Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pearl Jam: Celebrating 20 Years

Pearl Jam’s been around for 20 years? How can that be?

I remember buying Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”. It came out my freshman year of high school and for whatever reason I was early on the bandwagon. Actually, I beat the bandwagon. It was a point of pride for me. I remember a guy from school who was kind of the big man on campus (you know the type…ahead of the curve on everything, the trendsetter, the popular guy who girls loved even though he treated them badly…no bitterness on my part, though…) asking people about “this band he kept hearing about…Pearl Jam” and I’d already about worn out my “Ten” tape by that point.

I loved the general sound of that record. It had the “grungy” (forgive me for the use of the word…) sound that was new to mainstream audiences at the time, but was clearly influenced by “big” arena rock. Perfect for a 13-year old who was in the classic rock phase that all young men go through, but was developing musical tastes of my own.

A couple of years back, the good folks at Legacy Recordings reissued “Ten” in a Legacy Edition set. I hadn’t listened to the album in quite a few years, and I was bummed to find that it didn’t hold up for me. It was still good…but it didn’t have the impact that it did when I was 13. And angry. And the world didn’t make sense. (I’m still angry and the world still doesn’t make sense…just in different ways from when I was 13).

I accepted that for the most part, I had outgrown much of the music of my youth – a sad but true development.

So, I didn’t get too excited when I heard that the Legacy Editions of Pearl Jam’s second and third albums were on the way (in stores March 29th). I just felt old when I heard that these two reissues were part of Pearl Jam’s celebration of their 20th anniversary as a band. I mean…I remember in 1991 that REM released their classic album, “Out of Time”, and that everyone was making a fuss about that being their tenth anniversary….But HOW has it been 20 years since Pearl Jam debuted??!?!?!

At any rate, I decided to sign up to share a one-hour special program on my Dirty Roots Radio show, celebrating the reissue of “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”. I signed up to receive ten copies of a sampler CD, featuring rare, live, and unreleased recordings made by Pearl Jam during the time around “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”. They arrived late last week and I decided to give one of the samplers a listen. Maybe, by some miracle, I had managed not to outgrow PJ’s second and third albums.

To my surprise, I found I had indeed NOT outgrown these albums. I loved the tracks I heard on the sampler – many of them, alternate versions of songs on “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”.

And I remembered. I remembered buying “Vs.” at Target the weekend after it came out. I remembered hearing that it broke all “first week” sales records for any album – and feeling proud that I helped “my band” accomplish the feat. I remembered that the album originally didn’t have a title…but that Pearl Jam decided to title it “Vs.” after a batch of initial pressings. I remember running home to see if I had one of the original copies that had no title on it. I did. And I remember vowing never to part with this relic that was sure to be a collector’s item. I did part with it at some point, and it never became exceptionally valuable.

But most of all…I remember being amazed – even at 14 or 15, or whatever I was – that Pearl Jam had developed such a great sound. I remember thinking the sound was more “earthy” or “organic” or something. And even better than “Ten”, which I’d loved so much. I remember being blown away by how good the songs were on “Vs.”.

I remember buying “Vitalogy”, too. I remember it came in a little book instead of a traditional CD case. I remember lying on my bed and listening to it all the way through. I remember thinking it was, again, a an evolution in the band’s sound. I remember being creeped out at the time by the song “Bugs” on the album. Overall, I remember thinking the band was “growing”.

“Vs.” and “Vitalogy” were two great albums. I loved Pearl Jam at the time for not playing by the music industry’s rules, for refusing to release music videos, and for taking on Ticketmaster in Congressional hearings when they felt the media giant was gouging their fans for overly expensive fees attached to concert tickets.

I think those actions helped with the ubiquity factor, too. The singles from Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”, (Alive, Even Flow, Jeremy) were played to death on both radio and MTV. After such a barrage, one can grow weary of any music. It sounds odd to say, but after their refusal to “play the game”, Pearl Jam in some way spared their fans from being over-exposed.

Where I loved “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”, I liked the next few Pearl Jam records. But I pretty much lost track of them at some point. Their last two records piqued my curiosity, but weren’t anything I stuck with.

"Vs.” and “Vitalogy” last, though. They are the sound of a great band in their prime, evolving almost faster than they could even keep up with.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio this Thursday night (March 24th) to hear the Pearl Jam “Vs./Vitalogy” radio special. We’ll be giving away nine copies of the “Vs./Vitalogy” sampler, too (Yeah…I did get ten of them…but I’m snaggin’ one for me…). We may have additional giveaways to announce shortly, as well.

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Some details on the “Vs./Vitalogy” samplers up for grabs:

Vs.:
Hold On (4:39) acoustic studio track
Creedy Stomp (3:21) instrumental outtake
Crazy Mary (5:38) from Sweet Relief

Vitalogy:
Better Man (guitar/organ only version) (3:54)
Nothingman (demo) (4:35)
Corduroy (alt. version) (4:43)

Live at the Orpheum (4/12/94):
Alone (3:08)
Sonic Reducer (with Mark Arm on guitar) (3:55)
Yellow Ledbetter (5:30)

Self Pollution Radio:
Spin the Black Circle (2:54) live in studio

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