Pearl Jam was born from the ashes of a spectacular glam rock flameout at the dawn of the “grunge” era alongside other Pacific Northwest-based acts like Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. Pegged by the media early on their run as having the least “indie cred” and most commercial aspirations of all of the aforementioned acts, they’ve established themselves over the course of the last 20 years as one of the most enduring and cred-worthy acts in the entire music industry.
In 2011, director Cameron Crowe released the feature-length documentary Pearl Jam 20, which covers the ups and downs of this band’s wildly successful and immensely turbulent career to date. Tomorrow night, VH1 Classic will air PJ20 in its entirety beginning at 10PM/9C. In honor of that broadcast, we’d like to present you with PEARL JAM TKTK.
1. PEARL JAM COMES “ALIVE”
“Alive” was Pearl Jam’s introduction to the world, and an immediate testament to the power of the band. The track was their first single off of their 13-times-platinum debut LP, Ten, and although it never charted very well (its peak was #16 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks), it was ubiquitous on MTV and in college dormitories. With the notable exception of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it is the track that probably best embodies the “grunge” sound.
2. “THOUGHTS ARRIVE LIKE BUTTERFLIES”
Pearl Jam attempted to film a more “artistic” video for their second single “Even Flow,” but the footage never saw the light of day. Instead, the band turned to footage director Josh Taft had shot of them playing at Seattle’s Moore Theater in January of 1992. Frontman Eddie Vedder was particularly energized this night, and he scaled the lighting fixtures at the venue, which culminated in a massive trust fall into the arms of the band’s adoring fans. It’s a memorable moment in music video history, and one that sealed Vedder’s reputation as a lead singer that gave his everything during live performances.
3. “JEREMY SPOKE IN CLASS TODAY”
Having failed once in their attempt to make a video outside of the performance clip genre, Pearl Jam turned to director Mark Pellington to concept a video execution for their track “Jeremy.” The result was nothing less than exceptional on both a commercial and artistic level. The video won four awards, including Best Video Of The Year, at the 1993 VMAs, and catapulted the band into another plane of recogntion, culturally speaking, a stratosphere that the band would spend the rest of its career trying to escape from.
4. “THEY’RE GOING HUNGRY”
Before Pearl Jam, guitarist Stone Gossard and bass player Jeff Ament were in a band called Mother Love Bone, fronted by the wildly charismatic drug addict Andrew Wood. Wood died of a drug overdose before the band became famous, but in 1991, the members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam formed a supergroup called Temple Of The Dog that paid homage to Wood’s memory and legacy. In the summer of 1992, their label released “Hunger Strike”—which featured vocals from both Chris Cornell AND Eddie Vedder— as a single. The song was a smash on both radio and MTV, and arguably helped introduce mainstream audiences to Soundgarden.
5. THE SINGLES SOUNDTRACK ENCAPSULATES THE SEATTLE SOUND
If not for the overwhelming success of the Singles soundtrack, which was released in June of 1992, Cameron Crowe’s movie might never have been released. The film was languishing in the studio system until the soundtrack’s release, but as soon as that record dropped, the film was given a release date. Pearl Jam had two songs, “Breathe” and “State Of Love & Trust,” on the album that eventually went double platinum.
6. STONED IN SINGLES
In addition to being the primary featured artists on the soundtrack, director Cameron Crowe cast Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard in the film as members of Citizen Dick, a band fronted by Matt Dillon’s egocentric character. They have multiple speaking parts in the film, but our favorite is this scene of the dudes stoned out of their gourd watching nature programming. (Sorry that this clip is in a foreign language!)
7. THE INFAMOUS SINGLES RELEASE PARTY
Pearl Jam was a band that was never afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, and this clip from PJ20 above illustrates one of the first moments that the general public realized they had teeth. PJ was booked to play a special MTV concert to promote the release of Singles, which took place during a time when the band was feeling very fatigued. The result? Lead singer Eddie Vedder got SUPER drunk, spouted a bunch of profanities, and the show went down in history because of it.
8. KURT AND EDDIE HUG IT OUT
The two biggest bands of the grunge era were Pearl Jam and Nirvana. The music press of the time pitted them against each other, branding Pearl Jam as the commercial sellouts and Nirvana as the anarchistic good guys in the Battle of Grunge. Despite the tons and tons of press suggesting they were mortal enemies, the truth of the matter is that Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain barely knew each other but held a good deal of respect for one another. In this memorable scene from PJ20, you can see Kurt and Eddie hugging each other in a warm embrace while backstage at the 1992 Video Music Awards.
9. NO ONE KNOWS THE WORDS BUT EVERYONE SINGS ALONG ANYWAY
Just how popular were Pearl Jam in 1992? SO popular that millions of their fans tracked down an import single of “Jeremy” strictly so they could hear a B-side called “Yellow Ledbetter.” (Remember, kids, this was in an era where the Internet did not yet exist.) No one knew any of the words that Eddie Vedder was mumbling in the song, but that didn’t stop the track from becoming one of the most beloved in the entire Pearl Jam catalog, and also from entering the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart despite never officially being released as a single.
