March 25, 2008

Pearl Jam Fanaticism - Ranking the Best Ever

A long time ago I bastardized what musical influence I had in little circle of Pearl Jam’s friend I am part of. The bastardization technique was simple – in Microsoft Excel, rate and rank every Pearl Jam song of all time in order to mathematically determine their best album. I believe, and thank goodness there is no longer any proof, my rating system gave the “best ever” nod to Riot Act, which is now widely recognized as one of least appealing Pearl efforts ever.

Time has passed, tastes have changed, and against all better judgment I once again take the torch upon myself to mathematically decide the best album of the best band. Yes, I know – for all intents and purposes this wrecks the very point of why we listen to music in the first place but some things can’t be helped. (Perhaps my love of statistics stems from my childhood when Dad used to rate us kids as #1, #2, etc. Ever since the youngest, Bobby, took to the hammer and nail it has been an uphill battle for the rest of us. He did this a joke of course, as we all did take turns at the top spot.)

Before getting into the individual album rankings lets spend a few minutes on my methodology. In order to avoid “album love” I entered every PJ release into a new I-Pod play list and listened to each individually using the shuffle feature. The benefit of this technique is the ability to listen to each song as it’s own entity as I tried to form a rating independent of the songs before and after it on the original album. One by one each song was then sorted into one of 8 categories

- Non Listen: PJ has a history of numerous pointless songs that serve no purpose other than to feed Eddie’s funny bone. 0 Points awarded. Example: “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” on Vitalogy.

- Barely Not a Skip: While “Non Listen’s” are routinely skipped when listening to an album, this next class of songs can be skipped at times, but it is not a 100% certainty. By all means, these are not good tracks, but can be stomached. 1 Point Awarded. Example: Help Help on Riot Act.

- Decent: Here’s is where the harshness comes in. Decent songs are actually good songs, but a step below the next category. 2 Points Awarded. Example: Indifference on Vs.

- Good: The heart of Pearl Jam’s brilliance is the shear number of good or better songs. 3 Points awarded. Example: Love Boat Captain, Riot Act.

- Great: We now approach the elite songs in PJ’s repertoire. Great songs are just that, almost perfect. 5 Points Awarded. Example: Porch on Ten.

- Excellent: It doesn’t get any better than this category. Excellent songs are virtually flawless and end up on almost all play lists list I create. 7 Points Awarded. Example: Hail Hail from No Code.

- Best Ever: The whole point of music is great tunes. You will have noticed the scale of points awarded also increases as the songs get better (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7). After all, great songs define great albums. However, there are two songs that I can not differentiate between for best PJ tracks of all times. These two loners get 10 points.

Finally, I tried to be harsh in the scoring. I love Pearl Jam, and if I had it my way, so many more songs would be rated as great. Realism was needed however, and hopefully fellow Pearl Jam readers will understand why their favorites may not have made the cut.

Counting backwards

8) No Code, 1996

This rating particularly hurts because I like the album, almost cover to cover. Which is a funny thing about PJ fans – bad albums do not exist and the core fans of Eddie Vedder and company are among the most loyal I have ever seen. There are two brilliant tracks on No Code: Hail, Hail and Smile but what hurts the album is the lack of a 2nd tier. 7 points were awarded to the aforementioned, but no track gets a 5, instead scoring skips down to the 3’s. This realization only came upon when comparing the individual tracks off of No Code to the tracks on their other albums.

A positive for No Code is the fact it has 7 songs rated good or better, which is tied for 4th among their 8 albums. There are three clunkers as well: Habit, I’m Open, and Around the Bend.

I could be convinced to bump up Sometimes (a truly wonderful song but hurt in the ratings due to its short length) and Present Tense.

7) Riot Act, 2002

I loved Riot Act when it came out 6 years ago, loved it to the point I considered it the best PJ album of all time. In hindsight, I was caught up in the newness of it as the tracks I thought were great, Love Boat Captain for instance, are merely good in retrospect. Three songs carry the album – I am Mine, Can’t Keep, and Save You. I am Mine is the lone 7-pt Excellent and the latter two come off with 5 pt greats. There are other very good cuts such as the aforementioned Love Boat Captain, and Thumbing My Way and Green Disease are great listens as well.

The negative of the is album is how top-heavy it is. It is a 15 track album that I have often turned off after track 10 (Green Disease) thanks to very odd songs such as Help Help, ½ Full, Arc, and All or None.

6) Binaural, 2000

I still remember sitting in my car listening to this album with Joe after it first came out. These were in Joe’s pre “pack up and go West” days while he was a rising star at AT&T. There are several tracks that grabbed us back then and it was also around the time where music downloads were becoming mainstream. We grabbed a few off of Bear Share following PJ’s appearance on the David Letterman show.

Binaural is the only album of PJ’s to open with 9 of 10 songs rated good or better, with Evacuation, Light years, and Insignificance getting honors as the best songs on the album. This may be PJ’s deepest best album (as in deepest starting lineup), but without a true killer track it takes a hit in the ratings. As we have seen, the tail end of this album follows the pattern of other albums with odd song selections to close out.

Of the Girl was given a 2, but I could be convinced to bump it to a 3 for pure nostalgia, I loved the track when it came out. Nothing as It Seems is reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and at the time I thought it brilliant, but it has lost some of it’s luster over the years because it simply can’t match what Floyd had done so well.

