Monday, June 10, 2024

How Pearl Jam Ripped Off John Paul Jones for ‘Better Man’

A lot of pieces had to fall into place for Pearl Jam to release their classic track “Better Man.”

In a recent conversation with Rick Beato, producer Brendan O’Brien detailed how the song came together.

“I made a comment early on… really the first day on the job,” he explained, recalling the first time he heard Pearl Jam play “Better Man” in their rehearsal space. “That sounds great. That’s a hit. That’s awesome,” O’Brien declared at the time. “And everybody just kind of goes, ‘Ugh.’ And I just went, ‘Oh, I have said the wrong thing.’”

Part of Pearl Jam’s uneasiness with “Better Man” was that it felt more mainstream and poppy than their other material. The band -- and, most certainly the song's writer, Eddie Vedder -- did not want appear like they were chasing a hit. O’Brien’s comment made it an “uphill battle from there" to get the song released.

After tinkering with the tune, the band slowly warmed up to the song. One of O’Brien’s biggest contributions was the addition of a pump organ, which he played. It was an idea he gleaned from another famous rocker, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

“That’s so John Paul Jones,” the producer declared, while discussing the “Better Man” arrangement. “I’m sure I ripped this sound off from him, because he would do stuff, especially on their first album, where he would double track the organ. Like on the beginning of ‘Your Time Is Gonna to Come.’ That’s double tracked organ.”
Eddie Vedder's 'Last Minute' Call Totally Changed 'Better Man'

Even as “Better Man” grew and evolved, Vedder wasn’t confident about recording the song.

“I understood Eddie’s reticence with it,” O’Brien admitted. “But it was gonna get done because the song was that good. It was going to raise itself up at some point.”

Pearl Jam began adding the song into their live sets, even before they’d laid down an official studio version. When O’Brien recorded a couple of their performances at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and mixed them into a demo, Vedder suddenly was awakened to “Better Man”’s potential.

Pearl Jam soon recorded a studio version of “Better Man” and the tune was initially earmarked for their 1993 LP Vs. Still, it would go through one more major change before reaching the public.

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