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Pearl Jam’s 10 Best Needle Drops

Here are the best film and TV syncs from the iconic Seattle band

Pearl Jam Best Music Moments
Pearl Jam, photo by Danny Clinch
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    This article was published in partnership with Sony Music.


    Pearl Jam famously abstained from making music videos for a few years in the 1990s, when they were one of the biggest bands in the world. But their music has regularly graced television and the big screen in other ways, appearing on the soundtracks of films like Judgment Night, The Basketball Diaries, and Reign Over Me.

    And Pearl Jam songs have popped up all over television, sometimes in surprising places like over a dozen episodes of the CBS procedural Cold Case.

    Here’s a look back at the 10 best Pearl Jam needle drops in film and TV.


    10. “Man of the Hour” – Big Fish (2003)

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    In 2003, Tim Burton adapted Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, a story of a man’s reconciliation with his dying father. Burton sought out Pearl Jam to write a song for the film, and Eddie Vedder, who’s often written cathartically about not having met his late father, was inspired to write “Man of the Hour” after screening an early cut of Big Fish. The moving ballad, which plays at the end of the film, was nominated for a Golden Globe.

    09. “Big Wave” – Surf’s Up (2007)

    Eddie Vedder is a dedicated surfer who famously wrote the lyrics for multiple songs on 1991’s Ten while riding waves. But the band doesn’t exactly make “surf rock” in the traditional sense, and “Big Wave” from Pearl Jam’s self-titled 2006 album is one of Vedder’s few songs that’s a simple uptempo celebration of the joy of surfing. A year later, it provided the unlikely opportunity to feature a Pearl Jam song in an animated kid’s movie, as “Big Wave” soundtracked the penguin Cody Maverick (Shia LeBeouf) competing in a surfing competition.

    08. “Spin the Black Circle” – Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (2022)

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    Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Showtime)

    Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Showtime)

    You could say that Pearl Jam is the unofficial house band of Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, with songs appearing regularly in Showtime’s new series starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as controversial Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “Spin the Black Circle,” the fast and heavy lead single from 1994’s Vitalogy, appears in a scene in Episode 2 where Kalanick outlines how Uber will use Mafia strategies to take over the New York taxi business.

    07. “Do The Evolution” – Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (2022)

    “Do The Evolution,” one of Eddie Vedder’s most sharply satirical lyrics, is about the hubris of humankind’s belief in its own superiority over other species. That makes the 1998 track a fitting backdrop for the series premiere, in which Travis Kalanick’s embarks on a quest to replace traditional taxi cabs with his rideshare app. Look out for Vedder hollering, “It’s evolution, baby!” in the background as Kalanick overcomes local government resistance in San Francisco.

    06. “Corduroy” – Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (2022)

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    Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Showtime)

    Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (Showtime)

    “Corduroy” is one of Pearl Jam’s greatest songs, an impassioned track from Vitalogy that became a bigger radio hit than some of the album’s official singles. And the song perfectly captures the mood of the final scene of Episode 3 of Super Pumped, as tensions rise between Travis Kalanick and one of Uber’s early investors, Bill Gurley (Kyle Chandler).

    05. “Wishlist” – Billions (2021)

    Billions (Showtime)

    Billions (Showtime)

    “Wishlist” from 1998’s Yield is a slow and contemplative song where Eddie Vedder sings a litany of fantasies like “I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good.” In the pivotal Season 5 finale of Billions, “Wishlist” appears in a somber scene where many of the finance drama’s major characters gather for a farewell for embattled hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). But the sentimental mood set by the song is a bit of clever misdirection, as a plot twist is revealed after Axe is a no-show.

    04. “Just Breathe” – Kodachrome (2018)

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    Kodachrome (Netflix)

    Kodachrome (Netflix)

    “Just Breathe,” the acoustic second single from 2009’s Backspacer, has emerged as the top streaming track of Pearl Jam’s 21st century output in part thanks to its frequent use in series including One Tree Hill, The Blacklist, and Castle, and the documentaries Gleason and The Way I See It.

    In Kodachrome, a charming 2018 dramedy where a terminally ill photographer Ben (Ed Harris) reconnects with his estranged son Matt (Jason Sudeikis), “Just Breathe” accompanies a road trip montage. But with creative editing, director Mark Raso cuts from the montage to a scene where “Just Breathe” continues in the diegetic soundtrack, as Ben and Matt listen to the song on the car radio.

    03. “Yellow Ledbetter” – Stumptown (2020)

    Stumptown (ABC)

    Stumptown (ABC)

    One of the short-lived gems of the 2019-2020 TV season was the ABC crime drama Stumptown, based on the comic book of the same name. Nostalgic music selections abound in Stumptown, particularly when private detective Dex (Cobie Smulders) drives her beat up 1991 Ford Mustang GT with an old mixtape stuck in the tape deck. In the series’ penultimate episode, Dex hears several old Pearl Jam songs that conjure memories from her adolescence. The most emotional moment is triggered by “Yellow Ledbetter,” a bluesy b-side from the “Jeremy” single that has over the years become one of Pearl Jam’s most popular songs.

    02. “Present Tense” – The Last Dance (2020)

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    The ending of The Last Dance. from pearljam

    The Last Dance, ESPN’s acclaimed documentary miniseries about Michael Jordan’s final 1997-1998 season with the Chicago Bulls, often used music from the period to help conjure the spirit of the era. And the 10th and final episode climaxed with a montage that was set evocatively to “Present Tense,” the emotional centerpiece of Pearl Jam’s most underrated album, 1996’s No Code. It was also an appropriate choice because the scene included Jordan’s teammate Dennis Rodman, a Pearl Jam superfan and longtime friend of the band who was featured in one of the many Polaroid photos that adorned No Code’s cover.

    01. “State of Love and Trust” – Singles (1992)

    When director Cameron Crowe decided to set his second film in Seattle’s buzzing rock scene, even he had no idea just how big the bands featured in the movie were about to get. Pearl Jam were still relative unknowns, in the midst of recording Ten in the spring of 1991, when Crowe filmed Singles and cast Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament as members of Matt Dillon’s fictitious band Citizen Dick.

    By the time Singles hit theaters in 1992, Ten was multi-platinum and the two new songs Pearl Jam contributed to the film helped make the soundtrack album a hit. One of the band’s most ferocious early songs, “State of Love and Trust,” scored a scene with Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) and Debbie (Sheila Kelley) hitting the local rock clubs. Cameron Crowe has remained a close friend of the band over the years, directing their 2011 documentary Pearl Jam Twenty and featuring multiple Pearl Jam songs in his 2016 series Roadies.

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    Want more Pearl Jam? Check out this playlist of their greatest hits.

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