Adele began world domination at the end of 2007. Since then, her critical acclaim and record sales have not been matched by any artist in the same time period. Here is my definitive ranking of her singles discography. Catalog and feelings are updated as of May 2019.
14 – Skyfall (2012)
Adele’s contribution to the James Bond soundtrack is the franchise’s most commercially successful and decorated song. Had any other artist released “Skyfall”, I suspect the sales and acclaim would be nowhere near what Adele pulled off. For my personal taste, the thematically dramatic and strikingly dark sound is significantly different to the catalog I fell in love with.
13 – When We were Young (2016, 25)
Adele takes us down memory lane in “When We were Young”. When I first heard the track, the dramatic tone and high notes flying everywhere sound almost cliche for the superstar. What sets the record apart is she’s filled with nostalgia without anger or bitterness. She’s a refined and put together version of her young self. And the moment we reach the same stage, Adele provided a soundtrack to accompany us.
12 – Cold Shoulder (2008, 19)
Although I’ve never heard a live band perform “Cold Shoulder”, I imagine hearing the track performed at a nice bar would be perfect for a good night. The song exudes the same vibe as “Valerie”. The comparison isn’t surprising considering Mark Ronson produced both singles. I enjoy listening to “Cold Shoulder”. It takes me back in time to a period when Adele’s music was at its infancy and its purest.
11 – Turning Tables (2011, 21)
Any singer-songwriter can talk about heartbreak. The topic is music’s most exploited subject. But Adele breaks down the stages and manifestations of pain, anger and sorrow and turns each piece unique from the rest. Indecision and being subject to a partner’s whim is close to a universal experience. But Adele puts into words the sentiment and will to walk away we wish we had – all existent in a song but not in the heartbreaking reality.
10 – Water Under the Bridge (2016, 25)
Considering Adele’s catalog, “Water Under the Bridge” passes off as upbeat and optimistic. The sound is powered by a disco-pop, tropical melody – a huge deviation from the piano-heavy instrumentation we are used to. Her words convey uncertainty over an unexpectedly blossoming relationship. Today, the man who inspired the track and Adele are over. This rare occurrence of hope is a treasure that just became more precious.
9 – Hometown Glory (2007, 19)
If my memory serves me right, “Hometown Glory” is a rare Adele single released from her studio albums. Romantic love isn’t at the center of the discussion. In fact, it’s completely absent. That’s not a criticism to the song. If anything, the description makes the track a treat. But the biggest accomplishment of this tune is the piano arrangement at the beginning – distinctly Adele and by far her best and most iconic.
8 – Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (2016, 25)
While the rest of 25 came to terms with Adele’s past, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” felt like an ode to 21. The resentment and bitterness carried on. However, her playful words and sound, as well as the prominent use of guitar, gave the song a fresh feel. This track is almost fan service, giving listeners a throwback to the Adele they fell in love with. Parts felt uninspired – likely because Max Martin and Shellback co-wrote it.
7 – Chasing Pavements (2008, 19)
“Chasing Pavements” was Adele’s breakout hit. When I first heard the song, I got “I Try” by Macy Gray vibes. The magic felt like it would never strike again and I made the mistake of writing off Adele as a one-hit wonder. While I’ve outgrown the narrative, the track has a special place in my heart for the memories it brought, including introducing me to the future of music.
6 – Set Fire to the Rain (2011, 21)
If anyone can set fire to the rain, I believe it’s Adele. Her godlike vocals and amazing songwriting puts her in prime position to do the impossible. She turned heartbreak into poetry and gave the world an ammunition to deal with the pain and sorrow of losing in the world’s biggest game – love. “Set Fire to the Rain” is an empowering anthem that gives a semblance of control in a situation that feels hopeless and defeated.
5 – Hello (2015, 25)
In contrast to 21 which was a break-up album, 25 was described by Adele as a make-up album. Her lead single from the record proves that there’s money to be made not just in anger, pain and bitterness. Making peace with the past and coming to terms with the present is equally lucrative. What spells the difference is the artist – in this case, Adele. It’s signature Adele – big vocals, melodrama, and songwriting rooted in real emotion.
4 – Rumour Has It (2011, 21)
Ryan Tedder is a musical genius. Even though many have observed “Halo” and “Already Gone” to share a similar sound, nothing is like “Rumour Has It”. The prominence of handclap and drums in the record gives an air of mystery and unprecedented sass to Adele’s album filled with heartbreak.
3 – Someone Like You (2011, 21)
We’ve been taught to wish good fortune even to those who hurt us. But our aspiration to experience the same happy ending is a sentiment that Adele manages to capitalise on. No one will gladly admit. But moving on is easier when you’re at the winning side of the break-up. If not, the one meant for us should come sooner rather than later. It’s the hope that makes everything better. And in the long-run, sometimes worse.
2 – Make You Feel My Love (2008, 19)
No one can do a Bob Dylan record better than himself. But in the case of “Make You Feel My Love”, I feel Adele has managed to do it. Even though her version is a cover, the piano instrumentation and her powerful vocals turn the rendition into an original that even Bob Dylan should be proud of. Adele has the power to tap into your emotions and connect with you on a visceral level – none more apparent than in this case.
1 – Rolling in the Deep (2010, 21)
“Chasing Pavements” introduced us to an artist. “Rolling in the Deep” is our first glance at a legend. Adele took a risk when she released this single. Nothing on the radio sounded like it. But the gamble paid off. We are now left with one of the biggest songs of the decade. She made breaking out of the formula a standard to succeed in pop music. She created one of the best karaoke tracks to practice harmonies with a duet partner.
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