Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam: Great B-Sides

During sessions for their debut album Ten, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Mike McCready, and vocalist Eddie Vedder improvised a song in the studio. McCready’s opening guitar licks are inspired by Jimi Hendrix, while Vedder made up lyrics on the spot with an anti-war message, informed by the events then unfolding during the Gulf War.

‘Yellow Ledbetter’ didn’t make the final record, possibly because it’s too close in feel to Hendrix’s iconic ‘Little Wing’, and was instead issued as the b-side to ‘Jeremy’. While the reverb-heavy production of Ten is often to its detriment, it sounds fine in this spacious, relaxed song.

But despite its status as a b-side, ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ taken on a life of its own – it was used in the final episode of Friends, it was included as the closing track of the band’s 2004 compilation Rearviewmirror, and McCready’s solo made #95 in Guitar World’s 2007 list of greatest guitar solos.

Many Pearl Jam fans think they peaked with Ten and 1993’s Vs., and then got too weird on Vitalogy, but I’ve always preferred their more expansive work in the later 1990s. But along with ‘Black’ from Ten, ‘Yellow Ledbetter’ is one of my favourite Pearl Jam songs from their early period.

Yellow Ledbetter Lyrics

Unsealed, on a porch a letter sat
Then you said, “I wanna leave it again”
Once I saw her on a beach of weathered sand
And on the sand I wanna leave her again

On a weekend I wanna wish it all away, yeah
And they called and I said that I’ll go
And I said that I’ll call out again
And the reason I ought ta leave her calm, I know
I said, “I don’t know whether I’m the boxer or the bag”

Oh yeah, can you see them, out on the porch?
Yeah, but they don’t wave
I see them ’round the front way, yeah
And I know, and I know I don’t wanna stay

Make me cry

I see oh, I don’t know why there’s something else
I want to, wanna drum it all away
I said, “I don’t, I don’t know whether I was the boxer or the bag”

Oh yeah, can you see them, out the on porch?
Yeah, but they don’t wave
I see them ’round the front way
And I know, and I know I don’t want to stay at all
I don’t want to stay
I don’t want to stay
I don’t want to stay
I don’t, I don’t want to stay

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    • I’m not a huge fan of Ten – it has those four great singles and ‘Release Me’, but the production isn’t very fitting. Would have been a much better album with a better production job (I haven’t heard the redone version) and Yellow Ledbetter in the track listing.

  1. I don’t listen to Ten that much at all these days – a few choice cuts, but I very much prefer Pearl Jam when they got more adventurous. However, some of those early b-sides and outtakes are great. I haven’t really listened to Yellow Ledbetter an awfy lot over that last 10 years or so, either… a great tune, but I think I listened to it too much. Way too much. I just haven’t felt that inclined to listen to the studio version… some of the live versions are great, though.

  2. Some of the stuff that didn’t make Ten is a) great and b) even better as it didn’t suffer from the mix that killed so many killer tunes on that disc. Yellow Ledbetter is the cream of the crop but that also includes State of Love and Trust, Breath, Footsteps and Brother….

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