Most days, my musical tastes skew more toward the big hair and neon of the ’80s. But being a teenager in the ’90s definitely influenced my musical tastes. I mean, it was practically considered heresy to be a young adult during that decade and not enjoy The Grunge. I donned some flannel at times (as a “nod to the crisp Seattle weather”), and my very moody teenaged mind felt a real connection to the angry, anti-social, existential, poignant lyrics that came from the bands offering up the Seattle Sound. I enjoyed it all, from Nirvana to Alice in Chains. But the band that stood out amongst the rest for me was Pearl Jam. From the hardest rock jams to the deepest, darkest ballads, they held the top spot in my stereo for a long time. It’s hard to believe they are celebrating their 20th year as a band, because that means I’m definitely not 20 anymore. They will be embarking on an anniversary tour at the end of summer…too bad it’s all in Canada, save for one show in Wisconsin. I might just have to make the trek to the Great White North for the occasion.
I remember the first time I ever heard the words Pearl Jam. I was at a party at my friend Mindy’s house and we were watching videos on MTV. Yes, videos. “Alive” came on and we laughed at what a stupid name Pearl Jam was. Then we listened to the song and thought, “huh, that’s pretty awesome.” Then we looked at Eddie Vedder and thought, “huh, he’s pretty hot.” The more I heard it (and it got a lot of air play), the more I loved it. And it just went on from there. The album Ten was definitely the backdrop for many scenes in my later high school years, and I am instantly transported back to my college days whenever I hear a song from Vs. Pearl Jam’s appeal continues to endure for me. I go through phases where I listen to them almost exclusively — maybe partly for nostalgia’s sake, but mostly because the music is just so undeniably awesome. So, in honor of the band’s 20th birthday, here are my favorite Pearl Jam tunes.
“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” (Vs., 1993). Hands down the best Pearl Jam song ever. Arguably one of the best songs ever. It is so beautiful and so sad. “I change but not changing at all/small town predicts my fate/perhaps that’s what no one wants to see.” Gets me every time.
“Corduroy” (Vitalogy, 1998). This is a close second in my Pearl Jam rankings. I could never, ever get tired of this one. One of the great intros to a song — I love to listen to it on a run, because the build-up is so intense.
“Alive” (Ten, 1991). It was my first exposure to the band, and it’s still a classic. I was always intrigued by the story of how Eddie Vedder came to learn the man he thought his father was his stepfather. In the days before Wikipedia, it wasn’t that easy to get this kind of background scoop on a song, so I think the story just got passed along orally, like a Native American folktale.
“Jeremy” (Ten). I must have listened to this tape a million times. This song scared me to death, mostly because of the video featuring a possessed, maniacal Eddie Vedder and a classroom bloodbath. But then it also makes me laugh, because my then-boyfriend thought it was “Jeremy Spaulding in class today.”
“Rearviewmirror” (Vs.). I love that you can’t listen to this song without turning it up as loud as possible. It just rocks.
“State of Love and Trust” (Singles soundtrack, 1992). Another great guitar-driven tune, but I think I mostly just love it because I was obsessed with the movie Singles and had an acute desire to be Bridget Fonda. I had the baby doll dresses and Doc Marten boots and everything.
“The Fixer” (Backspacer, 2009). I stopped keeping up with Pearl Jam after 1998’s Yield, but their ’90s catalog will always have a prominent place in my iTunes (and my heart). I do really like this song from their most recent album, though. Eddie and the gang have still got it.
Honorable Mentions: Animal, Yellow Ledbetter, Black, Release
I want to know your favorites!