Ryan Adams at Atlanta's Shaky Knees festival, May 2015EXPAND
Ryan Adams at Atlanta's Shaky Knees festival, May 2015

Beyond 1989: Five More Albums for Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams’s song-by-song remake of Taylor Swift’s 1989 dominated the Internet Monday; you may have seen something about that. But what could have easily been another publicity stunt in an era full of them became instead an illuminating companion to Swift's original. Adams's 1989 can both stand on its own merits and deserves to prod the skeptics who dismissed Swift's 2014 blockbuster as pop-radio fluff to give it a second listen.

As the story goes, Adams was on tour behind last year’s Ryan Adams, and hit on the idea of doing 1989 like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, employing little more than a four-track recorder and a serious case of the sads. He eventually recut the record in his Pax-Am studio after the tour was over, and it became an instant surprise hit upon its release Monday. Swift has enthusiastically endorsed Adams’s version on Twitter and Apple’s Beats 1 streaming station, while Adams’s 1989 was holding at No. 2 on iTunes’s overall chart late Monday night; it was kept out of the top spot by Drake and Future’s new tape, but sitting pretty at No. 1 on the Rock chart. Adams, meanwhile, likened Swift to Keith Richards in Rolling Stone, saying, “There are certain people who have that thing.”

As for 1989, ”when I played these songs on acoustic guitar, they sounded like all the other songs I knew of hers before," he said. "You can tell she built the record in the same way. She just recontextualized them. She brought it to a mall in the Eighties, which is really awesome."

All Adams did was simply make a Ryan Adams record out of those songs — melancholy, a little jangly and quite lovely — so the only question now is which other famous albums throughout history he might do for an encore.

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This might be a bit of a stretch, but if Adams is looking to find out what else that four-track of his can do, the only other pop star in Swift’s league happens to have been born right here in Houston. The Queen’s 2003 solo debut offers the kind of broad variety that Adams could really sink his teeth into, be it stampeding single “Crazy In Love,” dancehall-touched “Baby Boy” or the funky singer-songwriter vibe of “Me, Myself & I.” Finally, the old crooner in him would surely love a chance at Luther Vandross’s quiet-storm classic “The Closer I Get to You.”

Whiskeytown, the volatile and intuitive ‘90s band that put Adams on the map, recorded a version of “Dreams” during the sessions for their 1997 alt-country classic Strangers Almanac; on his 1989, more than a little of the Mac survives on “Blank Space” and even “Shake It Off.” Perhaps Apple can come aboard as sponsor, and Adams can test whether or not the latest version of GarageBand is up to the orgy of multitracking that resulted in Rumours. Even better, maybe he could convince Swift to sing all the Stevie Nicks parts.

The Smiths’ name came up a lot after Adams’s version of 1989 was announced, mostly because it was he who kept dropping it; like the time he announced that his “Blank Space” had “a deep Smiths vibe.” We actually hear it more in the Marr-like guitar chime of his “Bad Blood,” but Adams has proclaimed his Smiths fandom many times over, including below. It’s probably just a matter of time.


Because the story about Adams stalking offstage in Nashville after being heckled with a request with “Summer of '69” is still one of the best ever. Happily, Adams seems to have developed a sense of humor about it.

Adams, whose split with pop-star/actress wife Mandy Moore is supposedly the inspiration for his 1989, also confided to Apple’s Beats 1 streaming station that his next album is finished, it’s a double, and it’s the “darkest, deepest, most romantic or loss of stuff I’ve ever done,” according to Stereogum. To that, we say that’s nothing that can’t be cured by plugging into “Waitin’ For the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” back to back, and lifting those spirits with a little “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” And if that’s not cathartic enough, there’s always Eliminator.

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