Every time Adele releases, it’s a globe-stopping occasion. She’s returning this year with her fourth album 30, led by the single Easy On Me. Since the whole planet is talking all things Adele, we’re adding to the choir with our ranking of her 20 best songs.
20. Million Years Ago
One of 25‘s most gentle moments could also be its most depressing. It’s a monochromatic farewell to youth, led by an acoustic guitar. Adele octave change at the end is what really makes this song though.
19. Cold Shoulder
19 is Adele’s most moveable record, driven along by groovy moments like Cold Shoulder. This vintage soul sound was taking over Britain but Adele’s rendition rose to the top. Her vocal delivery is rich and masterful, making an otherwise unremarkable chorus memorable.
Adele went full Celine Dion on 25 and we’re not complaining. Remedy is one of the record’s biggest ballads. A flashy, overblown track with a chorus that smacks you right in the gut.
17. Melt My Heart To Stone
Melt My Heart To Stone perfectly fuses Adele’s balladry with 19‘s jazz tendencies. She builds this song beautifully, creating a full liftoff in the second verse, propelled by luscious strings.
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of Bond songs but if I had to pick one, this would be it. Adele’s delivery is full-bodied and intense like every Bond theme song should be and the instrumental is decadent and grandiose.
15. Make You Feel My Love
This was the song on 19 that hinted at Adele’s future move into arena-sized balladry. They’re not her words but you wouldn’t know it. Her commitment to the emotion of this song is truly beautiful.
14. Rumour Has It
Sadness and revenge are Adele’s two most common modes through breakup. Rumour Has It displays the latter stomping through the door with a ferocious vocal performance and the most attitude of any Adele song.
13. Water Under The Bridge
Greg Kurstin and Adele are masters at serving up uncomplicated pop songs that hit exactly in the right way. There’s nothing tricky about Water Under The Bridge. It’s just a brilliant pop song with a chorus that absolutely soars. “Our love ain’t water under the bridge,” feels like a battle cry delivered atop this rich, unforgiving production.
12. Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
Adele isn’t Max Martin’s typical popstar but she comes through on arguably her biggest pop moment. Send My Love (To Your New Lover) is as liberating as it is petty. She’s moving on but before she goes she’s got a few more digs to get in.
11. One And Only
The minute those keys come in you know you’re in for an absolute powerhouse vocal. Here’s Adele peacocking vocally. Giving a meaty, goosebump-raising performance that’s both soulful and unapologetic. Just when you think she can’t go any better the instrumental comes in and punches One And Only into the stratosphere.
10. All I Ask
We talked about 25‘s Celine Dion references earlier but All I Ask displays it best. This is a classic power ballad. An instantly iconic piano line with a chorus that serves far beyond you would have ever imagined. “If this is my last night with you,” is an apocalyptic line that only Adele could deliver with some sense of humanity.
9. Set Fire To The Rain
Rolling In The Deep and Someone Like You were obviously Adele’s golden moments on 21 but Set Fire To The Rain really established her roots in the pop realm. It’s a song so big that you can’t help but get caught up in the storm of furious vocals and dizzying strings.
8. Turning Tables
Before Adele’s vocal even comes in Turning Tables has already devastated you. And then she sings, “Close enough to start a war / All that I have is on the floor.” It’s so vulnerable, capturing all the devastating, escalated emotion that presents itself in the midst of a fight.
7. Chasing Pavements
It’s amazing how polished Adele already was on Chasing Pavements. She already had the vocals and emotional vulnerability down, all that was left to add was experience. A warm, complicated love song that never quite answers any of the questions it poses.
6. Easy On Me
Easy On Me is perhaps Adele’s most unsuspecting lead single but there’s something beautiful about that. She’s addressing a divorce in real-time. This is the moment she found clarity singing, “I changed who I was to put you first / But now I give up.” It’s not the powerhouse comeback many expected (there were rumors of a Beyoncé collab) but it’s all the more powerful for it. A vulnerable, crushing breakup song that feels no pressure to go bigger.
5. Hometown Glory
Adele wrote this song about her hometown because her Mum wanted to send her to Liverpool for university. The fact she conjured up this sort of emotion towards her hometown at this age perhaps explains why Adele’s songs are so full of hyperbole. I personally have no pride for my hometown and yet this song could makes me want to move back and dedicate my life to it.
Hello does the complete opposite of Easy On Me. It’s there to be noticed. The first line after all is, “Hello, it’s me.” It’s in-your-face, it’s overblown and yet it sends daggers at the heart. Even when Adele goes for the arena-sized she manages to bring it back down to the heart of the matter with lyrics like, “I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet.”
3. Rolling In The Deep
As I said earlier, Adele is either weeping in solitary or out for blood. On Rolling In The Deep she’s full of rage, her vocals rumbling as the instrumental builds towards something spectacular. “Think of me in the depths of your despair,” is such a cold line one that would literally have you shaking if this was about you.
2. When We Were Young
There’s something particularly devastating about nostalgia. Moving on from something but having one interaction bring you right back. That’s where When We Were Young conjures its emotion. “You feel like home, you’re like a dream come true,” Adele sings as she spots an ex out of the corner of her eye. This isn’t a rekindling, it’s simply a brief moment of weakness as nostalgia creeps it. “It was just like a movie, it was just like a song,” she sings. If it was it wouldn’t have ended but sometimes the past appears better in the rearview.
1. Someone Like You
Someone Like You will go down as one of the greatest breakup ballads of all time. Adele’s lyrics are so direct here that it’s almost impossible not to feel for her from line one – “I heard that you’re settled down / That you’ve found a girl and you’re married now.” She’s heartbroken but then she comes through with this piercing moment of clarity in the titular lyric. You knew this one was special from the moment she first performed it and it’s never lost its power. It’s the sort of song that has the ability to pull you in anywhere you hear it, whether it be a shopping center or atop an EDM remix at a tacky club. It’s a classic – a song that will transcend generations.
If you’re after more Adele chat, listen to our episode of Flopstars dissecting 19: