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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Pearl Jam Albums

Your picks include ‘Yield,’ ‘No Code’ and ‘Ten’

Eddie Vedder Pearl Jam Weekend Rock

Paul Natkin/Wire Image

Pearl Jam are returning from a four-year recording hiatus this October with Lightning Bolt, their 10th studio album. (Bizarrely, an actual lighting bolt caused a long rain delay at their Wrigley Field gig last week.) Many critics probably thought that Pearl Jam wouldn't make it to 10 albums. Their debut album Ten sold millions upon millions of copies; it was an impossible level to reach ever again, and Eddie Vedder seemed particularly ill-suited for mega-fame. By 1996, most of their grunge peers were either dead, hobbled by drugs or parting ways with their groups.

Against all odds, Pearl Jam continue to release great work and amass a huge cult following with marathon concerts that seem to only get better as the band ages. We asked our readers to select their 10 favorite Pearl Jam albums last week. Click through to see the results. 

By ANDY GREENE

Pearl Jam Live on Two Legs

Courtesy of Epic Records

10. ‘Live on Two Legs’ 

Without a doubt, Pearl Jam are one of the best live bands to emerge in the past 25 years. But for some reason, it took them over eight years to release a proper live album. Thankfully, Live on Two Legs was worth the wait. The 16-track album draws from the band's 1998 summer and fall tour, which was their first outing with new drummer Matt Cameron. The set wisely skips obvious hits like "Jeremy" and "Alive" in favor of deep cuts like "MFC" and "Off He Goes." Nearly every song on here is superior to its studio version. The only flaw is that it's only a single disc and doesn't capture the scope of a single great concert. The band must have been happy with the results, though: two years later, they began releasing live albums from every single concert on their tours. 

Pearl Jam Riot Act

Courtesy of Epic Records

9. ‘Riot Act’ 

Pearl Jam were in a dark place when they began cutting Riot Act in early 2002. They were still reeling from the accidental death of nine fans at the 2000 Roskilde Festival, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks were just five months in the past. The result is a rather dark album that was released with little hype. No song on the album sounds even remotely like a commercial single, though songs like "I Am Mine," "Love Boat Captain" and "Thumbing My Way" are quite beautiful. George W. Bush was near the peak of his popularity, but Eddie had the balls to write "Bu$hleaguer," a scathing indictment of the president who was "born on third, thinks he got a triple." The disc also marked the first effort with organist Kenneth "Boom" Gaspar; he's been with them ever since. The group took a four-year recording break after Riot Act, and when they emerged, they seemed a little less afraid of pop hooks. 

Pearl Jam

Courtesy of Epic Records

8. ‘Pearl Jam’

It took Pearl Jam 16 years to release a self-titled album. Released after a four-year break, Pearl Jam is a collection of 13 songs that are hookier and more aggressive than anything they'd released in the 21st century. "I feel like we've been handing in our work on time, and we've been getting A's and B's, but we haven't really raised our hand and spoken out in class," Eddie Vedder told Rolling Stone in 2006. "This record is us speaking out in class." They even agreed to break their longstanding rule and appear in two music videos for the album.

Pearl Jam is hardly a light album, though. The songs deal with everything from the war in Iraq to the destruction of the planet. Fans and critics loved it, hailing it as their best release of the 2000s. 

Pearl Jam Binaural

Courtesy of Epic Records

7. ‘Binaural’ 

Binaural marked a major turning point for Pearl Jam. It was their first time working without producer Brendan O'Brien since their first disc, their first album of the 2000s and their first album to focus more on atmosphere than strong hooks. Many of the casual fans they picked up from their earliest albums became disinterested by this point. "Soon Forget" is a solo ukulele song strongly inspired by the Who's "Blue, Red and Grey," while "Breakerfall" is highly reminiscent of the Who's "I Can See for Miles." None of these songs connected on radio, and they didn't make any videos. Instead, they went on an extremely long world tour. 

Pearl Jam Backspacer

Courtesy of Monkeywrench Records

6. ‘Backspacer’

Pearl Jam's 2009 LP Backspacer is the sound of a band emerging from a long funk. Recording started weeks after Barack Obama took the oath of office, and it reflects the optimism of the time. Cut in Atlanta with producer Brendan O'Brien, the band actually managed to get some songs in rotation on rock radio, which is no easy feat for a veteran act. It even debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts, though it quickly tumbled after all the hardcore fans scooped it up. Still, great singles like "Got Some" and "The Fixer" grabbed the attention of many fans who had given up on Pearl Jam sometime around 1999. By 2009, the band just didn't have anything more to prove. They'd proven they could thrive without videos or any other conventional promotional tools. It was time to have fun and do whatever felt right. 

