One of the most straightforward songs in Pearl Jam’s catalog, I think that the analogy for “Wishlist” is “Every Breath You Take,” which shares the same kind of musical simplicity and lyrical repetition, with the major musical difference being that Sting actually bothered to write a chorus.
The major lyrical difference, of course, was that Sting was singing a song of suspicion and paranoia that has always felt kinda stalkery, and Eddie Vedder is singing a list of, well, wishes.
I wish I was a neutron bomb for once I could go off
I wish I was a sacrifice but somehow still lived on
I wish I was a sentimental ornament you hung on the
Christmas tree I wish I was the star that went on top
I wish I was the evidence I wish I was the grounds
For fifty million hands upraised
And open toward the sky
“Wishlist” began its life as an improv in the studio between Eddie and Mike McCready, so the actual wishes that Eddie listed in the song were pared down from a much longer series of wishes, and the band resists the temptation to either amp up the guitars or even remotely change the tempo, so the whole thing is incredibly restrained from start to finish.
I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro’s hood
It was also utterly gorgeous, maybe not quite as gorgeous as “Off He Goes” — and with that line about his privilege, just as knowing — but as guitars twinkle and jangle all around him, Eddie just keeps on listing wishes, and even grabbed an EBow for a quietly moving solo near the end.
I wish I was an alien at home behind the sun
I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house key on
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on
I wish I was the verb ‘to trust’ and never let you down
I wish I was a radio song, the one that you turned up
That last line, about being the radio song, was actually sung at the fade, which meant that when “Wishlist” was played on the radio — and it got to number 6 on both the mainstream and modern rock charts, which is a thing I haven’t really discussed: Pearl Jam’s popularity across both multiple rock audiences in an increasingly fractured world — DJs would probably talk over that line or at least start the next record.
However, Eddie still singing at the fade also gave the impression that we’d only scratched the surface of his wishes, and indeed, the list of wishes often morphed and mutated during concert performances; we all have a million wishes, and Eddie Vedder was no different. Which was one of the things about “Wishlist,” you never doubted his sincerity even for a second, there was never any kind of disconnect between singer and message, like when Bono sings that he still hasn’t found what’s looking for, I’ve always thought “how is that even possible, you’re Bono!”
But Eddie Vedder you never even doubted for a second.
“Wishlist” on The Late Show with David Letterman, 1998
“Wishlist” & “Why Can’t I Touch It?” live at MSG, 2003
“Wishlist” live in Brazil, 2018
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