Eddie Vedder will forever be linked to one of America's greatest bands — Pearl Jam. He's been fronting the Seattle alt-rockers since 1990, when the members — Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and a slew of drummers (currently Matt Cameron) — were just kids leading the then-new movement called grunge. Vedder was angry, confused, conflicted and often poetic in the early days. Today (Dec. 23) marks his 50th birthday, and he still shows that same passion.
Surprisingly enough, Vedder has only released two solo albums, which is impressive considering he was ranked number seven on Rolling Stone's Best Lead Singers of All Time list and consistently sells out solo dates. Like most great bands, Pearl Jam's magic exists when all of the members contribute. It's not just Ed, although he has a lot to do with the magic.
In celebration of Vedder's birthday, Music Times looked at his two solo albums and covers and picked out a few gems for those who haven't experienced the captivating frontman with just a guitar or ukulele. The singer put together a few tunes in 2007 for the Sean Penn-directed film Into the Wild (Penn's idea). The effort hit number 11 on the Billboard 200.
Vedder released his second solo effort, Ukulele Songs, in 2011, surprising fans and critics alike. A majority of the tracks feature Ed's powerful vocals accompanied only by a ukulele. The mixture is soothing while still maintaining that edge that Vedder always seems to carry with him.
7. "Dream a Little Dream" - Ukulele Songs
Vedder attacks this 1931 standard like no other. He drops his voice a few octaves, and he lets the lyrics do the rest. It's a brilliant way to close out the album. The peaceful lullaby will give you tingles. It runs a little more than a minute, but every second is worth a listen.
6. "Sleeping by Myself" - Ukulele Songs
Heartbreak reached a whole new level when Vedder decided to lay this one down. "I believe in nothing but the pain / And I can't see this turning out right / I'll be sleeping by myself tonight," he coos softly. The singer's friends in Pearl Jam liked this one so much that they decided to record it for their last album Lightning Bolt. Vedder's uke version still wins.
5. "Guaranteed" - Into the Wild
If you've never seen Into the Wild, then "Guaranteed" does a superb job of setting up the tone for the film. There's so much hope in the song, but Vedder's controlled performance brings it down. And I think that's what he was going for on this one. No doubt Penn was happy with his decision to include Vedder after he heard this heartbreaker.
4. "Light Today" - Ukulele Songs
This one made the list because it's the closest thing to a Pearl Jam song with just Vedder and a uke. It just keeps building and building with that urgent melody. It never breaks though. Just keeps building. "Silence loud and wind so low / The quiet building in the dark / Surrender to the game / I saw the light today," he sings.
3. "My City of Ruin" Haiti Relief
Vedder draws inspiration from tons of notable artists like Neil Young, Tom Petty and, of course, Bruce Springsteen. When The Boss was received his medal of excellence at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in 2009, Vedder was on hand to deliver a riveting performance of the 2002 song from The Rising. It was later released as a single and the proceeds went toward the relief effort in Haiti after the 2010 natural disaster.
2. "Longing to Belong" - Ukulele Songs
Another beautiful one. Leave it to Ed to put together a phrase like "All my time is spent here / Longing to belong to you."
1. "Rise" - Into the Wild
Aside from "Hard Sun," "Rise" is probably the best track from Into the Wild. It makes you want to see places. It makes you want to be better. Thanks for the pick-me-up, Ed.