OK, for music post #2, I wanted to celebrate Ryan Adams’ new album, Prisoner. Rather than setting the stage myself, I thought I would share this excellent view of the State of Ryan Adams that Steven Hyden published earlier this week. It’s a good primer on where Adams has been over the past few years. And it has a little extra weight since Adams confirmed on Twitter than Hyden’s theory about Ryan Adams is correct.
Now, briefly, a few words about my relationship with Adams. When I first heard about him in the early 00s, I discounted him simply because he was an alt-country artist. I do like a few alt-country acts, but for the most part that’s not my favorite genre. Later, when he was going through his bratty stage, I thought he was a dick and had no interest in checking out his music simply because of that. I knew a lot of people who loved his music, but generally wasn’t interested.
Every now-and-then I’d hear one of his more poppy or mainstream rock songs and think, “That’s pretty good.” But still never had a desire to really check out his catalog.
That changed in the early summer of 2014, when “Gimme Something Good” started popping up everywhere. All the music sites I follow gushed over it. Our local station put it into high rotation. It was one of the songs of the summer of ’14, and I loved its neo-Petty sound. When his self-titled album was release that September, it became a key part of one of my favorite musical years in recent memory. And I began sticking a toe into the very deep pool of Adams music. I also learned that some of his difficult years were the result of an undiagnosed medical condition. As he made some lifestyle changes, he became a little less confrontational and more open and funny. He still doesn’t shy away from silly arguments on Twitter, but he seems like a much better dude now that he was a decade ago.
Three years later, I’m a confirmed fan. There are still parts of his career I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring. But he has 17 solo albums, a handful with Whiskeytown, and numerous other EPs: I may never get to it all!
I’ve been looking forward to his new album with great anticipation. I’ve listened to it twice and it has not disappointed. The man is a treasure.
So, I thought I’d take a crack at a list of my favorite DRA songs. Again, I’ll point out there are whole albums of his I’ve never listened to. But with so many tracks to choose from, I still had trouble keeping this down to only 10 songs. In two weeks, after I’ve fully digested the new album, I bet I’ll want to swap a few tunes out.
Consider this a primer for my friends and readers who have never given Adams’ music the attention it deserves.
“Welcome To New York,” from 1989. I was, of course, all-in with his full cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Gimmick or not, I thought he did a fantastic job of making all the songs his own while being faithful to their original spirit. When the album first hit, the common joke was that all this song needed was a big sax solo and it would be the greatest Springsteen song since 1984. And now, every time I listen to it, I expect that sax to crash in during the final third.
“Gimme Something Good,” from Ryan Adams. My gateway drug to falling in love with his music.
“When The Summer Ends,” from 1984. In classic Adams form, he released a surprise, 11-track EP of songs in the style of mid–80s bands like Hüsker Dü a week before Ryan Adams hit. This song so badly wants to be turned into a 3:30 pop song that just dominates the radio. Never question his ability to write a great track.
“This House Is Not For Sale,” from Love Is Hell. Of all his early albums, I love Love Is Hell the most. I love the weariness and rasp in his voice. I love the Britpop influence you hear in almost every song. And, in a catalog that is often about the end of relationships, I love that here he seems to be reaffirming his commitment.
“Wonderwall,” from Love Is Hell. In the running for greatest cover of all time. Even Noel Gallagher said he prefers this to the original.
“English Girls Approximately,” from Love Is Hell. Britpop + alt-country = a fucking gorgeous song.
“Burning Photographs,” from Rock N Roll. Despite being one of his most maligned albums – he has even publicly dissed it – this was the first DRA song I ever liked. In fact, I believe it was one of the first digital songs I ever purchased back in the summer of 2004. Along with Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” it’s one of the songs I will always connect to the final weeks before I became a father.
“New York, New York,” from Gold. Adams at his most buoyant and catchy. Released a week before 9/11, it became an anthem for a city that sought to ease its pain and find a path to recovery.
“Nobody Girl,” from Gold. I just love the way this track rolls and builds and then keeps going.
“Come Pick Me Up,” from Heartbreaker. It music be a little frustrating to always be compared with your first piece of art. Heartbreaker was Adams’ first solo album, and considered by many to be his finest body of work. And this track almost always ranks at the top of his best songs. We know he loves it because it generally serves as his set-closer in concert. There are so many great elements here. The opening harmonica riff. The drums that kind of stumble in. The little riff that sounds light and happy going into the chorus. The general morning after feel to the whole song. But that chorus, though! He’s written hundreds of great lyrics, but I don’t know that any are as unforgettable as these:
Come pick me up, take me out
Fuck me up, steal my records
Screw all my friends, they’re all full of shit
With a smile on your face, and then do it again
I wish you would
- DRA = from his given name David Ryan Adams and the initials he often signs his blog posts with. ↩