Hardcore Pearl Jam fans absolutely love the deep cuts. They may tepidly applaud "Even Flow" and "Jeremy" in concert, but when the band kicks into something like "Sweet Lew" or "Of the Girl" they absolutely lose their minds. Pearl Jam know this and sprinkle their show with rarities, B-sides, covers and even the occasional song by Temple of the Dog and Mother Love Bone. As the band gears up for a South American tour and a one-off U.S. date at the Global Citizens Festival, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite deep cuts. Tabulating the ballots required some judgement calls. Votes for "Black" were discounted because it's simply too famous even though it was never a legit single. We were on the fence about a certain "Jeremy" B-side with nearly indecipherable lyrics, but we ultimately included it. Here are the results.
Twenty years ago, Pearl Jam got the amazing opportunity to work as Neil Young's backing band on a new album called Mirror Ball that they recorded in just a couple of weeks. Eddie Vedder's involvement was very minimal as he was dealing with a major stalking problem, and with Young handling all the lead vocals and songwriting he didn't have much of a role to play anyway. Months after Mirror Ball hit shelves, Pearl Jam followed it up with a two-song EP called Merkin Ball that did feature two Vedder tracks. The haunting "Long Road," which features organ by Young, was an opportunity for the Pearl Jam frontman to vent some of his sorrow over recent events. The most memorable live version was on September 21st, 2001 at the America: A Tribute to Heroes 9/11 telethon, where it took on a whole new meaning.
The other song on Merkin Ball is "I Got Id," a song that's credited to Pearl Jam but actually just features Vedder and drummer Jack Irons along with Young on lead guitar and Brendan O'Brien on bass. Originally titled "I Got Shit," they changed it to "I Got Id" after Epic balked at releasing a single with a swear word in the title. Released at a time when Pearl Jam were still one of the biggest bands in the world, it peaked at Number Seven on the Billboard Hot 100. That could disqualify it as a deep cut, but you hear it so rarely these days we're gonna count it.
The Beatles influence is quite strong on this Vitalogy track, which was primarily written by Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. "'Tremor Christ' seemed to write itself," Gossaid said. "It was just a riff-and-a-half, basically. On a muggy, beautiful New Orleans afternoon we came into a very cool studio and it poured out." They put it on the B-side to "Spin the Black Circle" and watched it reach Number 16 on the Modern Rock chart. It's become something of a live rarity these days, only popping up three times in the past five years.
By the time that Pearl Jam released No Code in 1996, Vedder was quite sick of being a rock star. The last straw came when a deranged fan drove her car right into his house, a horrific event he chronicles in the No Code track "Lukin." His desire for peace and privacy was made quite clear in the lyrics to "In My Tree." "Newspapers matter not to me," he sang. "No more crowbars to my head/I'm trading stories with the leaves instead." Instead of a tree, Vedder actually began spending much of his time in Hawaii.
Pearl Jam's long-awaited 1993 LP, Vs., wrapped up with the reflective "Indifference," a subdued song about holding onto convictions in the face of adversity. The group had been around for less than three years at this point, but they were already being hailed as the saviors of rock & roll. At the same time, they are also being labelled sell-outs by the Seattle rock community. The whole thing was beginning to make them highly uncomfortable. "I will hold the candle 'til it burns up my arm," Vedder moans. "Oh, I'll keep takin' punches until their will grows tired." They've played the song a lot in recent years, and it never fails to deliver.
This standout track from Pearl Jam's 1998 LP, Yield, was inspired by writer Charles Bukowski. "Sean Penn gave me a quote that Bukowski had said to him once, and it was written directly from that," Vedder said. "He told Sean that sometimes he just has to check out for a few days — no people, no nothing. So he goes in hiding, then he gets back and has the will to live once again." The song wasn't released as a single, but it still reached Number 13 on the Modern Rock chart. It pops up a handful of times each tour.
Pearl Jam were no longer the hot, young band when No Code hit shelves in the summer of 1996. MTV wasn't breathlessly covering their every move and rock radio had moved onto groups like Bush and Oasis. As a result, No Code was the first Pearl Jam LP to not make a huge splash upon arrival. Maybe that's why the hardcore fans have clung to it so hard over the years, and why the group decided to surprise the crowd at a 2014 gig in Illinois by playing it straight through. One of the strongest tracks on the LP is "Present Tense," an anthemic ode to living in the moment. "You can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets," Vedder sings. "Or you can come to terms and realize/You're the only one who cannot forgive yourself."
"Footsteps" has a rather unusual history. The music first appeared on the Temple of Dog album, though it was called "Times of Trouble" and had different lyrics. The group then debuted an unplugged version called "Footsteps" at a 1992 Rockline appearance, which they later released as a B-side to "Jeremy." In 2003, it appeared on the Lost Dogs compilation, though this time they added a harmonica introduction. Basically, they spent over a decade fiddling with it, and they play it live to this day.
We seriously considered not counting "Yellow Ledbetter" on this list. Even though the song wasn't a single and never never appeared on a studio album, the "Jeremy" B-side still charted reached at Number 21 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and made the cut for their greatest hits album. They've also played the song 343 times in concert, usually at the very end. Everyone tries to sing along, even though the lyrics are largely indecipherable. After some debate, we figured it was, as someone here said, a "deep cut made good." The song was so good that everyone found it even though Pearl Jam initially tucked it away. That's the dream of every deep cut, so we didn't want to deprive it a slot on this list.
Pearl Jam's debut LP, Ten, wraps up with "Release," a magical song they improvised during one of their first jam sessions. "Everyone plugged in their guitars and started this kind of tinkering," Vedder said. "And I started humming, moaning or whatever, and then all of a sudden it was like a six-minute song that totally rolled and peaked." Like many of the songs from that time, the lyrics reflect Vedder's anger towards his stepdad and the confusion he went through upon learning he wasn't his biological father. "Oh dear dad," Vedder sings. "Can you see me now/I am myself/like you somehow." Whenever they play it in concert, it becomes the emotional peak of the entire night.