A Fandom Evolved: Revisiting My Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs

By: Randy Sobel | October 28, 2021
Revisiting My Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs 12 Years Later

Everyone loves to make a list. It helps remind you of where your thoughts are coming from during a certain period in your life, and in most cases, it unintentionally tends to embarrass you in the years down the road. Everyone’s opinion changes over time, especially as we grow and mature, that’s when music can make its most profound impact. But it needs to begin somewhere.

Back in 2009, I was preparing to see Pearl Jam for the second time, taking the trip out to Chicago to see them. After witnessing them a year prior at MSG, the anticipation I had for seeing them again was at an all-time high. Usually when I prepare for a big event, such as a concert of this magnitude, I tend to make lists in order to help feed into the hype my brain has energized me with. Which is why you may have seen multiple posts attempting to construct setlists for the most recent shows. 12 years ago, I definitely did not have the same knowledge for this fandom that I do now, but it didn’t keep me from coming up with a list to express my thoughts.

My Original Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs from 2009

This was my original Top 50 list that was posted to Facebook in August of 2009. I think the idea was to create a list that might’ve been what I considered to be Pearl Jam’s best songs, with some additional personal bias. I made sure that all of the hits were accounted for because I don’t think I really saw myself as that deep cut purist yet. There are strange omissions and strange inclusions. Songs that I certainly don’t think I’d consider now. Here is that original Top 50:

Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs in 2009

50. Grievance

40. Man of the Hour

30. Last Exit 

20. I Am Mine

10. Even Flow

49. Garden

39. No Way

29. In Hiding

19. Jeremy

9. Release

48. Last Kiss

38. Red Mosquito

28. I Got Shit

18. Love Boat Captain

8. Go

47. Leaving Here

37. Leash

27. Marker In The Sand

17. Why Go

7. Corduroy

46. God's Dice

36. Whipping

26. Porch

16. Animal

6. Alive

45. Comatose

35. World Wide Suicide

25. Nothingman

15. Daughter

5. Hail, Hail

44. Once

34. Green Disease

24. Oceans

14. Do The Evolution

4. Yellow Ledbetter

43. Save You

33. Mankind

23. MFC

13. Small Town

3. Black

42. Army Reserve

32. Lukin

22. Faithfull

12. Given To Fly

2. Rearviewmirror

41. Deep

31. Glorified G

21. Dissident

11. Off He Goes

1. Better Man

Stray observations

There are a few songs that I consider to be vital to my PJ fandom now that aren’t on this list. The big surprise to many of you is probably Brain Of J. I loved the song back then, but now I think I have more of the nostalgia factor drawn in that’s connecting me with it. There was a time where I thought that maybe other people considered it a less important PJ song, and I think I was just creating lists with the intention of getting people to agree with them.

Like I mentioned, a lot of hits. I don’t think this is exactly how I felt about all of these songs, I was just trying to come up with a balance between best and favorite. Jeremy is rather high on this even though I mentioned in the Facebook post’s comments how over it I was. Last Kiss, something I never really enjoyed much, is on this list because I didn’t think it was fair to a song of that stature not to go on it. The idea of the list’s purpose would drastically change second time around, but remember that I was still fairly young in my PJ fandom. The hits have a tendency to draw you in when you’re at your most impressionable.

Songs too high

Dissident, Marker In The Sand, World Wide Suicide, Army Reserve. The Avocado record was still fresh at the time and I think it obviously helped influence some picks. I definitely don’t have the same attachment to it anymore, and the songs I have taken away enjoying the most nowadays weren’t even on my radar back then.

Songs too low

Save You, Leash. While Leash may not show up on a later list, I went back to a few of my posts from around the time that were pretty Leash-obsessive. That was probably the one song I was dying to hear in 2009. Whether that translated as much later on is another story, but it’s surprising to not see it in the top 20.

My Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs as of 2013

List number 2 comes after a run of three big shows on the Lightning Bolt tour and only a few days before the Hartford show from that year. I think 2013 was a turning point for my fandom. It was the year where I started to understand setlists, started to keep track of what I was seeing and what I still needed to see. I was now creating the list based on pure fandom rather than necessitating songs that maybe needed to be there because they were staples of PJ’s.

I’ll show the ranking from the previous list next to each song so that you can get a sense of my mindset four years later.

Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs in 2013

50. Lukin (32)

40. MFC (23)

30. Hail, Hail (5)

20. Breath (NR)

10. Yellow Ledbetter (4)

49. Even Flow (10)

39. W.M.A. (NR)

29. Indifference (NR)

19. I Got Shit (28)

9. State of Love and Trust (NR)

48. Small Town (13)

38. Oceans (24)

28. Man of the Hour (40)

18. Long Road (NR)

8. Footsteps (NR)

47. Comatose (45)

37. Alive (6)

27. Last Exit (30)

17. Animal (16)

7. Immortality (NR)

46. In Hiding (29)

36. Gone (NR)

26. Lightning Bolt (NR)

16. Love Boat Captain (18)

6. Off He Goes (11)

45. Whipping (36)

35. Leash (37)

25. In My Tree (NR)

15. Brain of J (NR)

5. Faithfull (22)

44. Black (3)

34. Nothing As It Seems (NR)

24. Grievance (50)

14. Hard To Imagine (NR)

4. Corduroy (7)

43. Not For You (NR)

33. No Way (39)

23. Better Man (1)

13. Go (8)

3. Porch (26)

42. Rats (NR)

32. Smile (NR)

22. Do The Evolution (14)

12. Rearviewmirror (2)

2. Release (9)

41. I Am Mine (20)

31. Spin The Black Circle (NR)

21. Unthought Known (NR)

11. Low Light (NR)

1. Present Tense (NR)

Dropped from the list

Given To Fly, Daughter, Why Go, Jeremy, Dissident, Nothingman, Marker In The Sand, Glorified G, Mankind, Green Disease, World Wide Suicide, Red Mosquito, Deep, Army Reserve, Save You, Once, God’s Dice, Leaving Here, Last Kiss, Garden

Stray observations

This looks a little bit closer to what my fandom is today, but there are still a few surprises. I’m pleasantly surprised to see Present Tense at number 1. I’m not sure if I consciously remember it being my number one song back then, but it reaffirms where my head was at with these songs. Consider that Present Tense wasn’t even on the 2009 top 50, for reasons I can’t explain, outside of No Code not being in my rotation as much, I had found the maturer side of Pearl Jam to be more relatable as I got older. Also, I find it so weird that some of these weren’t on the 2009 list. State Of Love And Trust in particular is the outlier. Spin The Black Circle, too, I thought would’ve been a shoo-in for 2009. And it’s strange because I don’t ever remember liking Deep or God’s Dice so much to rank them higher than those two, but I’ll admit I was pretty dumb back then.

There is a song in the top 5 that didn’t make the current top 50, and that’s Faithfull. I think that the middle list was created with having the intake of a fair amount of live shows while still holding the album cuts in pretty high regard. The next list is created almost solely based off of live performances. Once I heard Faithfull live, I think while I still enjoyed the song, it didn’t have that same warmth that it once used to. Yield has always not just been my favorite studio album, but favorite produced Pearl Jam album as well, and the soaring aspect on the album perhaps doesn’t catch that same imaginative feel as it does live. In a parallel universe, crowds would be chanting “we all believe it!” in unison, but it doesn’t quite have the same connection as say another soaring song off Yield. No hate for the song, I think I just grew away from it.

Better Man drops from 1 to 23, which is fair. I always enjoy the song, but I think when I was younger it was easy to gravitate towards the hits. It’s one that I used to sing on stage with my friend Matt’s (yes, former co-host Matt) bar band whenever I’d go see them. It was special and a lot of people connected me to the song (including the mother of Matt’s ex who would ask “are you singing Butter Man tonight?”) But as my bar band guest appearances faded away, my connection slipped as well. I consider myself more of a deep cut kind of guy, so that bias likely hurt its standing.

Songs too high

The aforementioned Faithfull, Porch and Yellow Ledbetter. I went through a stretch where Porch was an absolutely undeniable song. Keep in mind the date this list was made, it was three days after the Brooklyn show where Ed hopped aboard the green orbs and swung wildly over the crowd. Of course that was going to leave an immediate imprint. My interest in it has likely faded a bit due to some over-usage and the realization that fast Porch from the mid-90s is way more raw than the bluesy intro we’ve consistently heard it played with for over a decade. Ledbetter? Man, 4th and then 10th seem really high in hindsight, but there was a time where I’d legitimately leave a show upset if they didn’t finish with it. Of course that has changed. Ledbetter, if anything, has turned into an inevitability more than an anticipated live song. I don’t usually go back to the recorded version, but I absolutely recognize its importance in the grand scheme.

Songs too low

Black, Hail, Hail. The hits took the brunt of the damage on this list mainly due to the factor I mentioned earlier, just some fatigue with hearing them live over and over again. I can’t believe I felt that way about Black though. Alive? Better Man? Even Flow? Yeah I guess I get that those songs are what they are and if I really wanted to hear them I could turn on my local alternative rock radio station to listen. But Black? No, I was clearly wrong about that. No explanation, just wrong. Hail, Hail falling from 5 to 30 in hindsight is a surprise more than anything. This has always consistently found its way into my favorites list and putting it at 30 separates it from those types of songs that I love. It’s a better song than many of those plugged in 29 spots ahead of it.

Surprising cuts

Given To Fly, Nothingman, Red Mosquito, Save You. Just a hint for the final list, but these four are going to be the only ones that return from the 2009 list that didn’t make 2013. GTF seems like such a surprise, but I was kind of going through a similar rut with it that I did with Faithfull. I felt like the song was being played at a rushed pace and way too frequently for my serious collector self to consider it impactful anymore. I was wrong. I’ll make up for it, but the luster wore out on it after a while. Save You, Nothingman and Mosquito I have absolutely no answers for, aside from maybe I just didn’t listen to those songs the week that I made the list.

My Current Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs as of 2021

So now we get to the fun part! To say that I haven’t made lists since 2013 would probably be inaccurate, but I can’t remember a time where I presented them on a public forum like this or Facebook. About a year ago, John and I recorded episodes for our Patreon that counted down our top 25 lists, and then shortly after that we did the infamous Deprogrammed: Championship Edition, which is probably too much of a mouthful to actually explain, so I recommend listening to it to see what it’s all about.

My final list of 15 for Deprogrammed wasn’t that far off from where my 25 sat, but there is always room to flex and fit songs that may be hitting you better in a certain moment. I don’t want to say that my taste is set in my ways, I’m always open to different interpretations of songs and that usually helps me appreciate them more. A lot of songs in here that weren’t on previous lists probably benefited from that, whether it’s experiencing Jack’s heavy percussive rhythm on Vitalogy-era songs or just mixing in more Lost Dogs that I might’ve taken for granted just because I hadn’t seen them live. While the 2009 list was mostly based on intake of the studio albums, the 2013 list was based on intake from my own live shows. This list may be a little of both, with a bunch of songs that I’m still continuing to hunt down and that I’ve grown such a massive appreciation for ever since covering the band for the podcast.

Without further ado… and away we go!

Top 50 Pearl Jam Songs in 2021

50. Better Man (1, 23)

40. Wash (NR, NR)

30. I Got Shit (28, 19)

20. Given To Fly (12, NR)

10. Light Years (NR, NR)

49. Small Town (13, 48)

39. Alive (6, 37)

29. Grievance (50, 24)

19. All Those Yesterdays (NR, NR)

9. Inside Job (NR, NR)

48. W.M.A (NR, 39)

38. Porch (26, 3)

28. Tremor Christ (NR, NR)

18. Quick Escape (LOL)

8. Sad (NR, NR)

47. Off He Goes (11, 6)

37. Insignificance (NR, NR)

27. Low Light (NR, 11)

17. In My Tree (NR, 25)

7. Love Boat Captain (18, 16)

46. Garden (49, NR)

36. Nothingman (25, NR)

26. Fatal (NR, NR)

16. Save You (43, NR)

6. Release (9, 2)

45. Parting Ways (NR, NR)

35. Long Road (NR, 18)

25. Black (3, 46)

15. Last Exit (30, 27)

5. Brain of J (NR, 15)

44. Seven O'Clock (LOL)

34. Do The Evolution (14, 22)

24. State of Love and Trust (NR, 9)

14. Hard To Imagine (NR, 14)

4. Rearviewmirror (2, 12)

43. Smile (NR, 32)

33. Untitled/MFC (23, 40)

23. Breath (NR, 20)

13. Hail, Hail (5, 30)

3. Present Tense (NR, 1)

42. All Or None (NR, NR)

32. Of The Earth (NR, NR)

22. Red Mosquito (38, NR)

12. Footsteps (NR, 8)

2. Immortality (NR, 7)

41. Amongst The Waves (NR, NR)

31. Animal (16, 17)

21. Indifference (NR, 29)

11. Go (8, 13)

1. Corduroy (7, 4)

Cuts from 2013

Faithfull, Yellow Ledbetter, Unthought Known, Lightning Bolt, Man Of The Hour, Spin The Black Circle, No Way, Nothing As It Seems, Leash, Gone, Oceans, I Am Mine, Rats, Not For You, Whipping, In Hiding, Comatose, Even Flow, Lukin

Stray Observations

Okay so there’s a lot to explain here. Maybe at surface level it doesn’t look like it’s that big of a difference from 2013, but there are 14 songs listed here that weren’t even on the previous lists. Two because they didn’t exist, but the rest were thanks to a new found love and appreciation for a certain song. I’ll try to get to each explanation as we go here, but unless there is something fairly specific, expect me to say I’ve grown with it more over the years.