10. PEARL JAM “Vs.” THE WORLD
There was little doubt that Pearl Jam was the biggest band in the world when their sophomore LP, Vs., was released in October of 1993. It sold an astonishing 1.3 million copies during its first week of release, a record-setting figure that no one dreamt possible at the time. However, instead of embracing their public, the band did all they could to retreat from the spotlight; they didn’t release a single music video from the album, instead choosing to connect directly with the fans during a massively successful tour that fall.
11. TAKIN’ THEIR SHOW TO CAPITOL HILL
Pearl Jam became infuriated with one of the biggest corporate giants of the era, Ticketmaster, when they found out that the monolithic monopoly were adding service fees to their concert ticket prices. In an unprecedented move, the band boycotted Ticketmaster, which scuttled a planned summer 1994 tour, but allowed Jeff Ament (left) and Stone Gossard (right) time to testify in front of Congress about Ticketmaster’s policies and practices. This battle lasted for years and certainly cost Pearl Jam some valuable exposure (not to mention moolah), but more importantly, this fight solidified Pearl Jam as being an act that is willing to pay the ultimate price and go to war for their principles and their fans.
12. “THIS IS NOT FOR YOU”
Pearl Jam were at their angriest, artistically, on 1994’s Vitalogy. The fight with Congress and with their own fame left them embattled and embittered, which they ultimately used as creative fuel. This blistering performance of the band’s song “Not For You” on Saturday Night Live from April of 1994 came a full five months before Vitalogy’s release, but showcases the band hitting on all creative cylinders.
13. PEARL JAM HIDES BEHIND THE MIRROR BALL
Pearl Jam often paid tribute to the pioneering spirit of Neil Young during the first few years of their career; their cover of his “Keep On Rocking In The Free World” was a staple of their live shows. So when it came time to make a follow up to 1994’s Vitalogy, the band decided to make a hard pivot and record with Neil Young himself. The album is recognized as one of the best of Young’s storied career, and also helped cleanse their PJ fanbase of a lot of dirty white baseball cap sporting bros.
14. “I DON’T THINK THIS MEANS ANYTHING”
Pearl Jam won a 1996 Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for their track “Spin The Black Circle,” which presented Eddie Vedder with one of those rare opportunities to speak before a worldwide audience. He used the opportunity to lambast the Grammys as a sham, declaring “I don’t know what this means, I don’t think it means anything.” Unsurprisingly, the band hasn’t won any other Grammys since, but we’re safely assuming that no one in the band gives a rat’s ass.
15. “WISH LIST” ON LETTERMAN
Distracted by their ongoing fight with Ticketmaster and success in general, the band hit a bit of a creative morass from 1996 to 1997. However, when it came time to release Yield in February of 1998, the band headed to the Ed Sullivan Theater to perform “Wish List” on the 1,000th episode of Late Night With David Letterman. The song showcased a decidedly more mellow Pearl Jam, a direction that the band’s now-solidified fanbase accepted with open arms.
16. “OH WHERE OH WHERE CAN MY BABY BE?”
For well over 20 years now, Pearl Jam has treated the members of its Ten fan club to an exclusive Christmas single as a way of giving thanks to their ride or die audience. In 1998, that Christmas single included a cover of Wayne Cochran’s 1961 song “Last Kiss,” one of the lesser known teen tragedy songs of that era (perhaps best embodied by “Leader Of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las). Much like their experience with “Yellow Ledbetter,” this song turned into a monster commerical smash, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, despite not ever being officially released as a single. It’s the most popular single in the band’s history.
17. AMERICA: A TRIBUTE TO HEROES
In the wake of the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001, all of the major broadcast networks agreed to simultaneously air a benefit program called America: A Tribute To Heroes. On it, Eddie Vedder performed his solo song “The Long Road,” which he had written for the film Dead Man Walking, alongside Mike McCready and Neil Young. It was one of the most powerful moments in an evening chock full of them, and a performance that Pearl Jam aficionados will never forget.
18. PEARL JAM FINALLY TELLS THEIR STORY
Pearl Jam has always been the kind of band that lets their music do the talking. They’re generally loathe to do interviews about their material, but the band’s 2006 appearance on VH1 Storytellers is a notable exception. (We wish we still had the rights to air this program, but we’re guessing you can hunt it down somewhere online if you REALLY want to watch it [which you should]).
19. PEARL JAM TWENTY
Pearl Jam’s incredible legacy is lovingly documented by director Cameron Crowe in this 2011 film, which will air on VH1 Classic tomorrow night, Saturday October 12, at 10PM/9C. It’s a must-see for any Pearl Jam fan, and one of the better rockumentaries of the last decade in general.
20. THE HEAVENS OPEN UP AT WRIGLEY FIELD
It all comes full circle in this clip from the band’s instantly epic concert at Wrigley Field on July 19, 2013. Fans packed the baseball stadium and were forced to endure a multi-hour rain delay, which Pearl Jam thanked them for by putting on one of the most amazing live shows in their storied career. This clip above is of an emotional Eddie Vedder singing “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns,” a Mother Love Bone track.