10 Best Cover Songs by Pearl Jam
Of all the bands to emerge from the fabled Seattle scene of the early ’90s, Pearl Jam were, perhaps, not only the most traditional rock band of the batch, but also the most unwilling to be typecast or buried with the era.
For 25 years or so, they have consistently done their own thing, and that thing often includes paying homage to some of their favorite music of the past. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best cover songs Pearl Jam have performed throughout the year; by no means is this a comprehensive list, but it highlights what we think are 10 of their best covers.
Whether or not you like Pearl Jam, you have to admit: They have damn good taste.
“Waiting On a Friend”
Remaining true to the laid back, country-tinged feel of the original, Eddie Vedder and company pulled out this sometimes forgotten Rolling Stones gem from 1981, polished it off, and gave it their own take. This clip, from a 2006 concert, shows them in an unplugged-style setting which, obviously, suits the song perfectly.
As this clip from 2009 shows, Pearl Jam do indeed have a sense of humor. During a gig in Philly, the band took to the stage for their second encore dressed in Devo-signature yellow jumpsuits (and radiation domes!) to kick out a spot-on version of the Spudboys classic “Whip It!” It’s a sincere and highly-energized romp on the 1980 hit. This came near the end of what still ranks as Pearl Jam’s longest-ever show closing up the Philadelphia Spectrum with a marathon 43-song set that also included covers of Mother Love Bone, Neil Young and Pink Floyd.
“Last Kiss” was a big hit for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, climbing to No. 2 in the fall of 1964. Pearl Jam’s stellar cover of the song first appeared on the 1999 charity album No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees, and when released as a single, it too made it up to the No. 2 spot. It remains PJ’s highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Little Wing” / “Maggot Brain”
In this clip from a 1995 concert, Pearl Jam do a tasty rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Little Wing.” The song was originally released on the second Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Axis Bold as Love, and has long been a favorite among Hendrix fans. During this version, Pearl Jam manage to segue “Little Wing” seamlessly into a cover of “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic. Showcasing the lead guitar, the song takes off into the ether.
“I Won’t Back Down”
Pearl Jam covering Tom Petty makes perfect sense. Pearl Jam covering “I Won’t Back Down” makes even more sense. The song first appeared on Petty’s first solo album, 1999’s Full Moon Fever, and though just missing the Top 10, has gone on to become a Petty standard. As done up in this solo acoustic performance from Vedder, the song seems almost tailor-made for his voice.
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”
First appearing on the Beatles‘ Help! in 1965, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” still stands as one of Lennon/McCartney’s finest and most beautiful ballads. Vedder, alone at the mic with acoustic guitar and harmonica, gives the song a slight Neil Young-ish twist while remaining true to the Fabs original.
Pearl Jam have long been very vocal about their love for the Who. Possibly their biggest influence, the Who’s impact looms large in all things Pearl Jam. “Baba O’ Reily” has been a staple of sorts at PJ concerts, and instead of trying to nail a total imitation of the song, the band have crafted their own version that, while staying faithful, is slathered in their own juices as well.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”
In this clip from a 1994 concert in Tennessee, the band is joined onstage by guitar legend Steve Cropper. In case you didn’t know, Cropper is one of the most noteworthy guitarists in history, and as a member of Booker T. & the MGs, he played, and often co-wrote, countless classic recordings on the Stax label including hits by Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas and Otis Redding. Vedder and band welcomed Cropper on stage here for a fine version of “Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” a posthumous No.1 hit for Redding in 1968, co-written by Cropper.
“Masters of War”
Appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, Pearl Jam delivered their take on the Bob Dylan anti-war anthem “Masters Of War.” The song appeared on Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, from 1963. The depth and meaning of the song had not faded one bit in the four decades since it first aired — Pearl Jam proved as much in this stirring rendition laid out in a post-9/11 world.
“Rockin’ In the Free World”
Of all of the old guard, Neil Young was probably held in the highest regard by the then-younger crowd. His resurgence in 1989 with the Freedom album proved he was still a force to be reckoned with. The words and sonic attack of Young were not lost on Vedder and crew and the meeting of the two camps was inevitable. In this 1993 clip from the MTV Music Awards, the two generations bond together to assault the senses. Young, with Old Black in hand, tears the joint apart while Pearl Jam get caught up in the enthusiasm and demolish the place. The last couple minutes of the song may be the most chaotic noise ever heard on that channel. “Rockin’ In the Free World” remains a fan-favorite during Pearl Jam’s live show.