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performed by Pearl Jam
written by Eddie Vedder (lyrics), Jeff Ament (music), Mike McCready (music)
released on August 1992
[Instrumental Intro 00:00-00:29]
Unsealed on a porch a letter sat
Then you said I wanna leave it again
Once I saw her on a beach of weathered sand
And on the sand I wanna leave it again, yeah
On a weekend wanna wish it all away
And they called and I said that I want what I said
And then I call out again
And the reason oughta leave her calm, I know
I said, I don’t know whether I’m the boxer or the bag
Oh yeah, can you see them
Out on the porch
Yeah, but they don’t wave
I see them
‘Round the front way, yeah
And I know and I know, I don’t wanna stay
Make me cry
[Instrumental Break 01:49-02:37]
I don’t always know why I post about any particular song. It might be related to a memory, intellectual curiosity, or maybe I heard it while watching television or a movie, and that experience sparked my curiosity.
This post is different. I’m sharing “Yellow Ledbetter” because it’s finding a second life on social media, none of the youths seem to know what the lyrics are, and I desired to provide them as a public service. As some of you might know, though, and as the information below will explain in greater detail, the lyrics for this song are not a constant. They change. However, the lyrics posted above are the official lyrics and you can sing them confidently while Eddie Vedder mumbles them. With my good deed out of the way, let’s learn more about the music. From wiki:
“Yellow Ledbetter” is a song by the American band Pearl Jam. Featuring lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music co-written by bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Mike McCready, “Yellow Ledbetter” was an outtake from the band’s debut album, Ten (1991). “Yellow Ledbetter” was selected by the band to be on the B-side of the 1992 single “Jeremy“, where it was first released. The song eventually found its way onto radio, peaking at number 21 on the BillboardMainstream Rock Tracks chart. The song was also included on Pearl Jam’s 2003 B-sides and rarities album Lost Dogs, and on their 2004 greatest hits album Rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003).
“Yellow Ledbetter” was a Ten outtake and one of the first songs Pearl Jam wrote as a group. The song features lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music co-written by bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Mike McCready. The version of “Yellow Ledbetter” that was eventually released was the second take of the song. McCready says of the song:
That was written around the time of the first record [Ten]. I think that was the second thing Ed and I wrote together. It came out of a jam in the studio and Ed didn’t really have any lyrics. He came up with some ideas right there on the spot, and that’s what we recorded. For some reason, it didn’t make it on Ten. I was kind of bummed at the time. I really wanted it to be on our first record. But at the time, I was really young and just happy to be around this situation, so I did whatever.
The song title “Yellow Ledbetter” is derived from the actual name of an old friend of Vedder’s from Chicago, named Tim Ledbetter. Although many fans have made their own interpretations of the song’s meaning, a common theory has been that the song is about someone receiving a letter saying that his or her brother had died overseas in war, as cited from the lyrics in the Live at the Garden version “I don’t know whether my brother will be coming home in a box or a bag.” On the official bootleg release of 5/3/03 – State College, Pennsylvania, Vedder sings “I’d like to wish this war away, and I tried, but it just, just don’t happen, don’t happen that way/And my brother…they sent him off to fight for the flag. I just, I don’t hope he comes home in a box or a bag”, and “And I know that he’s just following his path. As long, as long as it’s not a box or a bag.” On the official bootleg release of 7/11/03 – Mansfield, Massachusetts, Vedder sings in the first verse “I think of him when I go to bed, and he’s coming home in a box or a bag.”
Vedder has been known to change the lyrics of the song when singing it live, so it is difficult to know if what he is singing at the time are the original lyrics from 1991. In the liner notes for Lost Dogs, McCready said:
“A riff loosely based on something…I had during the ‘Ten’ sessions. I thought it was pretty. Eddie started making up words on the spot and we kept them. I still don’t know what it’s about and I don’t want to! I love it. Fans like it too!”
Vedder said in an online chat that the song was written around the time of the Gulf War and added that “it’s an anti-patriotic song, actually.” On August 7, 2008, at a solo performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey, Vedder took a question from the audience requesting that he explain the meaning of “Yellow Ledbetter”. At first, Vedder joked, “Wait…you mean there’s lyrics?” He went on to talk about how the song took as its subject a friend of his from Seattle whose brother served in the first Gulf War. His friend received a “yellow letter” in the mail informing him that his brother had died in the war. Vedder and his friend then went for a walk. On this walk, the friend, whom Vedder described as “alternative looking”, happened by a house with an American flag flying and people on the porch. He stopped and gestured to the flag, as if to salute it, but the people on the porch glared at him disapprovingly due to his appearance.
Honestly, I never understood the confusion about this song. It’s perfectly intelligible to me. Pearl Jam doesn’t let you share their videos, so if you want to hear this classic grunge jam, you can click HERE: