Top 25 Pearl Jam Songs of All-Time
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 25 Top Pearl Jam Songs of All-Time, Ranked.
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 25 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.