How the Who’s ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’ Saved Eddie Vedder’s Life
From their earliest days, Pearl Jam have covered the Who in concert, but they've only released a studio version of one of the classic rock band's songs, a take on 'Love, Reign O'er Me."
Pearl Jam's recording first came out in 2006 as the annual Christmas single released to members of their Ten Club, with a live version of their most frequently performed cover, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," on the b-side. Two months later, on Feb. 23, 2007, it was made commercially available on iTunes as part of the soundtrack for the Adam Sandler movie Reign Over Me. The film, released a month after the soundtrack, used Pearl Jam's version over the closing credits while the Who's original is used during the movie.
"Love, Reign O'er Me" was first released by the Who on their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, whose plot revolves around a teenager, Jimmy, struggling with his identity in 1965 London. His problems are compounded by the fact that he has four personalities, each represented by a different member of the group, who also have their own themes. "Love, Reign O'er Me" is composer Pete Townshend's theme, closing out the double album as Jimmy, disillusioned with life, finds himself out at sea, stuck on a rock and questioning everything he believed in. The story resonated with Eddie Vedder.
Listen to Pearl Jam's Version of "Love, Reign O'er Me"
“It saved my life,” he said. “It was something I could catch, because for some reason it seemed like I could not relate to anyone in the world. With no one in my school and certainly with no one in my house, and all of a sudden, this London guy named Pete came in who knew everything that was going on in my life."
In 2016, Vedder penned a Rolling Stone essay on the Who's impact on him. "I was around nine when a babysitter snuck Who’s Next onto the turntable," he wrote. "The parents were gone. The windows shook. The shelves were rattling. Rock & roll. That began an exploration into music that had soul, rebellion, aggression, affection. Destruction. And this was all Who music. ... Imagine, as a kid, stumbling upon the locomotive that is Live at Leeds. 'Hi, my name is Eddie. I’m 10 years old and I’m getting my fucking mind blown!'
But it was more than just the sheer volume and power of the band that struck him. "They asked, 'What were the limits of rock & roll? Could the power of music actually change the way you feel?' Pete Townshend demanded that there be spiritual value in music. They were an incredible band whose main songwriter happened to be on a quest for reason and harmony in his life. He shared that journey with the listener, becoming an inspiration for others to seek out their own path."
Watch Pearl Jam Cover "Baba O'Riley"
Vedder's love for Who's Next is shown by Pearl Jam frequently covering "Baba O'Riley," the 1971 album's opening track, in concert. As of February 2020, Setlist has documented 166 performances of the song by Pearl Jam, more than any other Who song and second only to "Rockin' in the Free World." Pearl Jam have played "Love Reign O'er Me" and another Quadrophenia tune, "The Real Me," at 25 shows. At Vedder's solo shows, he's covered a third track from Quadrophenia, "I'm One," on 15 occasions, but has also devoted space to some more obscure Who tunes, like "Naked Eye," "Blue, Red & Grey" and "Tattoo."
He's also shared stages with the Who and Townshend on numerous occasions over the years. In 1998, Townshend played a benefit in Vedder's native Chicago for the Maryville Academy, a home for abused children, that was released as a live album, with Vedder sitting in on a few songs. A year later, Vedder, backed by C Average, opened for the Who at another fundraising concert for the academy, and Pearl Jam did the honors in 2002.
Watch Eddie Vedder, C Average and the Who Sing "Let's See Action" in 1999
In the summer of 2019, Vedder again opened for the Who at London's Wembley Stadium, and also joined in for Quadrophenia's "The Punk and the Godfather," written for the part of the story where Jimmy attends a Who show and confronts the leader, who blows him off. Singer Roger Daltrey introduced Vedder by saying, “He’s going to share this song with me because he knows where it came from. What one were you? You were also the one with the stutter?”
“No,” Vedder said. “I’m still the punk.”
Watch Eddie Vedder and the Who Sing "The Punk and the Godfather"