Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

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"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town"
Song by Pearl Jam
from the album Vs.
Released October 19, 1993
Recorded March–May 1993 at The Site, Nicasio, California
Length 3:15
Label Epic
Songwriter(s) Eddie Vedder
Producer(s) Brendan O'Brien, Pearl Jam

"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam. The song is the tenth track on the band's second studio album, Vs. (1993). Although credited to all members of Pearl Jam, it was primarily written by vocalist Eddie Vedder. The length of the song's title was a reaction by the band to the fact that most of its songs featured one-word titles.[1] The song is often referred to simply as "Elderly Woman" or "Small Town" by the band and its fans. Despite the lack of a commercial single release, the song managed to reach number 17 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. An acoustic version of the song can be found on the "Go" single. The song was included on Pearl Jam's 2004 greatest hits album, rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003). The song was used in promos for the final season of Rescue Me.

Origin and recording[edit]

When discussing how he initially came up with "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town", vocalist Eddie Vedder stated that "it was so quick." He elaborated further:

We were recording the second record, and we stayed in this house in San Francisco, and I was outside the house in my own world and the little outhouse had a small room. I'm talking the size of a bathroom. I was able to fit a Shure Vocal Master, which is a 1960s PA, and two big towers of PA and a little amp and a 4 track. I slept in there too. I remember waking up one morning and playing pretty normal chords that sounded good, and I put on the vocal master to hear myself and it came out right quick. I don't even think I scribbled the lyrics down. It took 20 minutes. Stone was sitting outside reading the paper, and he was like "I really like that." So we recorded it that day.[2]


Vedder about "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town":

It's kind of about a lady, and she's getting on in years, and she's stuck in this small town. Small towns fascinate me: You either struggle like hell to get out, to some people want to stay 'cause then they're the big fish in the small pond, and then others just kind of get stuck there. So here she is working in this little place, and then an old flame comes in, and he's probably driving a nice car and looking kind of sharp—not a fancy car, but he's moved on. And then she sees him, and at first she doesn't even remember who he is, and then she realizes who it is. She's just too embarrassed to say 'hello'.[3]


Without being released as a single, "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 17 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1994. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said the song has "an unexpected melodic delicacy."[4] The acoustic guitar-driven "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" is still played on popular rock radio.

The lyric page for the song in the album's liner notes featured a picture of an "elderly woman," but at some point after the first pressings another picture was used in place of the original. Allegedly, the original woman never gave permission for her picture to be used, so Pearl Jam changed the picture to another woman.[5] The difference is easy to spot, as "the new and improved woman behind the counter" is printed below the picture.[6]

Live performances[edit]

"Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" was first performed live at the band's June 16, 1993 concert in Missoula, Montana at the University of Montana-Missoula's University Theatre.[7] Live performances of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" can be found on the "Dissident"/Live in Atlanta box set, the live album Live on Two Legs, various official bootlegs, the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set, and the live album Live at Lollapalooza 2007. A performance of the song is also included on the DVD Live at the Showbox. The live version of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" from Live on Two Legs managed to reach number 21 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 26 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1998. In Canada, this version reached the top 30 on the Canadian Singles Chart.

Cover versions[edit]

A version of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" by Charlotte Martin can be found on the 2007 album, Reproductions. Young@Heart Chorus[8], whose singers range from ages 73 to 90, covered "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter of a Small Town" at their 4th Annual Mash-Up concert in November 2016.

Chart positions[edit]

Vs. version
Chart (1994) Position
US Modern Rock Tracks[9] 17
US Mainstream Rock Tracks[10] 23
Live on Two Legs version
Chart (1998) Position
US Mainstream Rock Tracks[9] 21
US Modern Rock Tracks[10] 26
Canadian RPM Singles Chart[11] 27


  1. ^ Vedder, Eddie. "Rockline Interview". KISW-FM, Seattle, Washington. October 18, 1993.
  2. ^ Scaggs, Austin. "Eddie Vedder: Addicted to Rock". Rolling Stone. April 21, 2006.
  3. ^ Wall, Mick. Pearl Jam. Music Book Services Corporation, 1996. ISBN 1-886894-33-7.
  4. ^ Browne, David. "The Courtship of Eddie". Entertainment Weekly. October 22, 1993.
  5. ^ Vedder, Eddie. (Speaker). (2003). 2/9/03, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane, Australia [Audio Recording]. Epic.
  6. ^ (2003) Album notes for Vs. by Pearl Jam, [CD booklet]. New York: Sony Music.
  7. ^ "Pearl Jam Songs: "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town"". pearljam.com.
  8. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ic9BgeE7tRY
  9. ^ a b "Pearl Jam Artist Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  10. ^ a b "Pearl Jam – Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  11. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 68, No. 11, December 07 1998". RPM. Retrieved 2008-03-07. 

External links[edit]