Pearl Jam No Code

Courtesy of Epic Records

5. ‘No Code’

Grunge was pretty much dead by the summer of 1996. Soundgarden were running on fumes, Kurt Cobain was two years gone, Alice in Chains were through and even Stone Temple Pilots were melting down. Heroin played no small role in the final three situations. Pearl Jam stood alone, and they had backed far away from the spotlight. The band refused to tour with Ticketmaster venues and they did very few interviews. Fame was starting to seem like a prison for Eddie Vedder, and he poured much of his frustration into the songs on No Code. The 63-second "Lukin" tells the tale of a psychotic stalker who broke into his home. The band was also falling apart, and bassist Jeff Ament nearly walked out of the sessions. Despite the tension, the band produced a pretty remarkable album, even if it lacked a pop song like "Better Man" or "Daughter" that the label was clearly craving. 

Pearl Jam Yield

Courtesy of Epic Records

4. ‘Yield’

Pearl Jam called their 1998 album Yield for a very simple reason: they were sick of fighting. They were sick of fighting Ticketmaster, so they were willing to play venues that had contracts with the ticketing giant. They were sick of fighting their label about music videos, so they let Spawn creator Todd McFarlane make an animated video for "Do the Evolution." They were sick of Eddie Vedder dominating the songwriting process, so the whole band functioned like a democracy again. The result is hardly a super-commercial disc, but it is poppier than their recent work.

The "Do the Evolution" video shows cartoon monkeys getting tortured, but it was still a video and MTV played it. The next few albums should have been called Never Mind That Whole 'Yield' Thing because they were even less mainstream than anything that came before. 

Pearl Jam Vs.

Courtesy of Epic Records

3. ‘Vs.’

Pearl Jam were arguably the biggest rock band on the planet when they started to record Vs. in March 1993, but they had only about 20 songs in their repertoire. They'd spent the last two years playing those songs over and over and over on a relentless tour, and they were quite ready to lay down some new material. The pressure was on in a huge way. They made their debut LP as complete unknowns, and now everyone in the industry wondered what they were going to do next.

The album did not disappoint. Nearly every song – including "Animal," "Daughter," "Go" and "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" – is an absolute classic. The band was in amazing form from the constant touring, and producer Brendan O'Brien was a huge asset in the studio. The disc sold an amazing 1.3 million copies in its first 10 days of release. More than that, it proved to all the doubters that Pearl Jam were going to be around for a long time. 

Vitalogy Pearl Jam

Courtesy of Epic Records

2. ‘Vitalogy’

Vitalogy was the first Pearl Jam album with a rather difficult birth. Eddie Vedder's role in the creative process had grown significantly from their earliest days, and members of the band started to resent his role as the final decider. The band fought like crazy in the studio. Stone Gossard nearly quit, Mike McCready went to rehab for cocaine abuse and drummer Dave Abbruzzese was fired before the album even came out.

Fortunately, it's hard to discern many of these issues on the album. "Corduroy" does show Vedder's growing resentment with his role as the Generation X poster child, but "Spin the Black Circle," "Not for You," Nothingman" and many of the others sound like they could have appeared on Vs. The album was a huge seller, but it didn't reach the levels of the first two albums.  

Pearl Jam Ten

Courtesy of Epic Records

1. ‘Ten’

Unsurprisingly, this wasn't even a close poll. Ten blew everything else out of the water by a mile. Many of the band's most beloved songs, from "Jeremy" to "Even Flow" to "Alive" and "Black," are from this disc. Most of these songs were literally written within weeks of the band coming together. The band even created a demo for "Alive" before they all met face-to-face. They sent Eddie Vedder an instrumental rendition of the song, and while surfing one day, he sketched out a song inspired by actual events from his painful childhood. The band loved what they heard and they brought him into the fold.

Along with Nirvana's Nevermind (released one month afterwards), Ten ushered in the grunge revolution. It's been said about a billion times, but it did really make bands like Motley Crue and Poison seems like jokes, and Ten has sold over 10 million copies. Pearl Jam has had tons of success in the two decades since it came out, but every time they play the opening notes of "Black" or "Alive," the arena goes absolutely insane. It left a really, really big impression. They will never make another record this big. No rock band ever will.