So it may not seem like much of a reach, but yes, I went with Corduroy as my number 1. Corduroy had consistently been in the top 10 for obvious reasons and I think it found its way to the top spot due to its growth in my emotional attachment to it. Every time I hear Corduroy live, my brain reminds my heart of where I am. Maybe for one or two songs you’re just in awe of being there once again, but once the plucky notes draw you in, almost hypnotically, and you are gearing up to scream along with “the waiting drove me maaaad!” There’s no one line that defines the time held in between shows where you crave it so desperately better than that. It’s timeless, it has an amazing history, and is the definitive song of the band.

Gotta love more consistency here. Outside of Corduroy, Release has never left the top 10 and at this point I don’t think it ever will. Same goes for Rearviemirror and Go consistently hovering around the top 15. It’s nice to know that some things never change.

Three songs are in the bottom half of the top 10 that didn’t make the previous years lists here. I think these are important to point out mainly because they are so highly ranked. Sad was a song that I didn’t realize I was ignoring until I actually started listening to boots of shows I hadn’t been to. It has that catchy, plucky beginning that I love out of Ed-written songs and builds into its big moments perfectly. If it ended up on Binaural, it would without question be my favorite song on the record. Alas, that prize goes to Light Years, another that’s fairly similar to Sad, but has a bit more of an emotional drive and attachment. It’s tough not to hear that song and think of the people in my life that are no longer with us. If anything, that song teaches you that you may never be able to get a person back, but you are able to take the positive energy they’ve radiated from their life and your moments together and keep that as a reminder that your time with people is short, and to always cherish the moments you’ve spent together. Inside Job has likely hit me the hardest of any song in the past five years. I think it stemmed from seeing the version that Steve Gleason introduced at Wrigley and how uplifting that moment was. Understanding that this is Mike’s sole lyrical contribution on an album (sorry, Turning Mist) and he really dug deep into his soul to find inspiration to be free from his inner battles that you find difficulty to struggle with on a daily basis. I struggle with my own personal battles and I was never really upfront about it for a good portion of my life, mainly due to the stigma that goes along with mental health issues not being widely considered as serious. It’s good to hear someone that I admire be able to articulate those feelings. Without that song, I may not be comfortable enough to discuss my own personal battles in a setting such as this. I don’t think I had the capacity to understand the weight of that 8 years ago.

Possibly the hottest of hot takes here is how high I’ve ranked a certain Gigaton song. Quick Escape made the top 20, and in a year or so might find itself in an even higher position. Even in the small sample that we’ve seen of this song, it’s an absolute barnburner. With a Zeppelin meets surf-rock attitude, and two explosive live solos from both Stone and Mike, to me it’s definitive of classic Pearl Jam. I think it belongs in the convo with songs like Rearviewmirror and Corduroy and as we see more and more of it, I think more people will come around to that ideal. If this song was on Vs., would you think twice about putting it in that upper echelon of songs? It might be the only one from this era that can fit that mold.

The only other song positioning that may seem like a surprise to some people would be Off He Goes. I was actually surprised that it wasn’t number 1 in 2013 because I used to see it as kind of my mental health anthem in the way that I see Inside Job now. I still love the song, I just think that maybe I relate that song to when I was in such a bad state of mind at a point in my life and thinking about it takes me back to how I was feeling then. It hasn’t had a true redemption moment for me yet, but I’m not going anywhere any time soon. I’d welcome it’s impact back in my life again.

I made the decision to attach Untitled to MFC, and I don’t know why it took me 12 years to do it. One of my favorite moments off of Live On Two Legs. And yes, it’s weird to say that title of that album now without automatically thinking about my own projects that I’ve attributed the name to.

For some reason I really enjoyed trolling Better Man here. 12 years ago it was number 1, today it’s number 50. I think that may be more of an insult than keeping it off the list entirely. But I still feel indebted to songs like that, and Alive and Porch, because they really are the OGs and the ones to ignite the flame of this whole passion.

So that’s it, I don’t feel like there’s much more explanation to be given than what I have provided. Would love to see if anyone else has done the same thing and can make comparisons to how they used to feel. What songs have changed for you over the years? Leave a comment below!

Randy Sobel

Concertpedia Managing Editor & LO4L Host

The first time I heard Yield, I didn’t know it at the time but it changed my life. 10 years later, I saw Pearl Jam for the first time at Madison Square Garden and haven’t looked back. I’m still holding out hope that W.M.A. will one day be played as a full song more consistently in setlists rather than just as a tag off of Daughter, and you won’t ever find a bigger homer for the band’s Hartford shows than me. Top 10 Pearl Jam crowd, fight me on it!

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  1. Love seeing the evolution of these lists. Your 2013 is pretty spot on for me (bar a song or two) and actually so is your 2021 list, bar Corduroy as I would be happy to never hear that song again (along with even flow… sacrilege I know!)

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