Tuesday, January 09, 2007
(The Voice of) My Generation
Eddie Vedder can sing anything.
Case in point: His new cover of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The song appears in an upcoming Adam Sandler film, “Reign Over Me” (co-starring Don Cheadle), that looks like it could be a welcome return to “Punch-Drunk Love” territory for the typically juvenile actor.
Anyway, Eddie recorded an outstanding version of “Reign” for the soundtrack, and it debuted in full earlier this week on a Seattle radio station; you can hear a recording made from that airing (albeit recorded over the Internet) here.
Eddie is quite particular about the songs he chooses to cover—both on official recorded versions and those that pop up during live sets. They almost always mean something special to him, and his passion clearly fuels the performances. It’s a remarkable thing, really, because his rugged, unmistakable baritone can seemingly fit into any song he chooses.
When I call Eddie the voice of my generation, I don’t mean in some literal, artsy sense—I mean his actual vocal performance (his lyrics, actually, can be hit or miss—more hits than misses, but still …). It was his voice, and his intensity, that originally drew me to Pearl Jam, and it’s the reason I’ve stuck around all these years (with all due credit to the most underrated guitarist of my generation, Mr. Mike McCready).
So this latest in a long line of excellent cover choices got me thinking about my favorite Vedder covers; he’s exposed me to some great music. Note: This list is focused on EV covers, not PJ covers. Thus no “Rockin’ in the Free World” or “Baba O’Riley” or the like, because those are more full-band experiences than strictly Ed songs. These are the 15 favorite covers I most strongly identify with his incredible voice. Note No. 2: This list is comprised only of the covers I’ve heard either via bootleg or in person; Pearl Jam have covered a few hundred songs in their career, and by no means have I heard them all.
1. “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” Hunters and Collectors (as performed 8.18.2000 in Indianapolis)—Just a simple little song, but its infectious melody—played solo on guitar—fits Ed’s voice perfectly. According to pearljam.com, he’s only performed it 12 times and only once during the entire 2000 tour—thankfully, I was lucky enough to be out on the lawn that night. Oddly, this is one of the few songs I haven’t gone back and checked out the original source material. Have to do something about that …
2. “One Step Up,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed on a pre-PJ EV demo)—I had always liked this song from “Tunnel of Love,” but hearing this stunning karaoke-style rendition put it over the top. I didn’t know anything about it when I downloaded several years ago, and that first listen blew me away.
3. “Save It for Later,” The English Beat—No “Betterman” feels quite complete without this tag. Too many great versions over the years to choose from, though that night in Indy featured a stirring rendition (what a show that was!). Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to The English Beat.
4. “I Am A Patriot,” Little Steven Van Zandt—This was my No. 1 choice for years, as it’s a beautiful song sung to perfection by Ed, and a political song I could actually identify with. But the stretch of lines that ends with “I ain’t no Democrat, and I ain’t no Republican” doesn’t ring true anymore after Ed’s shameless shilling for a moron like John Kerry during the Vote for Change Tour in 2004. Still an awesome cover, though.
5. “It’s OK,” Dead Moon (as performed 8.3.2000 in Virginia Beach and 8.24.2000 in Jones Beach, N.Y.)—“Betterman” may not feel quite right without “Save It for Later,” but there IS no “Daughter” without a tag, and this is my favorite of the many, many great ones over the years. “It’s OK” became a song of catharsis in 2000 after nine fans died at the Roskilde festival in Germany earlier that summer. I honestly thought the band would break up (so did they, for a while), but it’s moments like this that kept them going. The Jones Beach version was included on the “Touring Band 2000” DVD, and it’s a must-see goosebump moment. (Looking forward to the similar THREE-DISC 2006 version due in a few months!)
6. “I Believe in Miracles,” Ramones (as performed with Zeke on the Ramones tribute CD)—You want passion? I give you EV covering the Ramones. This song absolutely blasts off that album and dominates every other entry included. Ed’s performance was so awesome, he actually has two Ramones covers on the CD; the other, “Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love),” is good, but “Miracles” is spectacular.
7. “The Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed with Sleater-Kinney on 10.3.2005 in Philly)—An absolute, total, shocking surprise of a pre-set opener. And it was basically PERFECT, right down to the harmonica solo (although Ed did have a little trouble with a few of the high notes). You can read more about it here.
8. “Naked Eye,” The Who (as performed solo 2.24.1994 in NYC)—Ed takes the stage for a guest appearance as part of Roger Daltrey’s 50th birthday bash and makes an indelible impression on the Who faithful in the crowd that night—and on me, listening to it years later. As best I can recall, Ed’s unbelievable version of “Naked Eye” gave me the final push I needed to start really listening to The Who—you know, beyond that “best of” sort of way. He played seven songs over the course of that two-night affair, and they are all stellar.
9. “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty (as performed solo during the 1994 tour)—The notion of bootlegs on the Internet was in its infancy while I was in college. This cover (I still don’t know which version) was one of the first songs I downloaded; I was so thrilled with it, I burned it onto a CD ASAP and ran over to a friend’s dorm room—a huge Petty fan—to play it for her, and she was floored by it, too. Just one of those nice PJ-related musical memories I’ll never forget. You know what sucks, though? I think I’ve lost that CD …
10. “Let My Love Open the Door,” Pete Townshend—Ed’s performed this song, my favorite of Townshend’s solo work, multiple times—solo, with the band, and with Pete. It’s basically great each time, any way he does it.
11. “Masters of War,” Bob Dylan (as performed 10.16.1992 in NYC)—Ed absolutely eats this song alive. This version was played with Mike during a Dylan tribute at MSG but has been in regular rotation since 2003 for obvious reasons.
12. “Timeless Melody,” The La’s (as performed 6.14.2000 in the Czech Republic)—Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to The La’s.
13. “Modern Girl,” Sleater-Kinney (as performed 10.3.2005 in Philly)—Great little tag at the end of “Not for You.” Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to Sleater-Kinney.
14. “Growin’ Up,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed 7.14.2003 in Holmdel, N.J.)—I basically bought this bootleg just for this song, and it turned out to be a train wreck. Still, a gallant, endearing try.
15. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” The Who (as performed on the “Reign Over Me” soundtrack)—I’ll have to wait until I hear an official version, but something tells me this song will be moving up the list rapidly—and soon.