Ryan Adams has been a top three all-time favorite (alongside Tom Petty and The Replacements) since around 2006 when my friend Mike “Stray” Belardi gave me all of his albums up to that point in a zip file, and I was done. Slayed. Enthralled. Every album has a different tone, voice, story, and I’ve loved almost every track of his that I could hunt down, so putting together a top three list has been near impossible, and I’m sure there’s zero chance that anyone will see my selections and think, “Nailed it.” There’s just too much goodness to choose from. Do you go acoustic and mournful? Do you go bluesy and rocking? Do you go messy and thrashing? So much to sort through. Here’s mine. And you? Let me know!
Achin’ for More
This B side to “Gimme Something Good,” the lead single off his 2014 self-titled album, is a vinyl-only release, a fact that does help it make this list—I don’t have it in the 7” so I have to settled for a low-quality rip, and it certainly leaves me…well…achin’ for a digital release. And if he added it on the album, good god, it would have been such a sick track. The song sounds almost like an unreleased early 90s Tom Petty hit, mixing acoustic and electric with a reliable pop structure and a breakdown chorus that stays in your head long after. And (yes) actor Johnny Depp is featured on guitar.
I MUCH prefer his Follow the Lights EP version, rather than his earlier version with Nora Jones. Something about the FTL version feels smoother, sadder, with an excellent acoustic solo, and really captures what’s so endearing about Adams. Yes, he’s a Slayer t-shirt wearing, pinball playing rock-and-roll kid who sounds like anything from Husker Du to Springsteen, but he can switch to acoustic ballads like few rock and rolls acts can (he started out as an alt-country act, so it’s a natural gear for him) and this one just nails it on all levels. Gets ya in the feels, as the cool kids are saying these days.
Love is Hell
I think Ryan Adams songs work best when they’re balancing all of his tropes and styles into one concise song—his jangling guitars, the pianos in the back, the strident howling alongside heartfelt lamentations of women easily found and easily lost. Love is, indeed, a personal hell for each of us, and this song jumps out of his 2004 double album of the same name and shines as bright as anything else he’s ever done, and more so, since I decided to put it in the top spot. I’ll never tire of this song. It might not be my favorite at any given moment, but to me, it’s always where he shines the best.