Pearl Jam: 15 Insanely Great Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know - Rolling Stone
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15 Insanely Great Pearl Jam Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know

Listen to lesser-known gems from the band’s catalog

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam performs in Mountain View, California.

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Most everyone knows Pearl Jam’s early hits like “Jeremy” and “Better Man,” and their first few albums sold in the millions. But starting in the mid-1990s, they did everything possible to back away from the spotlight. Albums like Binaural and Riot Act came and went without much notice, even as their massive cult fanbase grew to insane proportions. They recorded a ton of amazing songs after No Code, and here’s a guide to 15 songs that only the hardcore fans love. (A special shout-out to Pearl Jam super fans Hillary and Kate for helping with the song selection.)

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7. ‘Breakerfall’

The lead-off song on Binaural wasn't a single, but the lightning-fast song has become a fan favorite and infuses shows with incredible energy each time they break it out. Had it appeared on Ten or Vitalogy this could have easily been a hit, but the band was in a very different place by the summer of 2000. 

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8. ‘In Hiding’

This stand-out track from Yield was inspired by the work of Charles Bukowski, who often locked himself way for long periods of time so he could work in absolute solitude. “It’s about taking a fast from life,” Edder Vedder has said. “Doing anything to get yourself back in touch with something real.”

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9. ‘Big Wave’

Pearl Jam returned from a four-year break (the longest of their career) in 2006 with Pearl Jam, an album that fans call “Avocado” due to the cover art. “Big Wave,” a Jeff Ament tune, doesn’t contain many lyrical mysteries: It’s about Vedder’s love of surfing. It even appeared in the soundtrack to the forgotten 2007 animated film Surf’s Up.

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10. ‘Strangest Tribe’

Released as a holiday single to Ten Club members in 1999, this song is so crazily obscure they’ve never even played it live. Written by Stone Gossard, it’s a mellow acoustic tune that is one of their few songs that can be considered a Christmas song, though it’s really about driving through a snowy landscape in the early morning.

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11. ‘Bee Girl’

This might be the most 1990s-themed song of all time. It's Pearl Jam actually singing about the Bee Girl from Blind Melon's "No Rain" video. They cut the song on Rockline in October 1993, not long after the video was on MTV pretty much 24/7. The silly acoustic song begins with the lines, "Bee girl, you're gonna die. You don't wanna be famous, you wanna be shy." The actual bee girl, Heather DeLoach, grew up to be quite fine. Sadly, Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon died just two years after Pearl Jam debuted "Bee Girl." 

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12. ‘Come Back’

Even by Pearl Jam standards, this is one bummer of a song. The story is somewhat vague, but it’s clearly about someone consumed by grief over the loss of a loved one – and this is from Pearl Jam’s supposedly happy comeback album in 2006. It’s very far from stadium rock, but they still had the guts to perform it during their rain-soaked Wrigley Field show this past summer.

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13. ‘The End’

It's easy to imagine this sad love song on one of Eddie Vedder's solo albums, but it wraps up their 2009 LP Backspacer. They cut it with a mini string section, which later joined the group on select shows on the Backspacer tour. The best performance of this comes from Philadelphia in October of 2009. 

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14. ‘Leatherman’

The title may sound like this number is a lost Village People song or the missing follow-up to "Better Man" and "Nothingman," but this actually a B side to "Given to Fly." Oddly enough, it's about an actual 19th-century vagabond who traveled an annual circuit from New York to Connecticut in a handmade leather suit and lived in caves. He spoke little beyond grunts, but locals recognized him on his annual sojourn and named him the Leatherman.

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15. ‘Sweet Lew’

Jeff Ament wrote this tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabar for Binaural, but the band ultimately decided it was simply too strange. It’s a shame, because it would have given the album some much-needed levity. Sample lyric: “I grew up trying to copy you, Bruce Lee and kung-fu.” You can’t get much better than that.

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