Forty-Nine years ago today, Edward Louis Severson III, now known as Eddie Vedder, was born. The impact this individual has had on my life, without even his knowledge, has been enormous. As lead singer of Pearl Jam, from the very beginning Eddie has brought to the band a sense of integrity, vulnerability, and purpose... but especially beautiful, intense, and passionate vocal performances. The songs he helped write have made up the soundtrack to my life for the past 20 years. Pearl Jam’s music has played a part in shaping me, has challenged me, and opened my mind to new ideas, musicians, and causes.
I first dived deep into Pearl Jam’s music when I was 15 years old. It was Christmas 1994. My siblings and I were making our annual run to Tower Records. With the gift card and cash I had just acquired, I bought Pearl Jam's third album, Vitalogy, on tape. I came home and listened to it non-stop. It was unlike any other music I had heard before. It was my first real discovery of rock 'n' roll, and (no matter how cliché) it spoke directly to the teenage angst I was experiencing at the time.
All that’s sacred comes from youth
Dedication naïve and true
With no power, and nothing to do
I still remember, why don’t you… don’t you
This is not for you!
Never was for you…
This is not for you.
I spent the remainder of my high school and college years obsessed with Pearl Jam. I learned every song, taped every video, interview, and performance I could catch on TV, and recorded every song I heard off the radio. I began trading bootleg concert tapes with people all over the country. I established pen pal relationships with other Pearl Jam fans I met on “the Porch,” an AOL chat room dedicated to Pearl Jam’s music.
Through my search for other Pearl Jam fans, I found a young man from Upstate NY named Richard who would eventually become my husband. He was equally obsessed with Pearl Jam. In fact, he sent his first letter to me along with a copy of Pearl Jam’s 1996 Berlin radio concert. I wasn’t able to listen to it on the radio because it was the same day as my brother’s wedding, so Rich hooked me up. The letter was sweet and included his picture. At the end, he wrote how cool it would be if we could meet some day… and we did, just six months later. Eighteen years and 32 Pearl Jam shows later, we are still together, happily married, and continuing to enjoy Pearl Jam’s music together. (We really want to buy a Pearl Jam onesie for "Baby Marshall" but think it may be jumping ahead a bit!)
Ten albums in and Pearl Jam is still making beautiful, raw, relevant music, with Eddie Vedder at the helm as their main lyricist and vocalist. He is one of the only singers I know of who can seamlessly go from singing a soft, delicate ballad to an insanely fast punk rock song in just seconds. From Indifference to Lukin, Just Breathe to Do the Evolution, and everything in between, he is capable of pretty much anything.
So in honor of Eddie’s 49th birthday and the role he and Pearl Jam have played in my life, I would like to highlight 10 amazing Eddie Vedder vocal performances. I hesitate saying these are the best vocal performances. As I went back to Pearl Jam’s discography, I realized on the first few albums alone there was at least three to four songs apiece which still cut right to my heart each time I listen to his voice. So instead I’m highlighting ten songs that I feel best represent Ed’s vocal range throughout the years, so this is certainly not all inclusive. Thanks for indulging me… Here we go!
1. Release - This song is the album closer on "Ten" but established its place over the years as the ultimate show opener. With it’s slow start and steady build up, it creates a mood of anticipation then falls into a song of reflection. Ed’s voice goes from soft and delicate to a passionate call for what could have been with the father he never knew. “Oh dear dad, can you see me now, I am myself, like you somehow. I’ll ride the wave where it takes me…. I’ll hold the pain,… release me!” The way Ed holds out the word “release” is the pinnacle of this song, as well as many Pearl Jam concerts. It reverberates throughout the heart of the audience, whether they need to release stress or pain, or forgive themselves or someone in their life. Ed’s verbalization is a conduit for the listener’s own release.
2. Tremor Christ – One of the most underrated Pearl Jam songs, it's one of the darkest songs on "Vitalogy." It has a carnival like feel to the rhythm and Ed’s voice brings in an air of whimsy, determination, but also an extreme amount of sadness. The last lyric especially and the way Ed trembles on the word “Christ” is powerful.
3. Unthought Known –Probably the best song on "Backspacer," the continual build up is intense and makes me want to jump and sing out loud. It’s the song equivalent of a painting. I don’t know how else to describe it… a beautiful, musical impressionist painting. “Feel the sky blanket you with gems and rhinestones, see the path cut by the moon for you to walk on… for you to walk on…” This is the perfect Ed vocal, the dichotomy of desperate hopefulness, calling out, reaching forward, and slowly coming back down to earth at the end, resigning himself to the truth.
