Welcome to the first post in a new series called “10 Songs To Introduce You To…”.
Here I try to find ten songs from a particular artist/band and discuss how those songs represent certain key periods of that band’s career. These songs include solo songs and songs with other bands, their biggest hits, their famous covers, and anything else that’s worth sharing. Warning: these posts are not for the diehard fans but rather for the curious newcomers.
I’d like to kick off this segment with one of my all time favorite artists — Ryan Adams.
Part of me thinks that it isn’t a good idea to start off this series with Ryan Adams since I have such a personal connection to his music. He’s my go to answer whenever anyone asks me who my favorite musician is, and each of his albums have played very memorable roles in my life – like how many people do it with other albums, I tend to define certain periods of my life by what Ryan Adams album I was listening to at that time.
But it is because I love his music so much that I want you to know who he is. Now I’ve set the limit to ten songs, which means that I’m excluding two-hundred other great songs of his that I wished everybody could hear.
But oh well, here goes something.
Mr. David Ryan Adams hails from Jacksonville, North Carolina and first received major attention as the main singer-songwriter of Whiskeytown, one of the premiere bands of the y’alternative movement of the mid 90s.
Whiskeytown, like the genre they helped popularized, combined punk attitude with country songwriting, and Adams, at the very young age of 20, was already a more than capable songwriter. Whiskeytown released three great studio albums (Faithless Street, Strangers Almanac, and Pneumonia) and a handful of EPs before breaking up in 2000. Though Adams had the largest writing and singing presence, the band wouldn’t have been nearly as good without Caitlin Cary on the fiddle and backup vocals and the rest of the band backing up Adams.
1) “Midway Park”
The album opener of Whiskeytown’s first album Faithless Street. For many people, this not-quite-punk-but-not-quite-country song was the first time anyone heard Adams sing.
2) “16 Days”
From Strangers Almanac, this is a more radio-friendly song that would become one of Whiskeytown’s biggest hits.
After Whiskeytown, Adams went straight to work on his first solo album, 2000’s Heartbreaker.
Considered by most critics to be his best album, Heartbreaker is for many people the album that converts them into fans. This was my first album review on Headphone Nation and it remains to this day my favorite Ryan Adams album, though I don’t listen to it as much as I used to since A) I’ve listened to it too many times and B) he has plenty of other great albums.
3) “Oh My Sweet Carolina”
In 2010 this song was added to a compilation of 1,001 songs you must hear before you die, and for good reason. If you ever feel homesick (or if you’re from North Carolina) then this song will hit you where it hurts. And that’s the great country legend Emmylou Harris on vocals!
4) “Come Pick Me Up”
I’m torn about having two songs off the same album, but this song is too good to not put on here (I also wanted to include album opener “To Be Young [Is To Be Sad, To Be High]”, but you should just check that out here). This song also has Emmylou Harris on vocals, but this is all Adams here. This is his finest breakup song, and it’s the best song off his best album. A harmonica intro never sounded so devastating.
Adams’s next album Gold earned him even more fame and established him (even if it was just for a little while) as one of his generation’s best songwriters. The album moved Adams into classic rock territory and was full of songs that could have been on FM radio back in the 70s along with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. This is the album that I would recommend to someone as their first Ryan Adams album.
5) “New York, New York”
Probably Adams’s most famous music video, since it was filmed four days before 9/11 and showed the World Trade Center in much of the video. The song itself is actually about a troubled relationship with New York as a backdrop, but the song, with its chorus of “I’ll always love you New York”, has evolved into a love letter to the great city.
After Gold, Adams released Demolition, a collection of b-sides and various tracks, and Rock N Roll, which, as the name implies, is heavier on the rock n roll and not so much on his signature alt-country. Even to this day public opinion of these albums are split due to Adams’s sudden drastic stylistic changes, and while I personally think these two albums are great many tend to dismiss them. Still, there are some great songs from this era, including the minor hit “So Alive”.
6) “So Alive”
Adams’s next album Love Is Hell could be Ryan Adams’s most depressing album (Heartbreaker was more sad than depressing). This album particularly showcases the large influence The Smiths and other sad Britpop bands had on Adams, but the true highlight is his incredible cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”.
After Love Is Hell, Adams formed The Cardinals and would release his next four official studio albums with the band (although 2005’s 29 and 2007’s Easy Tiger are billed as solo albums – The Cardinals played on Easy Tiger, so most consider it a Cardinals album).
8) “Let It Ride”
Off 2005’s Cold Roses, this best sums up the sound of The Cardinals, a band that reminded many people of Whiskeytown but with more country and less punk. The Grateful Dead influence is especially strong on “Let It Ride”.
In 2007 Adams decided to get sober, and every release after 2007 tends to be pinned down as his “weaker sober albums”. I too tend to view Adams’s career as pre-Easy Tiger and post-Easy Tiger, since every album after 2007 has been a lot more mellow (he would record a science fiction metal album a couple of years later, but yeah for the most part pretty mellow).
Off Easy Tiger, which was the first album released after Adams’s sobriety, this song would go on to be one of his biggest hits. This song, which features a duet with Sheryl Crow, is proof that sobriety does not mean the end of a music career.
Adams’s most recent release, 2011’s Ashes & Fire, is a testament to where Adams has been and where he might be going in the future. The album finds Adams in a rare state of happiness, and though the album takes its sweet time it sounds like he’s enjoying every minute of it. “Lucky Now” is not only a great single but also a good summary of where the singer-songwriter is now.
10) “Lucky Now”
Well those are (what I believe to be) the ten songs that’ll get you started off the right track into the wonderful world of Ryan Adams. Look online and you’ll find many other lists with very different opinions (because he has so many damn songs!) but I encourage you to keep digging!