It’s Valentine’s Day and Ryan Adams has shared a new song called “Baby, I Love You” — which is perfect timing because I had this Ryan Adams post queued up to post today already! Give his new song a listen here:
Ryan Adams is as prolific as any musician out there these days. He’s released at least an album a year for seemingly forever, and he tours as much as anyone. He’s put out two of the best albums of his career the last two years — Ryan Adams and Prisoner — and shows no signs of slowing. He’s also perhaps known for his ability to provide his own takes on classic songs, some of which span outside the folk, rock, and Americana genres he’s made a living in.
Adams famously did a re-imagining of Taylor Swift’s 1989 a few years ago. I wasn’t a big fan of the original record, but Adams’ take on it was awe-inspiring and I own it on vinyl. Adams famously tweeted that the blowback he received from it would cause him to never cover a full album that way in the future. Thankfully, he still tackles other people’s work when playing live. His take on Oasis’ “Wonderwall” is oft regarded as one of the more brilliant covers of all-time, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out the list of my ten favorite covers as done by Ryan Adams below.
Radiohead’s “Karma Police” on BBC Radio 1 (January 28, 2017)
Adams played a set of tunes in BBC Radio 2’s studios for Dermot O’Leary’s show, including Prisoner cut Doomsday. He treated us with a simple but eloquent take on Radiohead’s OK Computer hit “Karma Police”, singing in a heartbreakingly somber way, with emphasis on the track’s “For a minute there, I lost myself” breakdown.
Tegan and Sara’s “Back In Your Head” on The Con X: Covers
Tegan and Sara found a number of awesome musicians to perfectly capture the angst that has been a signature part of their sound since they first broke through. But perhaps it was Adams who did the best job on their The Con X: Covers record on “Back In Your Head” — it feels ’80s like the original did, as if it would have been in regular rotation of the MTV of the late ’80s when it was music television.
Alice in Chains’ “Down in a Hole” BBC4 Sessions Summer 2007
Adams and The Cardinals gave an almost lounge rock style take on this grunge classic. A lot of people have tried covering Alice in Chains in the past, but I think Adams best captures the depths of despair that the late Layne Staley plunged into for the material for this song.
Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods” from 1989:
Adams does an incredible job stripping this overly synthesized Swift bopper to its core — the raw and powerful songwriting of the pop star. Adams is at the forefront of a simple folksy guitar that makes this song sound like it may have on one of Swift’s country-influenced earlier records. It’s played at nearly half the speed of the original, going from a four-minute pop song to a six-minute get in your feels folk ballad. Adams hits you right in the gut on this one.
Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” in Auckland, NZ on May 20, 2017:
Days after Cornell passed, Adams gave his take on “Black Hole Sun” in a more simple manner. Cornell’s original vocals are difficult to reproduce, but Adams gives it a good go as he went in a more classic rock direction than the grunge jam it was.
Tom Petty’s “Even the Losers” at Austin City Limits 2017:
Few people were as obviously influenced by Tom Petty as Adams, and the singer paid homage to the late great rock star a week after his passing with a faithful cover of “Even The Losers” — an often underrated song when talking about Petty’s best work. This song came out 1979 but sounds not at all out of place when Adams performed it nearly 40 years later.
Bryan Adams’ “Run to You” at Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, October 1, 2014
Adams once famously tossed a fan from the crowd for yelling “Bryan Adams” at him during a show. One can understand how tiring it must be hearing about someone with a similar name than you for your entire career. That’s what made it extra awesome when he decided to throw this Santa Barbara crowd a bone in 2014 with a cover of “Run to You”. Adams seemed particularly giddy in the lead-up, as if he knew he was going to blow these people’s minds.
Oasis’ “Wonderwall” live in NYC 2000:
This is reportedly the first time Adams played the song at a concert, and it sounds even a bit better than the studio version that is on every “greatest cover songs” list you’ll stumble across. His fingerpicking really pays homage to Noel Gallagher’s version of the song when he plays it solo. You can feel the joy that Adams gets through your speakers in this one.
Danzig’s “Mother” on NPR’s World Cafe in 2014
I saw Adams cover this song a year later on actual Mother’s Day at Shaky Knees 2015 and afterwards he called it the “weirdest fucking Mother’s Day song choice” ever. He and The Shining do such a fun version of this dark and brooding Danzig classic without betraying the original.
Jenny Lewis’ “She’s Not Me” at Fox Pomona, December 11, 2014
I’ll call this a personal bias because if you know me at all you know Jenny Lewis is my QUEEN and I actually went to this show (Adams and Jenny Lewis shared the bill) and was blown away by this awesome cover. Adams plays a simpler guitar than the original and the vulnerability in the bridge is there 100 percent.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac (1997)
As part of his old Americana group Whiskeytown, Adams does an impeccable job capturing Stevie Nicks’ vocal style from a male perspective. A simple ace cover that the band put on the band’s second studio album.