Yellow Ledbetter is probably Pearl Jam’s most simply identifiable song. And yet for the most part individuals have little or no hint what the song’s lyrics are saying at all. The song has unquestionable emotional effect, so it would seem like the lyrics would be of primary weight. Not the state of affairs at this juncture though.
The initial several times individuals hear Yellow Ledbetter, it grabs your attention right from the start. It opens with a ringing yet sparse guitar riff which sets it apart from the bulk of Pearl Jam’s work. It hangs out there and pulls you in with such immediacy that you are involved viscerally prior to the first word is sung. When Eddie Vedder moans out the opening line of lyrics the contrast concerning the decisive guitar and the guttural way he moans the words turns what was already a song holding your engrossed attention into a an emotional experience like none other.
If you look around for lyrics to Yellow Ledbetter, you will notice that there are literally dozens of completely unique versions of what individuals think is being sung. Sorting out the ones which are evidently wrong can take a lot of time, but really isn’t as problematical as you would think. Hip interviews, Eddie Vedder has repeatedly stated that the lyrics alter with just about each performance. It is pretty obvious however, that the main lyrics and their content uphold an integrity to a central theme.
That theme is one of extreme emotional pain. The kind of anguish which comes not solely from the end of a relationship, but from the conclusion of a major part of someone’s life. Is this an opinion? Of course it is, and having listened to the song more times than I can count, I am entitled to it. Listen to it yourself over and over, and look at what it means to you. Listening to it an adequate amount to bring about an impression on you gives entitles each and every one of us to our own analysis of the Yellow Ledbetter lyrics.
How do I know this to be accurate? Because if this were not the kind of piece that Pearl Jam wonted to be seen this way, they would have made good and certain that we had a lyric sheet with the verses and chorus nailed down specifically. A song like Don Mclean;s American Pie is necessarily precise with cultural and historical references exclusive of which the song would make no sense. Yellow Ledbetter is an entirely unique beast, with more in common with a Tom Waits ballad with it’s droning incoherent mass of words and images than it does even the bulk of Pearl Jam’s own work.
The more I listen to Yellow Ledbetter, the more I get out of it. Building on what I had already gotten from earlier listenings and expanding the scope and influence of what has to be acknowledged as one amazing song. To me the hallmark of any work of art is whether is can stand up to constant exposure and continue to inspire some kind of emotional reaction, and does that reaction evolve with time. Does it resonate differently for it’s audience as their lives transform?
By this, or just about any other test Pearl Jam has a masterpiece in Yellow Ledbetter. It meets these standards with ease…