On his solo debut album, Heartbreaker (2000), Ryan Adams seems to have pulled off the extremely difficult task of penning an instant classic: the wrenching drinking song "Come Pick Me Up." Even folks who were not particularly fans of his roots rock outfit Whiskeytown were won over by this one, a song that seamlessly mixes together a little humor and a heavier dose of wistful melancholy, and a rousing singalong chorus with stark, brooding verses. The song was co-authored by a friend, Van Alston, a mover and shaker in Raleigh, NC -- Adams' neck of the woods.
Produced by musician/producer Ethan Johns, son of legendary producer Glyn Johns, the sounds are classic country-rock: acoustic guitar, B-3 organ, crisp drums, banjo, and wailing harmonica. Over the rootsy musical arrangement that brings to mind vintage Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Band, and Neil Young, Adams sings in a bruised voice the opening lines of the verse: "When they call your name/Will you walk right up/With a smile on your face/Will you cower in fear/In your favorite sweater/With an old love letter." The verses have a quietude and resolved sadness with an appeal unto themselves. Adams delivers the lines as with a sigh, a beaten-down weariness taking hold, as if barely able to summon the required energy. But the chorus -- with Kim Richey singing a lovely harmony -- is the song's major hook, musically and lyrically: "Come pick me up/Take me out/F*** me up/Steal my records/Screw all my friends/Behind my back/With a smile on your face/And then do it again." Clearly the hangdog narrator has picked the wrong woman for himself, but he's caught in that proverbial trap. But Adams taps into a deep sense of pathos; the self-deprecation and bitter fatalism of the narrator draw you in, as everyone has been there. As with Steve Earle, Adams, with a seeming effortlessness, blends simmering rage, frustration, depression, loneliness, and levity on the chorus --making songwriting look easy. Though at first glance Adams appears to ape his heroes, he in fact strives for nothing less to be regarded alongside them.