Monday, June 24, 2024

Great Magazine Reads: First impressions don’t always matter, like when it comes to Pearl Jam

I was always much more on the side of the Nirvana/Mudhoney/Screaming Trees family tree of 1990s Seattle grunge. I flat-out didn't like Pearl Jam for a long time. But over the years, I've acquired a taste for the Hall of Famers and even learned to appreciate the band's earliest, most popular work. 

I'll likely never want to read a full book about Eddie Vedder and the gang, but the legendary rock journalist David Fricke's cover feature in the May issue of MOJO Magazine is just about the right amount I need. The article celebrates 40 years since the first Green River demos. Here are the eight most interesting things I learned and my 39 favorite Pearl Jam songs.

  • Sub Pop Records called Green River the first grunge band. Mark Arm of Mudhoney was the singer/guitarist alongside future Pearl Jammers Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. The group had all kinds of troubles, including a tour-cancelling van breakdown, almost no audience at CBGB in New York, and broken promises from label reps. I still love a handful of their songs, including “Swallow My Pride.” Goddard and Ament were soon headed to their new band Mother Love Bone.
  • Vedder moved to Seattle from San Diego and wasn’t very appreciated for a while by the tight-knit musician scene and even his new bandmates’ other friends. 
  • Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was integral to acclimating Vedder into the scene, taking him out for beers, talking, and helping the newbie in very kind ways. Of course they would go on to collaborate on the classic “Hunger Strike” in Temple of the Dog.
  • Vedder had been born in Evanston, Illinois and took his mother’s maiden name. His parents had divorced. He sang in a bunch of failed bands but a tape of Ament and Gossard’s music landed in his hands and he wrote lyrics to it, sang over the music, and sent it to them. 
  • In 1991, Ten (named after NBA star Mookie Blaylock’s uniform number) was number 2 on the album chart for a month but could never break past Billy Ray Cyrus.
  • MOJO ranks 1996’s No Code as the band’s greatest album, which is interesting because it’s the one I didn’t have in my collection until now. It’s definitely not my favorite, although “Mankind” is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs and sounds a lot like the music I was making in bands back then.
  • Nine young men died in a mosh pit crush at Roskilde in 2000 while Pearl Jam played “Daughter.” The band eventually decided to continue on in the spirit of hoping to find solutions to the world’s problems.
  • Vedder found the experience of making and trading bracelets with his daughter when they attended a Taylor Swift concert a lot like the long-ago days of the punk community.
And, drum roll, here are my favorite 39 Pearl Jam songs. Any suggestions for a 40th are more than welcome:

39. Present Tense (No Code, 1996)
38. Seven O’Clock (Gigaton, 2020)
37. The End (Backspacer, 2009)
36. Once (Ten, 1991)
35. Off He Goes (No Code, 1996)
34. Comes Then Goes (Gigaton, 2020)
33. Retrograde (Gagarin, 2020)
32. Upper Hand (Dark Matter, 2024)
31. I Am Mine (Riot Act, 2002)
30. Light Years (Binaural, 2000)
29. Dissident (Vs., 1993)
28. Buckle Up (Gigaton, 2020)
27. Nothingman (Vitalogy, 1994)
26. Parachutes (Pearl Jam, 2006)
25. Worldwide Suicide (Pearl Jam, 2006) 
24. Wreckage (Dark Matter, 2024)
23. Just Breathe (Backspacer, 2009)
22. The Fixer (Backspacer, 2009)
21. Something Special (Dark Matter, 2024)
20. Got Some (Backspacer, 2009)
19. Wishlist (Yield, 1998)
18. Given to Fly (Yield, 1998)
17. Sirens (Lightning Bolt, 2013)
16. Yellow Ledbetter (Jeremy single, 1992)
15. Jeremy (Ten, 1991)
14. Sometimes (No Code, 1996)
13. Black (Ten, 1991)
12. Last Kiss (Last Kiss single, 1999)
11. Breath (Singles soundtrack, 1992)
10. Rearviewmirror (Vs., 1993)
09. Crazy Mary (Sweet Relief compilation, 1993)
08. Alive (Ten, 1991)
07. Even Flow (Ten, 1991)
06. Better Man (Vitalogy, 1994)
05. Daughter (Vs., 1993)
04. Corduroy (Vitalogy, 1994)
03. Mankind (No Code, 1996)
02. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (Vs., 1993)
01. State of Love and Trust (Singles soundtrack, 1992)

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