1991Released
5:03

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Interesting facts and trivia about Yellow Ledbetter. By Songfacts®.

There are two prominent theories regarding the title of this song: 1) The name "Yellow Ledbetter" derives from an old tongue twister in which you try to say "yellow better, red better" as fast as you can. Just a few times repeated, the words become jumbled and you get "yellow ledbetter." They used it as the name of the song because the lyrics are indistinguishable, just like the tongue twister. 2) It's a tribute to Huddy Ledbetter (known as Leadbelly), who was one of the founding fathers of the blues in the 1930s and recorded much of his music while in jail for assault. Leadbelly wrote and recorded many classic tunes that were covered generations later have been covered by many bands, like "Midnight Special" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?." The real meaning, however, as stated in Five Against One: The Pearl Jam Story by Kim Neely, is that the title was a joke in honor of a Chicago friend of Eddie Vedder's named Tim Ledbetter.

Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote "Yellow Ledbetter" with a specific story in mind, which he told at a concert in Newark, New Jersey on August 7, 2008. He asked if anyone had any questions, and a fellow asked what the lyrics to "Yellow Ledbetter" were. Instead of going word for word, Eddie simply told the story of the song. It was written during the first Gulf War (1991), when "Papa Bush" was president, as Eddie calls George H. W. Bush. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother's death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave because he feels like he relates: "The flag, my brother, you know..." But they don't know, of course. They don't know what's underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don't wave back. The song has changed its meaning over time and Eddie changes the words to suit whatever is on his mind, sometimes resulting in, as he puts it, "total nonsense."

"Yellow Ledbetter" became one of Pearl Jam's most popular songs despite never being issued on a studio album or as an A-side single. It was released in 1992 as the B-side of the "Jeremy" single, and played live only once that year. There was no promotion for it, but the song slowly built a following among the Pearl Jam faithful, who would hold up signs asking the band to play it as concerts. By 1995, many radio stations were playing it, and that year it made various Billboard charts. Seeing how fans responded to the song, the band started playing it more often live, typically as the last song of the night with the house lights on and the audience singing along. Pearl Jam change up their setlists, so getting sent home with "Yellow Ledbetter" is something special.

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Song Analysis

Key, BPM (tempo) and time signature of Yellow Ledbetter.
EKey
MajorMode
4/4Time Signature
141BPM

Album

The album Yellow Ledbetter is released on.
JeremyPearl Jam
1991Single

Released By

The record label that has released Yellow Ledbetter.
Epic
1991,1992 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

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