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The story of "Off He Goes" concerns a friend who periodically comes whirling in and out of the protagonist's life. In an interview, Vedder revealed himself to be the friend. Vedder said, "The song "Off He Goes" is really about me being a shit friend. I'll show up and everything's great and then all of the sudden I'm outta there…"

In Allmusic's review of No Code, "Off He Goes" was cited as one song on the album that is "equal the group's earlier masterpieces." David Fricke of Rolling Stone said, "At first, "Off He Goes" sounds like another page torn from the Neil Young hymnal. Its elegant, acoustic simplicity is deceiving, though. With a humor and confidence that he rarely gets credit for, Vedder describes a man not unlike himself—at least, his public image—but from the point of view of an old, puzzled friend."

Written by Vedder, the song was released in 1996 as the third single from No Code. The song peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song was included on Pearl Jam's 2004 greatest hits album, rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003).

"Off He Goes" was first performed live at the band's September 14, 1996 concert in Seattle, Washington at The Showbox. Live performances of "Off He Goes" can be found on the live album Live on Two Legs, various official bootlegs, the live album Live at Benaroya Hall, and the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set. A performance of the song is also included on the DVD Live at the Showbox.

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