions? The lyrics to this one are somewhat oblique, but that’s due to the likely subject material (the loss of a loved one in an overseas conflict). Most meaningful line: “I don’t, I don’t know whether I was the boxer or the bag”
  10. “Nothing As It Seems” from Binaural. This one may not be as well known as some of the “hits” on this list, but it’s a fantastic song, demonstrating the band’s staying power. Most meaningful line: “Occupations overthrown / A whisper through a megaphone.”
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