Looking back on one of the greatest fan club perks in rock history
Challenge accepted: In the time it takes to listen to all 58 songs, document the history of Pearl Jam’s Christmas Singles, Holiday Singles, Fan Club Singles, Ten Club Singles — they’ve been called many things over the years.
They were the mostly 7-inch — with two 10-inch — vinyl A-side/B-side “singles” — there were two double-disc years — for members of Ten Club , Pearl Jam’s fan club since the very beginning, which eventually offered cheaper Digital and more expensive Analog tiers for those who did/did not want to receive physical vinyl each year.
More recently they’ve been called delayed. And as of 2018, they were eliminated, with 2017 and 2018 promised to those who were paid Analog members during those years. In November an email went out saying they were in production and the four tracks were provided to members digitally through their 10C accounts.
It was the end of an era for a band that continues to push vinyl to collectors, whether it be reissues of their studio albums, Vault releases, singles and colored variations, including the recently released purple version of their debut Ten.
What we find when going through the Fan Club singles from 1991-2018 is a rich history of deep cuts, Lost Dogs, variations, live tracks, collaborations, covers and tributes — and several even in some sort of combination thereof. There are even many actual Christmas songs in the mix that you can make yourself a playlist of actual holiday tunes — “Someday at Christmas,” “Let Me Sleep (It’s Christmastime),” “Santa God,” “Jingle Bells,” “Don’t Believe in Christmas,” “Turning Mist” and the two “Ramblings” tracks — some being close enough if you add the likes of “Angel,” “I Believe in Miracles” and “Imagine” among the singles.
VIDEO: Pearl Jam “I Believe In Miracles”
Then you can fill it out with “Faithful” and “Wishlist” (perhaps the back-to-back performances from Madison Square Garden in 2003),“Thumbing My Way,” “Tremor Christ,” “Deep” and “Do the Evolution.” (You can even start it with Chris Cornell’s “Ave Maria” and end it was Pearl Jam’s “Arc” for that spiritual component.)
As stellar as the music that came out of the singles is, artwork was always unique, yet another staple of the Pearl Jam catalog from music releases to tour posters.
But since we’re here for the music…
Track by Track
Off the white whale for so many, the famous rhino cover, “Let Me Sleep (It’s Christmas Time)” is not only a beautiful song, but it’s really the first time Pearl Jam wasn’t Pearl Jam. It was the band’s first stripped down studio recording in 1991, following Ten and the two classics from Cameron Crowe’s Singles.
The ballad sees “Ramblings” — the first of three — on the flip side with Christmas wishes. It’s all the guys literally rambling while an acoustic guitar is strummed during the off-the-cuff band banter, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers are playing a set during the two bands touring together. Mike’s Tiny Tim impression is spot on and Eddie declared, “I am a rhinoceros, and my skin is two feet thick,” which became the inspiration for a PJ-themed website. It was followed by a brief song about happiness.
1992 brings the Dead Boys cover of “Sonic Reducer,” which has become a staple cover for the band during tours as they return to their heavier sound for the follow-up single. This was a studio version.
“Ramblings Continued” was a planned out, mixed message from the band that included different Christmas songs and what sounds like movie, interview and news clips before the band enters to offer actual ramblings of their own. George Bush — father of “Bu$hleaguer” — even makes an appearance. Of all the singles it’s probably the biggest throwaway.
Then along comes “Angel” in 1993 to just smack you in the face with raw emotion from Eddie Vedder and Dave Abruzzese’s 1991 acoustic masterpiece. It might just be the single best song from all of the years of singles.
On the opposite spectrum is “Ramblings (Live),” which documents one of the great moments in Pearl Jam concert history with the raucous “Fuck Me in The Brain,” AKA “The Shoe Incident,” from Nov. 5, 1993, during a rowdy show in Indo, CA. The song was played only twice in November 1993. It’s from Eddie’s previous band, Bad Radio and there is also a rare uncensored version of the single out there.
While there was no single in 1994, fans were treated to four tracks over two discs the next year. “History Never Repeats,” featuring Ed and Neil Finn live is one of the better collaborations among the many. “Sonic Reducer,” the only repeat over the years, returned to the lineup, this time with a live version with Joey Ramone belting out lead vocals with Ed on the B-side. The Ramones also famously covered the Dead Boys song.
