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It’s that time of the year gremmies. Where uncles wet themselves at the table after one too many O’Douls. When your hippie sisters weeps at the sight of a freshly cut pine tree because “tress can’t defend themselves you murderer”. When Mom mutters passive-aggressive comments under her breath to your Dad. It’s the time of year you put on your best “No I really wanted a Zune” face. That’s right it’s Christmas.
Once a week until Christmas we’re going to lay down the top 5 Christmas gifts of various varieties (various varieties?). This week, it’s Vinyl.
Vinyl: a barometer for your Pearl Jam fandom. Some gremmies laugh them off as gimmicky, others call them overproduced, compressed recordings squeezed into an analog format, and yet others think they’re superbad. Whatever your perspective, it’s hard to deny that Pearl Jam helped reintroduce vinyl to a new generation. Love it or loathe it, they’ve (perhaps inadvertently) created a separate market rife with common and rare pieces, some with unique, interesting artwork and others with very limited pressings. So what makes it into the top 5? Most gremmies can agree on at least the following:
Rarity: It’s an important factor, but it’s not everything. Rare vinyls have very limited pressing circulations (number of copies pressed) and are aged. The older the vinyl, the harder to find because over time, copies leave the pressing population because of loss. Some vinyls have very limited pressing circulations but aren’t all that interesting, e.g the various “The Fixer” singles. To put it into perspective, only 1,500 copies of the 1991 Christmas Single were pressed, while 50,000 copies of the 1993 Christmas Single were pressed. You can imagine the number goes up from there.
Color: Black is the standard grain color used to produce vinyls. Many Pearl Jam vinyls use a different grain color which make for interesting discs e.g the blue version of “Versus”.
Artwork: This can refer to the sleeve holding the vinyl or the actual disc itself. A majority of vinyls have rudimentary stickers at their center which identify the record, the band, and tracklisting for that side while others have a unifying image covering the entirety of their surface. These are called picture discs. These are cool.
Historical Context: Vinyls replete with the prior three elements may not have important historical significance Just because a vinyl is technically interesting, doesn’t mean it’s relevant in the larger context of a band’s history.
Number Five: Backspacer White
Pressing Circulation: 1,000 copies
Pressing Year: 2009
Goof and I can’t comprehend the industrial machinations behind non-standard vinyl coloration. As far as we know, a machine manned by elves presses together fairy dust and unicorn blood. However it’s made, it’s a handsome piece of record. This was sold in 2009 directly by the Ten Club and by independent record stores (we know Easy Street had a few). The Backspacer era of vinyl saw other interesting colored grains. The Fixer had 5 different grains: black, white, dark blue, light blue, and orange. The number of copies in circulation is said to be 1,000 but that number may be understated, though not materially. We hope the varied color trend continues if only because Goof is so fond of rainbows.
Number Four: Basketball Ten Picture Disc
Pressing Circulation: Unknown
Pressing Year: 1991
Copies of Ten on vinyl are easier to find than herpes at a European hostel. Not only that, but there were 13 varieties of the album pressed to vinyl. 12 of these are relatively similar having no interesting differences. One, however, is rad. The Basketball Picture disc of Ten was available only in the UK and sports an alternate color scheme for the vinyl’s sleeve. But more importantly the A-Side of the record looks like a basketball with the name “Pearl Jam” inscribed into it. Just don’t try bouncing it! The tracklisting is the same as the standard issue version of Ten. Since it’s so popular amongst collectors, knock-offs have become a pervasive problem. Here’s how you can differentiate a knock off from the genuine article.
Number Three: Into the Wild Picture Disc
Pressing Circulation: 300 copies
Pressing Year: 2007
The Into the Wild Vinyl was sold directly by the Ten Club via pearljam.com. Setup like a ticket sale, members were notified by email of the impending, first come first serve bltizkreig and when the gates opened the site ran slower than a retarded kid with two left feet. I was lucky to snag one; it sits framed on the wall of my apartment right above Backspacer. With just 2,000 copies pressed, these sold out in less than a half hour. However, the record pictured to left is not that vinyl. The Picture Disc version of Into the Wild vinyl saw only 300 copies pressed. These were never made available for sale to the public and were deemed “private use only”. We speculate that the Ten Club gave these out to “friends and family” of the organization. The artwork on the disc is the now-iconic silhouette of Emile Hirsch in prostrate form. If you have a copy of this, let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org) we’d love to get more information.
Number Two: Benaroya Hall
Pressing Circulation: 2,000 copies [Numbered]
Pressing Year: 2004
Expecting this to be Number 1? It’s not because even though it’s rare, and even though the vinyl looks like plasticine merlot, and even though the music on the record might be the best acoustic show ever performed by Pearl Jam, it’s got little historical significance. Released in 2004, the album is one of more than 100 live releases by the band. The Benaroya records have their own fanclub inside the fanclub. There’s even a thread on Pearl Jam’s official forums which match board members to individual vinyls. Since each record is numbered, it looks like 75% of them have been accounted for. Benaroya is a case of the myth being bigger than man. Make no mistake, it’s number three out of around one hundred on a list of best Pearl Jam vinyls for a reason. It’s got swagger and a pretty wine grain, but in the words of Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years it’s the mileage.”
Number One: Christmas Single [Let Me Sleep]
Pressing Circulation: 1,500 copies
Pressing Year: 1991
The number one slot on this list isn’t intuitive. In fact, if you judge the value of each disc by the criteria we established at the beginning of this article, the number one slot would be something else. It’s standard black vinyl, it’s not particularly useful with only one real song on it (track two is the band rambling on a track called, befittingly, “Ramblings”), and the artwork, in a vacuum, is lame. It’s aged and undoubtedly rare with only 1,500 copies pressed, but that’s all it’s got going for it. What isn’t apparent to the naked eye is the context of this 7-incher and what it represents. It’s the paterfamilias of Pearl Jam vinyl; the one that started it all. This 2-track, rinky-dink record is the needle & thread that first etched Pearl Jam’s cultural fabric as a fan-centric rock band. While other bands offer their fans Christmas bonuses, no one does it better than Pearl Jam. Why? Because where else but Pearl Jam can you get the recipe used by the band to make their banana bread?
thanks to pjcollectors for their detailed database of Pearl Jam recordings