Sunday, May 20, 2012

No. 746 – I Got ID

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriter: Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Merkin Ball EP
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

My plan was to write about Christmas 1995, my first real Christmas not only away from my family but also where I was more or less disinvited. But sometimes stories tend to get away from themselves, and what started out as a simple introduction turned out to be a full-length digression. I present it as my entry for the day.

When I first heard that Pearl Jam and Neil Young were making an album together, I was excited by the news, and when Mirror Ball hit the streets in the summer of 1995, I, like a lot of people I expect, were a bit disappointed by the results.

This was the collaboration? Don’t get me wrong; it was a great album, but with the exception of two lines in one song, it was a Neil Young album with Pearl Jam backing him up. There was no Eddie Vedder anywhere. Something must have happened.

It didn’t take long to find out what happened, which confirmed what I had suspected: Neil and PJ were on different labels, and neither label would release the other act, so Mirror Ball came out as all Neil. In fact, the words Pearl Jam are nowhere to be found in the liner notes, just the names of the band members. In December 1995, Pearl Jam released Merkin Ball, which had two songs where Neil played guitar and organ but Eddie sang.

Because this predated iTunes, this presented a dilemma: How in the heck do I assemble a “lost and complete” Mirror Ball, and what should be the song order? The how was simple: I had to tape the songs in the proper order and have just a tape recording.

The song order was a bit more difficult, because I was only guessing, and I’m still not certain I have it right. I decided to keep the original Mirror Ball in the order it was in and insert the Pearl Jam songs where they best fit. Long Road was easy. That had to be the last song of the album. The last song on Mirror Ball, Fallen Angel, sets it up nicely with Neil on pipe organ solo as an interlude before the majestic swale of Long Road. This placement was obvious from the first time I heard the song.

This song, however, was more of a challenge, and I’m still not sure I have it right. I tried a couple of things, and I must have made three or four tapes. At first I decided to spread the Pearl Jam songs out and use Peace and Love as the centerpiece, because it’s the only song where Eddie and Neil share vocals. I had this song in the No. 4 spot, but when I listened to the tape start to finish, it didn’t seem to work sonically.

I decided finally to put this song after Peace and Love. Because that song is the first time you hear Eddie, it makes sense to have him then “step into the spotlight” on the next song, this song, before the two longest songs—Throw Your Hatred Down and Scenery (already noted on this list) on the album.

Until I hear from Eddie or Neil himself—and, of course, I won’t—this is the proper song order as far as I’m concerned.

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