Yellow Ledbetter is probably Pearl Jam's most simply identifiable song. And yet generally folks have little or no clue what the song's lyrics are saying at all. The song has incontestable emotional effect, so it would seem like the lyrics would be of primary significance. Not the situation at this time though. The earliest several times folks 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 previous to the first word is sung. When Eddie Vedder moans out the initial line of lyrics the contrast involving the bracing guitar and the guttural way he moans the words turns what was already a song holding your spellbound attention into a an emotional experience like none other. If you look around for lyrics to Yellow Ledbetter, you will discover that there are literally dozens of completely unique versions of what folks think is being sung. Sorting out the ones which are evidently wrong can take a lot of time, but really isn't as tricky as you would think. Inside interviews, Eddie Vedder has repeatedly held that the lyrics vary with just about each performance. It is pretty apparent however, that the basic lyrics and their content retain an integrity to a central theme. That theme is one of extreme emotional pain. The kind of sorrow which comes not solely from the end of a relationship, but from the finish 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 realize what it means to you.
Listening to it a sufficient amount to formulate an impression on you gives entitles each and every one of us to our own version of the Yellow Ledbetter lyrics. How do I know this to be factual? 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 A song like Don Mclean;s American Pie is necessarily exact with cultural and historical references lacking which the song would make no sense. Yellow Ledbetter is an entirely uncommon beast, with more in common with a Tom Waits ballad with it's droning indecipherable 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 prior listenings and expanding the scope and impression 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 continual 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 guide Pearl Jam has a masterpiece in Yellow Ledbetter. It meets these standards with ease...
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