Flashback: Pre-Fame Eddie Vedder Sings ‘Better Man’ in 1989
Two years before joining Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder fronted the San Diego rock band Bad Radio. The group had a decent local following, but they never recorded anything besides a handful of demos and after a couple of years Vedder grew frustrated by their lack of progress. “We’d win ‘battle of the bands’ on intensity alone, but it was coming from me,” he later said. “I couldn’t get anybody else to give up their fucking bullshit. As far as songs and stuff, they weren’t reading, they weren’t living. They knew how big [Mötley Crüe drummer] Tommy Lee’s new drum kit was, but, you know, fuck that.”
The band did have at least one song in their repertoire that could have been a huge hit under the right circumstances: “Better Man.” Vedder wrote the song in high school and fiddled around with it for years, likely inspired by his desire to see his mother leave his stepfather for someone he deemed a better match. Bad Radio never recorded the song in the studio, but you can watch them play it at a 1989 gig right here. It’s nowhere near as powerful as the rendition that Pearl Jam eventually released, but the core of the song is definitely there.
Vedder would be in Pearl Jam for four years before he finally relented and let them release the song. After seeing early tracks like “Jeremy,” “Even Flow” and “Alive” blow up rock radio and MTV, he was very reluctant to put out another song with such obvious mass appeal. A rendition was cut for Vs in 1993 that producer Brendan O’Brien was anxious to include on the album, but it wouldn’t happen until they cut Vitalogy the next year. Even then though the group didn’t officially release it as a single, it still climbed to #1 on the Mainstream Rock Chart.
Pearl Jam has played the song in concert over 500 times, and it was one of four tunes they played during their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony set earlier this year. Clearly, Vedder no longer feels reservations about the song. He’d probably just rather nobody watch him play it with Bad Radio back in 1989, but in the era of YouTube that just isn’t possible.