Last week I was having a conversation with a young band who didn’t want to listen to their producer about a particular change he wanted to make. I’m all for bands having complete and total artistic freedom, but at the same time, I respect the role a producer can play in shaping a masterpiece.
I was reminded of this tonight as I was listening to Pearl Jam “20” and was blown away by the crowd participation in “Better Man” (see above). It reminded me of a story I once read by their producer, Brendan O’Brien:
There’s a great song we recorded for Vs., “Better Man”, which ended up on Vitalogy. One of the first rehearsals we did they played it and I said “man, that song’s a hit.” Eddie just went “uhhh.” I immediately knew I’d just said the wrong thing. We cut it once for Vs., he wanted to give it away to this Greenpeace benefit record, the idea was that the band was going to play and some other singer was going to sing it. I remember saying to the engineer, Nick [DiDia], “this is one of their best songs and they’re going to give it away! Can’t happen!” It took us to the next record, recording it two more times, before he became comfortable with it because it was such a blatantly great pop song.
Despite being buried as track eleven and the lack of a commercial single release, “Better Man” managed to reach the top of the rock radio chart in 1994, where it spent eight weeks at number one. And seventeen years later the fans are chanting along like it’s still there.
Note to bands: Sometimes, maybe, listen to the producer.