4. Off He Goes – "No Code" was inspired by Pearl Jam’s work with Neil Young during the Mirror Ball sessions, and Off He Goes in particular shows one of Ed’s first real stabs at folk music. It easily could have been a country song. Ed delicately serenades the tale of a friend who continues to come in and out of his life like the seasons. The beautiful storytelling is indicative that Pearl Jam is much more than the grunge stereotype. They are capable of creating diverse music that can transcend genres.
5. Come Back – A song on "Pearl Jam" dedicated to Ed’s friend, Johnny Ramone, after his passing. It has a 50’s love song feel to set the mood. Ed’s voice quivers along as he sings about his friend and his desire to see him one more time. By the middle of the song he’s literally crying out to him, as if he’s reaching forward yet the memory of his friend is slipping through his fingers. It’s tragic the way Ed sings “it’s ok, it’s ok” at the end… it is as if he’s forcing himself to come to terms with losing his friend, yet still calls out for him to “come back.” Honestly, if it doesn’t make you tear up a little, you may have no heart…
6. Go – An amazing example of how Pearl Jam can combine punk and classic rock into an intense, almost painful musical output, which is typical of many of the songs on their second album, "Vs." “Suppose I abused you, just passing it on…” Every time Ed screams, “Please… don’t go on me…” it’s a tremendous call for peace hidden within an angry heart.
7. I Am Mine – Written for "Riot Act" in response to the 9/11 attacks and the tragedy at Roskilde where nine Pearl Jam fans died during a rush to the stage, it’s a beautiful song about the fragility of life and need to take advantage of the time we do have. Ed’s vocals are clear, pure, and especially poignant during the chorus where he crescendos into a call of hope for those in pain: “And the feeling, it gets left behind / All the innocence lost at one time / Significant, behind the eyes / There's no need to hide... / We're safe tonight.”
8. Getaway – Off the new album, "Lightning Bolt," it took me a few listens to get into this song. It was so different. But now it’s probably one of my favorites of all time. Ed’s voice travels along with the rhythm perfectly and is full of passionate earnestness. This idea of being true to yourself, and allowing others to be true to themselves is very important to him. His call builds up over the course of the song: “It's ok / Sometimes you find yourself / Being told to change your ways / For God’s sake / Mine is mine and yours won't take its place / Now make your getaway.”
9. Do The Evolution – A punch to the throat is the best way to describe this little ditty from "Yield." Ed plays a character where he takes on an angry, greedy, arrogant personality to make a comment on the modern political implications of imperialism, ethnocentrism, and consumerism. Ironically, it’s one of the most popular Pearl Jam songs and demands high audience participation during the live shows.
10. Soon Forget – Precursor to Into the Wild soundtrack and Ukulele Songs, a song from "Binaural," it serves as another commentary by Pearl Jam on wealth and greed, accomplished through a stripped down performance with just Ed’s vocals and the ukulele. The softness to his vocals almost comes across as a parody of the harshness of the topic he’s singing about.
Other incredible vocals: Black, Porch, Rearview Mirror, Indifference, Spin the Black Circle, Immortality, In My Tree, I Got Shit, Long Road, Given to Fly, In Hiding, Insignificance, Save You, Comatose, Just Breathe, Force of Nature, Swallowed Whole
And lyrics… Some of these have been part of my heart for years. Take from them what you will. I just want to say thank you to Eddie, on his birthday, for being the amazing poet that he is, who can, without fail, find the words that perfectly express an emotion that I didn’t even know I was experiencing. And thank you for bringing together a group of people who “get it.” I hope the “Jamily” enjoys this as well…
Feel the sky blanket you / With gems and rhinestones / See the path cut by the moon / For you to walk on… / For you to walk on… (Unthought Known)
And he still gives his love, he just gives it away… / The love he receives is the love that is saved (Given To Fly)
You can spend your time alone, re-digesting past regrets, oh / Or you can come to terms and realize / You're the only one who can't forgive yourself, oh / Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense (Present Tense)
And love,... Wish the world could go again with love / One can’t seem to have enough / And war,.... Break the sky and tell me what it's for (Parachutes)
I know it's already been sung,... can't be said enough. / Love is all you need,.. all you need is love,.. (Love Boat Captain)
I said there's nothing wrong with what you say / Believe me / Just asking you to sway / No white / Or black / Just grey / Can you feel this... / World with your heart and not your brain? (Green Disease)
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on / I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down (Wishlist)
The waiting drove me mad...you're finally here and I'm a mess (Corduroy)
I believe / And I believe cause I can see / Our future days / Days of you and me (Future Days)
Want you to know / That should I go I always loved you / Held you high above, true / I study your face / And the fear goes away / It's a fragile thing / This life we lead / If I think too much I can get over / Whelmed by the grace / By which we live our lives / With death over our shoulder (Sirens)
**All lyrics and music are attributed to Pearl Jam and Pearl Jam, alone. I’m merely a fan who wants to share their beautiful art with whomever will listen.