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Niall Doherty

From Dylan to Prince, The Stooges to The La's: the 10 best covers by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam live in 2022.

Pearl Jam are not short of songs to pull from for their current tour – I mean, you don’t when you’ve released 12 studio albums, do you? But even now, Eddie Vedder and co. love slipping a cover version in there somewhere. On the US leg of the tour to support their excellent recent record Dark Matter, they’ve continued their fine tradition of covers by diving into renditions of Bob Dylan and/or Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower, Jason Isbell’s Maybe It’s Time, Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart and more. Yes, you want to walk away from a Pearl Jam having heard them play the classics with some surprising deep cuts in between (hello Hard To Imagine!), but it’s just as thrilling to hear one of the world’s most well-drilled rock’n’roll bands Pearl Jam-ise another song. They’ve had a lot of practice. Here is ten of the best covers by Pearl Jam:

Rockin’ In The Free World

Let’s start with an obvious pick. According to, Pearl Jam have played this Neil Young classic 333 times across their career, which is 105 more times than Neil Young & Crazy Horse have played it in the site’s timespan (although, before you write in, Neil has also played it solo, with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and with Promise Of The Real). It just goes to show at what a staple it has become in Pearl Jam shows, the ultimate salute to their hero and sometime-mentor. Is it sacrilege to say their version is better? Possibly, so we’ll just leave the thought dangling.

Timeless Melody

And a not so obvious pick. Eddie Vedder made an unforgiveable error for which we immediately forgave him when introducing this song on the Binaural tour in 2000, repeatedly asserting that it was a track by a Mancunian band but “not the Gallagher brothers”. It’s in fact by Liverpool’s cult heroes The La’s and written by their even culter-hero leader Lee Mavers (when Vedder played it on a solo tour in 2022, he had corrected his geography). Apparently introduced to the group by drummer Matt Cameron, it's great to hear a breezy 60s pop homage get given the beefed-up treatment by the Seattle heavyweights.

Last Kiss

Pearl Jam were deep into their ‘we don’t do hits’ phase when they unexpectedly had a huge one with Last Kiss. It was a slow-burner. Being badgered by their team to get their annual Christmas single down for their fan club, they rush-recorded a version of this 1961 Wayne Cochran song, sent it out, and assumed that was that. But that most certainly wasn’t that. It begun receiving airplay, creeping up the charts on the back of it, eventually reaching a lofty Number 2 in the Billboard 100.

Crown Of Thorns

One of the more poignant covers in the Pearl Jam repertoire – and, for some members of the band, not a cover at all. The slow-building epic originally featured on the debut EP by Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s previous group Mother Love Bone, first performed by Pearl Jam on the tenth anniversary of their first gig in tribute to late Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood.

Leavin’ Here

A groovy Motown number written by crack songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, Pearl Jam’s raucous bluesy take on Leavin’ Here was in the vein of the rendition popularised by The Who in the mid-60s. Pearl Jam would use it as an exhilarating closer during a number of shows in the mid-90s, whilst this recorded version features on their rarities set Lost Dogs.

Crazy Mary

Crazy Mary has cropped up in Pearl Jam setlists for many a year. Their version has its roots in the compilation Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams, a tribute album that came together to support the Louisiana songwriter after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Out of it grew the Sweet Relief Fund, a charity set up to help musicians in need of medical care.

Sonic Reducer

Dark Matter showed that mature, mid-50s Pearl Jam are no slouches, but in their early years, they could really play hard and fast. No better evidence than this rattling cover of Sonic Reducer by Cleveland punk pioneers Dead Boys.

Search And Destroy

Saying that, they are not beyond calling in the calvary when required. The Stooges’ Search And Destroy, for example, needs something a little more menacing up front, hence PJ roping in Mudhoney’s Mark Arm to assist Vedder on vocal duties.

Purple Rain

Pearl Jam gave the Prince classic a good go during the few times it was played on their 2022 tour. Mike McCready certainly has the chops to match Prince’s virtuoso guitar solo’ing and they found a novel way round the fact Eddie Vedder, excellent singer though he is, lacks the Purple One’s soulfulness, spreading the vocals between him and slightly more sweet-voiced session guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.

Masters Of War

Pearl Jam might have had a successful two years but they were still relative newcomers when Vedder and McCready tackled this Bob Dylan all-timer at Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert in 1993. They’ve returned to it many times since but its original performance feels like a line in the sand: they weren’t scared to tackle the big songs, or the big issues.

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