The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #180: Better Man by Pearl Jam (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #180: Better Man by Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam have emerged from the 1990s Seattle Grunge scene intact and are still playing today. One of the most amazing aspects of their career is the fact that many of the hit songs in their catalogue were written by lead singer, Eddie Vedder, when he was still a teenager. Songs such as “Even Flow”, “Alive”, “Jeremy” and, today’s song, “Better Man” were, for the most part, fully-formed when it came time to record their debut album and announce their musical presence to the world.

Eddie Vedder was 16 years old when he wrote, “Better Man” (making him only one year older than my daughter, Leah). Like many teenagers, Vedder found himself dealing with some emotional family turmoil. In his case, now that he was getting older, his mother felt he was mature enough to handle the news that the man he thought was his “real” father was, in fact, his step-father and that his biological Dad had never been part of his life. Looking at this decision from an outside, objective perspective….it can be said that being honest with someone you love is always the best policy but, I am sure that Vedder’s mother must have had her fears that he would not receive this news well which is, in fact, how it turned out. In concerts, Vedder has been known to introduce this song about it being about, “the bastard who married my Mom.”

“Better Man” was written as Vedder’s way of dealing with his emotions at the time. As mentioned, he was a sixteen year old boy then. The lyrics are surprisingly mature and paint a very detailed picture of a relationship that is unsteady and of a woman who wishes to leave but feels unable to do so. “Better Man” is a quieter song, as compared to some of Pearl Jam’s other guitar-driven rockers in their catalogue but, it still rocks well. It has become a fan favourite and a song that the audience often takes over and sings for Vedder, as he quietly plays guitar in accompaniment. The song ended up, not on their debut album but, a few years later, on an album called, “Vitalogy”.

Pearl Jam are an interesting band because they have had a very careful approach to how their music is marketed to their fans. They are not in the habit of making music videos nor of releasing songs as singles. For the most part, “Pearl Jam” release only concert videos and only release albums, as a whole, for download or sale in stores as a physical CD or album. They are close associates of fellow musical contrarians, Neil Young, Pete Townsend and Bruce Springsteen who, like Pearl jam, try to make their music as corporate-free as possible. Because of this sense of character that the band maintains, their fanbase is very loyal. There is a sense of trust between band and fans that sees the band release good material, without much in the way of promotion, while the fans buy unseen albums on faith. Because Pearl Jam write and record with integrity, they rarely disappoint their fans. Thus, a positive cycle of trust endures.

It is for this reason that someone like Eddie Vedder would entrust the singing of so personal a song like, “Better Man” to his fans. He knows they will handle his story with care. It is because of this atmosphere that the playing of “Better Man” has become such a highlight of Pearl Jam’s live shows. But, no need for you to take my word for it. Here is a live concert video of “Better Man” by Pearl Jam. I think that this is a wonderful song and I hope that you like it, too. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Better Man” by Pearl Jam, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pearl Jam, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting the best artists and bands. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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