The second record featured a Green River reunion — Stone and Jeff’s band with Mark Arm prior to the forming of Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone — and “Swallow My Pride” live from 1993, with Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with Ed and Terry Presley, Elvis’ cousin, closing out the double dip with some levity. Both songs were recorded at the Aladdin Theater in Las Vegas, Nov. 30, 1993.
“Olympic Platinum,” penned by engineer Nick Didia around the time of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, is a bit of a spoof about international competition. The band must have had some extra studio time to fill. The other side reminds us to “Smile,” which is probably a good thing if you don’t know what to make of “Olympic Platinum.” That one was recorded live in Barcelona that year, a great song off No Code where the harmonica takes center stage.
1997 offered a unique gift for fans as Pearl Jam teamed up with R.E.M. for the single in which each band contributed one song, and each fan club got its own unique packaging. So for true collectors you’d need both versions featuring Jack Irons’ writing on “Happy When I’m Crying” — for better or worse you can tell none of the other band members wrote it — and R.E.M.’s live “Live for Today.” It’s probably better that this was a one-off.
Originally released for the single, early 1960s covers “Soldier of Love (Lay Your Arms Down)” (live) and “Last Kiss” (studio) later appeared on 1999’s No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees. “Last Kiss” remains Pearl Jam’s highest charting single at No. 2 on Billboard. (Damn you, J-Lo!) The band continues to play “Last Kiss” live, often with the band pivoting to face the crowd behind the stage.
In 1999, Pearl Jam went fully original once again with Stone’s somber “Strangest Tribe” and Ed’s catchy, nearly spoken and once again harmonica-featuring “Drifting,” two of the best songs later featured on Lost Dogs. Both were recorded in Seattle during the World Trade Organization protests.
The band celebrated 10 years with the 2000 single, featuring two covers from their Oct. 22, 2000, anniversary show in Las Vegas: Mother Love Bone’s “Crown of Thorns” and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love Again.” It was the band’s first time covering an Andy Wood song in honor of the roots of Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard.
On the cover there are nine stars in a row across the top, while the back says, “nine stars watching over us,” which will later be referred to as “nine friends we’ll never know” in “Love Boat Captain” from “Riot Act” in honor of the nine concert-goers who were trampled and killed at Roskilde Festival in Denmark on June 30, 2000.
2001 was the first — and only time — the band released four songs without having skipped any years. Mike McCready’s “Last Soldier,” a politically charged rarity, was the first track, while stripped down “Indifference” with Ben Harper followed, both from Neil Young’s 2001 Bridge School Benefit.
Disc 2 offered two more covers, the first John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” live from Seattle, the second a personal solo tribute by Jeff to then-recently deceased Joey Ramone through “Just Want to Have Something to Do.”
Returning to more 1960s covers, and the first real Christmas song since the first single, the band went with the swinging Boom Gaspar-on-the keys “Don’t Believe in Christmas” (The Sonics), recorded during a Showbox soundcheck, and “Sleepless Nights” (The Everly Brothers) live — Eddie with Beck at a Recording Artists Coalition benefit — for 2002. A version of “Sleepless Nights” was recorded for Ed’s appropriately titled Ukulele Songs in 2011 with Glen Hansard.
The year 2003 introduced the first of two 10-inch singles and the lone appearance of Temple of the Dog. “Reach Down” was the featured song,” with another Ramones song appearance with a stripped down “I Believe in Miracles,” both from a show in California that year.
Ed is a known Michael Jackson fan and the band covered The Jackson 5’s optimistic “Someday at Christmas” in 2004 along with Ed’s acoustic “Better Man” arrangement with backing vocals by the Walmer High School Choir of Cape Town, South Africa, later released on the Molo Sessions CD. This is one of the more uplifting pairings of the entire run.
AUDIO: Pearl Jam “Someday at Christmas”
The next year another Elvis cover, “Little Sister,” was recorded live with Robert Plant for a Hurricane Katrina Benefit. On the other side was Ed’s demo of “Gone,” recorded in Room 1152 of the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City after Ed was trying to figure out to play a Bruce Springsteen song. “Gone” was later on the self-titled or Avocado album in 2006.
