The 14 best Ryan Adams cover versions
Ryan Adams is now making headlines for putting a very different spin on Taylor Swift's 1989 with his own versions of every song on the album, but he proved he has the magical touch with covers long before that.
His decision to cover Taylor Swift's songs isn't too surprising in context. The artists that prolific songwriter Adams has namechecked and paid tribute to over his career reveals a passion for a broad range of music, unaffected by the notion of 'cool' and all about great songcraft. And that has been reflected in his cover version choices over the years.
We've picked out 14 of the best for you to hear with Adams' special takes on songs from artists including Iron Maiden, Hank Williams, Alice In Chains, Ratt, Madonna, Willie Nelson… and even Bryan Adams.
Iron Maiden – Wasted Years (live, radio session)
You've never heard Iron Maiden like this. While promoting his 2011 album Ashes And Fire, Adams played this sublime stripped-down take live for a few radio station appearances with his distinctive Buck Owens American acoustic.
A self-confessed metalhead, he takes the sentiment of Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith's composition to a very different place here.
Oasis – Wonderwall (Love Is Hell, 2004)
His most famous cover before the 1989 album reinvented Wonderwall to such an extent its writer Noel Gallagher was moved to say Adams was, 'the only person who ever got that song right.'
Adams recorded it for his seminal 2004 album Love Is Hell (initially released as two Eps). Live, his approach to this song can vary (as his Glastonbury performance this year proved) but it's never less than hauntingly compelling.
Alice In Chains – Nutshell (live, 2014)
He's covered the band twice on b-sides (he tackled Down In A Hole too) but this fittingly ethereal version of Nutshell live in AIC's hometown of Seattle tops them all. Adams loses himself in themelancholyhere, throwing in some of his own melodic touches. But he does so respectfully, and this never skews the original intent of Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley.
His closing solo break through his ever-present Fender Princeton Reverb amps screams taste too; and again highlights an artist who is lauded as a songwriter, but often strangely underrated as a guitarist.
Ratt - Round And Round (live radio session, 2011)
The Jacksonville native has never made a secret of his appreciation for high quality glam rock, so when he gave the sensitive fingerpicking treatment to Ratt's anthem, fans may not have been surprised. But the end result is a world away from the original. Cutting to the core of the LA mob's 1984 hit to shine a far more romantic light on Stephen Pearcy's lyrics.
Bryan Adams – Summer Of '69 (live, 2015)
People hilariously mishearing 'Ryan' as 'Bryan' is a pretty old joke for Ryan Adams fans, and 'Play Summer Of '69' is an occasional heckle the artist himself has endured. It took a while, but this year he turned the tables in style.
He didn't stop there either, the same tour even saw him tackle Bryan's Run To You with his current band, The Shining.
Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind (Jacksonville City Nights bonus disc)
Ryan Adams is back to the alt country roots of his Whiskeytown days in this version of the Willie Nelson standard, made famous by Elvis.
Performed when he was playing with the Cardinals line-up, it was originally featured on the rare bonus disc with limited copies of Jacksonville City Nights. No less than the third album of new material the ultra prolific Adams released in 2005.
Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come (live on Letterman)
And here is is with country royalty Willie Nelson himself, tackling Jimmy Cliff's reggae classic live on Letterman. Well, you can't say he isn't versatile, and here he's delivering the vocal moves like Jagger.
Black Flag – Nervous Breakdown (Rural Free Delivery E.P, 1997)
Last year's 1984 EP showcased the raw punk rock side of Ryan Adams' songwriting; brimming with the energy and jagged hooks of early Replacements and Hüsker Dü. But here he's paying homage to his punk heroes with an acoustic reworking.
He later covered this Black Flag classic on his own, but this version with his pre-solo career band Whiskeytown is the best. They really do make it their own.
Madonna – Like A Virgin (live)
A bit of an oddity here. Few would attempt to reinterpret Madonna's racy pop smash as winsome acoustic folk, but Adams pulls it off and even has some lyrical ad-lib fun with it.
Hank Williams – Lovesick Blues (Hank Williams: Timeless album)
Not all Ryan Adams covers are about startling reinterpretation, and here he pays close respect to the original country outlaw, delivering the pronunciation of the 'blues' lyric with the same distinctive yodel as Hank.
The Grateful Dead – Wharf Rat (live radio session, 2014)
The Grateful Dead's influence can certainly be detected in Adams' music, especially in parts of one of his very best records, 2005's double opus, Cold Roses.
Here he lays down his love for Jerry Garcia's crew for all to see in an intimate acoustic session. With stunning results.
Bob Mould – Black Sheets Of Rain (live on Letterman)
This intimate acoustic interpretation of his friend Mould's solo track gives it a very different perspective. But it still weighs with the lyrical gravitas of the original (song starts at 2.45).
Gram Parsons – Return Of The Grievous Angel (live)
Much has been made of Ryan Adams being the spiritual successor to the late Gram Parsons, but his the sheer breadth of versatility in his songwriting continues to prove there's much more to him than the alt country label he was initially given.
But when he does wear that hat, like here, he wears it very well indeed.
Neil Young – Old Man (live, 2015)
And finally, his most recent cover performance at Neilfest in New York. Again he strips the arrangement down to fingerstyle and vocal, and this time he has the harmonies of Nora Jones backing him; who collaborated with Adams on the song Dear John from 2005's Jacksonville City Nights.