#57, "Yellow Ledbetter," Pearl Jam (1992)

I am a rare and special bird in that I neither love nor hate Pearl Jam. I found out that there was a very fervent and dedicated fan base for this band in or about 2004 when I first met Shaun Duff at the Treehouse in Columbus. It was one of the first things we ever talked about. He was wearing a shirt or something and I was like "huh, that's weird" and he was like "no, this is like a religion." I learned from there that there are many, many more Shaun Duffs, including Joe Moore. These are people who have seen Pearl Jam in concert 60+ times. I had no idea this was a thing. 


On the flipside, a lot of people love to talk about how terrible Pearl Jam is, particularly in comparison to their most comparable popular-heyday contemporaries, Nirvana. I've mentioned before that I don't care for Nirvana, which would suggest that I do like Pearl Jam better, but again, I'm not going to pitch a fit about it. This is one of those things where I acknowledge I'm probably factually incorrect in my opinion (which I do think is possible). Or maybe, just MAYbe some people forget that Eddie Vedder invented the Eddie Vedder voice which was ripped off by many postgrunge/alternative vocalists including but not limited to Ed Roland of Collective Soul and Kevin Martin of Candlebox (I am resisting picking on the dead here). Eddie Vedder was indeed the cause of this irritating trend in popular music, but come on. It's not his fault. 


I have mentioned that I was very much into the Ten album in its day. The Ten album includes a representative on my top-five Pearl Jam songs, "Black." I raise this issue in deference to my husband. One of Pete's favorite things is that rumor that Eddie Vedder heard two guys singing "Black" while on a hike and kicked their asses for singing such a sacred song. This seemed wholly plausible at the time, but completely ridiculous in retrospect. 


"Yellow Ledbetter" was not initially released on an album. I'm going to go back into Grandma Mode and tell you about how things were before the internet. "Yellow Ledbetter" was the B-side to "Jeremy," a purchase I could not justify since I had the album early on. And anyway, by the time "Yellow" surfaced on the radio, I'd transitioned from cassette tapes to CDs and would have had to spend like 6 of my hard-earned dollars. The economics of CD singles never worked! Because the materials were so expensive at the time, the lowest price of a CD single was like $5, which was almost half of what the whole album would cost. Cassette singles were $3, which is like lunch at McDonald's and doable most of the time unless of course, you'd transitioned to CDs. This was even *assuming* I would be able to find it in stores, which was not a solid assumption.


Your recourse, in those days, was to try and catch it when it came on the radio and record it on a cassette. The problem with this strategy is that the timing was completely unpredictable and even if you were sitting there, staring at your stereo with your finger on the Record button, you're bound to miss the first chord or two. These unreleased/hard to find songs were shooting stars. This was the case with "Yellow Ledbetter" which begins with a guitar-only intro. For a while, it felt weird to not hear it start on the third note. 


Here is an incomplete list of misconceptions my friends and I held about what "Yellow Ledbetter" was about: 


Sex after a breakup


Hallucinating a small group of leprechauns on the porch while tripping on acid (my favorite)

A friend who died 


As it turns out (and I think Shaun told me this and Wikipedia confirms it), "Yellow Ledbetter" is an anti-war song inspired by the Gulf War. I can't say that it isn't noble and probably best, but I remain disappointed that it isn't sexy. I think my friend Cybil and I were particularly stuck on that theme because of our misunderstanding of the following lyrics: 


On a weekend I wanna wish it all away, yeah.

And they called and I said that "I want what I said" and then I call out again.


Which we heard as:


Haw d'ee-end I wanna waste it on the way, yeah

And I called and I said and I know and I said and I crawled outta bed 


And we would sing it out loud and shout the word BED, fueled by the vision of a shirtless Eddie Vedder getting up out of bed. 


"Yellow Ledbetter" is a mainstay on those amazing Radio Free Hawaii Spotify playlists. I can't help but marvel and the convenience of pulling up one of those playlists and listening to the Top 25, which included singles like "Yellow Ledbetter" and obscure stuff from the 80s or others that were only released in Europe. Particularly when reflecting on trying to catch songs spontaneously played on the radio station that inspired these playlists. But anyway, it's always a lovely treat when "Yellow Ledbetter" pops up, despite the fact that I have it on the Lost Dogs compilation AND can elect to listen to it from the small, smooth black rectangle I carry around with me always. It's close to that feeling of hitting the record button less than five seconds after the song starts.