Two band heroes finally made it to the singles ranks in 2006 as the band covered The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The “Quadrophenia” gem was a studio recording for the Adam Sandler movie “Reign Over Me,” while “RITFW,” a standard encore and show-closer for the band, was a collaboration with U2’s Bono and The Edge from a show in Australia. The two frontmen are credited with writing additional lyrics from the duet.
2007 actually features two Christmas tunes: Eddie Vedder original trip down memory lane “Santa God” and “Jingle Bells,” a Mike McCready rock instrumental.
With Eddie original “Santa Cruz” (not that Santa) and John Doe cover “The Golden State,” featuring a duet by Ed and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney, fans were treated to one of the best gifts in 2008. The songs are laid back and rise above the pack. Ed has also recorded “Golden State” with the likes of E.J. Barnes and Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks.
Eddie supplied vocals on one of the 2009 songs. “Turning Mist” was written by and features Mike on vocals. And it’s a fantastic song that references Christmas. Mike really nails the spotlight on this one, but Ed does grabs some of it back on the other side with a live heartfelt tribute to Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, regaling the Hawaii Theater audience with “Hawaii ’78” (written by Mickey Ioane) with Boom Gaspar and Tavana McMoore.
In a return to the 10-inch in 2010, the band reached into the vault for a pair of live songs from Red Rocks in 1995, the tripped-out “No Jeremy” and the one-off all-in performance of “Falling Down,” which has unknown origins and writing credits.
The Kinks and X got the next shoutout in 2011 with a studio cover of Kinks’ upbeat “Better Things” and a soundcheck collaboration between Ed and X for the punk-driven “Devil Doll.”
PJ20 at Alpine Valley got the treatment in 2012 with two more Lost Dogs: the amped-up “All Night” and the eerie-meets-groovy “In the Moonlight” from the 2011 two-day celebration that was filled with special guests, like Josh Homme, who is featured in the second song. (The band has yet to release bootlegs from PJ20.)
The selections from 2013 could not be more different with “99 Problems” with Jay-Z from his Made in America Festival and Ed’s duet on the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered” with actress Jeanne Tripplehorn performing as Julie Andrews. “99 Problems” is almost a throwback to the unlikely pairings from the “Judgment Night” Soundtrack, while “Shattered” is not to be missed, a true gem from a Heal EB Benefit, the same organization Eddie and Jill Vedder hosted a virtual fundraiser during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Ed gets his John Lennon on for the 2014 single that features a solo live performance of “Imagine,” with the crowd serving as background choir, while Jeff gets creative with a reimagined “Pendulum” with the soothing acid-trip instrumental “Pendulumorphosis.”
A cover from a 1991 recording session pops up in 2015 with Free’s “Wishing Well” and, from Pearl Jam’s hour-long set at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, Ed cover’s Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” with Jay-Z’s wife, better known as “The Queen B,” Beyoncé.
The band celebrated its 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the 2016 single (ignore the fact that the sleeve is labeled 2017) that gave us “Alive” with original drummer Dave Krusen from the soundcheck at the Barclays Center and rock icon Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” from the rehearsal a week earlier.
The yet-to-be-released physical vinyl for 2017 and 2018 celebrates three more iconic musicians: Tom Petty, Warren Zevon and Chris Cornell. Ed covers “Wildflowers” by Petty, who died in 2017 and whom Ed had performed with. The Zevon cover of “Keep Me in Your Heart” featured Ed and Paul Shaffer & The Choir and celebrated friend David Letterman at The Kennedy Center Honors in 2017. Cornell, who also died in 2017, gets a retooled studio version of early Soundgarden song “Hunted Down” with Stone on the vocals and “Missing,” which was inspired by Ament’s Poncier demos song titles from the “Singles Soundtrack.” This was a live version from Wrigley Field in 2018. Eddie gives a passionate, soulful performance on his soulmate’s song.
The band certainly ended the era of Christmas singles by honoring the end of an era in Cornell’s passing. Perhaps no more fitting an end.
AUDIO: Pearl Jam Christmas Singles playlist