With everyone stuck inside riding out the coronavirus pandemic, the power of music is even more important. Pearl Jam are famous for songs that explore tough situations, but woven deeply into the fabric of their catalog is hope.
In the absence of live shows right now, consider this a mini-concert to experience at home. Grab some headphones or turn up the speakers. Chosen as carefully as possible with the ebb and flow of a real Pearl Jam set list in mind, the below playlist of 10 Hopeful Pearl Jam Songs for Troubling Times features tracks that accentuate the positive, find the silver lining and remind us, above all, to hope.
The Ten ballad starts the journey. Imagine you are front row, and the lights have just come up on the band. Eddie Vedder is at the mic singing, “Hold on to the thread / The currents will shift / Glide me towards you … know something’s left / And we’re all allowed to dream of the next time we touch.”
“Given to Fly”
Yield’s gem comes in quiet with Mike McCready‘s Led Zeppelin-inspired riff, but by the time the chorus hits, you’re pogo-ing and clapping wildly. Vedder’s voice soars: “First he was stripped and then he was stabbed by faceless men / Fuckers, he still stands / And he still gives his love, he just gives it away.”
“Love Boat Captain”
Even though the title is kinda silly, this song was written in the wake of the 2000 tragedy at the Roskilde music festival where nine fans were trampled to death during Pearl Jam’s set (“Lost nine friends we’ll never know”). Vedder finds solace just where John Lennon did, name-checking a Beatles song: “I know it’s already been sung / It can’t be said enough / Love is all you need / All you need is love.” He then sums it all up: “Once you hold the hand of love / It’s all surmountable.”
A lot of Pearl Jam’s early music spoke of people navigating despair: the abused, the suicidal, even the homicidal. By 2006, despite political tumult in the world, the band itself seemed in a brighter but no less empathetic place. With a sharp guitar sounding the opening, Vedder pleads, “I have faced it / Life wasted / I’m never going back again.”
“I Am Mine”
This mid-tempo 2002 Vedder track isn’t shy about “innocence lost at one time,” but the singer reminds us we are in control of our lives: “I know I was born and I know that I’ll die / The in-between is mine / I am mine.”
Inspired by historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States and friends with Vedder since a 1998 interview they sat down for together, the central idea of this 2002 B-side — “You can’t be neutral on a moving train” — comes straight from a Zinn book title. Pick what you care about and support it, the song says: “Rise / Life is in motion … If hope can grow from dirt like me, it can be done.”
Reaching back to 1993’s Vs., this pummeling track comes out of the gate with Vedder howling, “Troubled souls unite / We’ve got ourselves tonight / I am fuel / You are friends / We’ve got the means to make amends.”
A song that constantly comes up in fan discussions about getting through tough times, self-doubt or any other trouble, “Present Tense” (from 1996’s underrated No Code) was written by Vedder. During a Scotland show of the 2000 Pearl Jam tour, he noted that it was a kind of reminder to himself to be played when he needed to know he could weather a bad time. “You can spend your time alone / Re-digesting past regrets / Or you can come to terms and realize / You’re the only one who can’t forgive yourself / Makes much more sense to live in the present tense,” he sings. The band members’ jam that makes up the second half of the song gives it even more of a sense of soaring hope.
When Pearl Jam joined forces with Neil Young in 1995, two works resulted: the Young album Mirror Ball and a Pearl Jam EP called Merkin Ball. “Long Road,” which features Young on pump organ, was written in memory of one of Vedder’s mentors in high school. The uplift is real. Throughout, there’s a sense that we are all in this together: “We all walk the long road… / All the friends and family / All the memories going around.” It’s little wonder that Vedder chose this song to perform on the telethon in the wake of 9/11 along with Young and McCready. The final lyric sums up its sentiment: “The sun will rise another day.”
Vedder plays the pump organ on this Gigaton closer that’s filled with dire thoughts of thunderclouds and “drifting off in the undertow.” But he chooses a silver lining instead: “Look around at the promise now / Here and now / Won’t hold us down / Share the light.”