5) Pearl Jam, 2006

I unfortunately don’t love this Album. I wish I did as some of the tracks are the best ever performed by the band, and the hit or miss style of the song list prevents it from a higher standing among the pantheon of great PJ albums. In perhaps the best two opening songs on any of their albums, Life Wasted and World Wide Suicide get rockin right from the get go. This is unfortunately followed by two tracks I don’t particularly enjoy in Comatose and Severed Hand, before rising up to lofty heights with one of my two best PJ songs of all time.

Marker in the Sand is as good as gets. It is a track that grabbed me the first time I listened to it and hasn’t let go since. A perfect 10 in my book and justly top marks (10). The rest of the album outside of a fun song in Big Wave is decent in my mind, but no better.

Is the 10 pt Marker in the Sand pushing “Pearl Jam” up on the rankings too much? Can one track make up for too many mediocre ones? When that one track is one of the 3 songs you want to be stranded with on a desert island for perpetuity, the answer is yes.

4) Yield, 1998

Yield is vastly underrated by the mainstream musical world, and even among PJ fans in my mind. Top to bottom this is likely their best album with an incredible 10 tracks rated good or better. There is no weak spot. The gem of the album is the overplayed In Hiding, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. Whenever you hear Eddie Vedder hit the high notes you’re in the right spot. This track is complimented by Given to Fly and Wishlist, the latter a song that any person would like, regardless of their musical tastes.

The rest of the album is good too: Brain of J., Faitfhul, No Way, Do the Evolution (what a hit that was), MFC, Lowlight – these are all songs that can be listened to over and over.

3) Ten, 1991

Wow, can’t believe it has been 17 years. No Nirvana album quite matched the brilliance of Ten as this was truly groundbreaking material. Their first album was a shorter, 11 track edition that combined classic rock with punk rock to create a sound unique to the band. Black and Release are he highlights, both garnering 7 points a piece. Alive and Porch are close seconds with 5 points each and Even Flow, Oceans, and Garden round out the good or better scoring.

Ten ended up with the same score as Yield but I gave the edge to the original because of one song – Jeremy. Most PJ lovers can no longer stand the track, but it has to be recognized as a major hit in 1991/1992 and in all likelihood should have more than 2 points. But I just can’t to do it as the track had unfortunately become the face of Pearl Jam despite numerous better songs throughout the years.

Additionally, Release should be a 10 pointer in my mind but it is not a very popular song, so I stayed conservative in awarding it 7.

2) Vitalogy, 1994

Vitalogy is recognized as the bands best album, at least among most of its core fan base. No other PJ album has 3 songs rated as Excellent or better, and it is also home to Corduroy, only the second song awarded 10 points out of the 104 we are delving into. Betterman was a stellar hit and Nothingman still holds up despite the 14 years since its creation.

Interestingly, Vitalogy also has more duds than any other album. “Tremor Christ”, “Pry, To”, “Bugs”, “Aye Davanita”, and “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's me” are all very strange and borderline non-musical. Part of this is irrelevant because they are throw-ins - there are still 11 real songs on the album, but in my mind it does detract a little from the set as a whole. This does not come through in the rankings however, as no points are taken away for this type of craziness.

1) Vs., 1993

Are you as surprised as me to be sitting here and calling Vs., their second album, the best of the bunch? Well, maybe I am not so surprised. Over the past few years Vs. has gotten more play in my car than any other album, but I always chalked it up to the fact I hadn’t listened to it in a while. In truth, the album is their best work and with good reason.

The first 5 songs match up with the first 5 off of any other Album, accumulating 21 points. No Code (22) and Pearl Jam (24) have more points, but they also each have 1 track in the mix that is rated below 5 points. In other words, the award for the best first 5 songs on any PJ album goes to Vs. This is followed up by Rearviewmirror (5) and Elderly Woman… (7) which puts the album over the top with a grand total of 44 points.

Other good songs: Leash, Blood, and Indifference (although I gave this track a 2, maybe a bit low).

I would like to display the point totals along with great or better tracks for each album:

37 – No Code: Hail, Hail (7), Smile (7)

39 – Binaural: Evacuation (5), Light Years (5), Insignificance (5)

39 – Riot Act: Can’t Keep (5), Save You (5), I am Mine (7),

40 – Pearl Jam: Life Wasted (5), World Wide Suicide (5), Maker in the Sand (10)

41 – Yield: Given to Fly (5), Wishlist (5), In Hiding (7)

41 – Ten: Alive (5), Black (7), Porch (5), Release (7)

42 – Vitalogy: Last Exit (5), Nothing Man (7), Corduroy (10), Betterman (7)

44 – Vs.: Glorified G (7), Dissident (5), Rearviewmirror (5), Elderly Woman… (7)

And here is the file containing the ranking of each song and my initial stream of conscience thoughts for many of them.

....from the desk of the Eldest Brother


Blogger jeremy said...

off he goes and red mosquito were a bit boring on no code, but they are both amazing on live on two legs and since you didnt include live on two legs i would have to disagree with you ratings for those two songs. Its a technicallity i know but, they are much better songs that your ratings.

just my opinion

April 12, 2010 at 3:36 AM  

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