One of the biggest surprises on 2003’s b-sides/rarities compilation Lost Dogs, was “Hold On”, an outtake from the Vs. sessions that somehow eluded the reach of the treasure hunters who brought you such obscure Pearl Jam tunes as “Goat” and “(Just a) Girl”. Not to be confused with Tom Waits’s “Hold On”, which the band occasionally tagged onto “Daughter” during the 2000 tour, or the improv they performed on 4/11/94, the “Hold On’ from Lost Dogs is pure early-’90s era Pearl Jam.
Vedder’s notes from the album insert are terse regarding the song’s fate: “Almost made the Vs. record? Close but no sitar.” Was it really that close? I don’t think so. Vedder’s making a joke here besides the obvious sitar pun, although the band liked it enough to unearth it eventually. There was never any mention of the song in the press leading up to Vs., whereas songs like “Angel”, “Brother”, and “Whipping” all were speculated as potential candidates.
Why not then, and why ten years later? It might have something to do with the fact that the song sounds much more like it belonged on the reverb-drenched Ten than the tightly wound Vs. The music is credited to Stone Gossard, and sounds like it could have been drawn from the same Mamasan recordings as “Dollar Bill” and the rest, which would explain a lot. The band had also already struck a fine balance between berserk rockers like “Go” and “Blood” and mid-tempo/slow songs. “Hold On” would have upset the scales.
But now we have it in all its mysterious and divisive glory. Fans either salivate at the thought of it receiving live attention, or get queasy. I can’t imagine why they would ever play it, but I wouldn’t exactly mind if they did. The opening line is one of my favorites, “I was doom riding on top of a black horse,” but the rest of the song is a fairly standard break-up lament that the band has done better many, many times. Its true worth might lie in the fact that it stirs up the age-old question in every Pearl Jam fan’s heart: what other songs exist on tape somewhere in the vaults, that we’ve never heard a single word about?
***Thanks to BigWaveRider for pointing out that the 10C site posted a correction to the liner notes for Lost Dogs, indicating that “Hold On” was indeed recorded during the Ten sessions. This post will now be revamped in the near future.