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Music

The 21 best Adele songs ranked from worst to best

@TylerGolsen

Music fans aren’t complicated. We all turn to music for the same reasons: to celebrate, to languish, or to get rid of our anger. Whether we find ourselves bitterly recalling the past or optimistically looking to the future, those feelings tend to be amplified by a song that articulates exactly how we are feeling. Over the past decade and a half, no one has been able to tune into human emotion on a massive scale quite like Adele.

Adele is an artist that has maintained a sense of stylistic consistency throughout her career, even though she’s grown immensely over the years. Coming out with her very first album at the age of 19 (appropriately titled 19), her songwriting has always showcased a classic sense of sophistication that has permeated pop music with a sense of grounded artistry that warrants the attention she gets.

With so many pop artists going by the same songwriting formula, Adele belongs in the same category as artists like Amy Winehouse, Lorde, Billie Eilish, FKA Twigs, and other “pop” artists who take their work seriously and consistently evolve to offer something new. But even with a surprising amount of versatility, we all know what to expect from an “Adele song”: a major sweeping ballad that can produce tears of anger, joy, or sorrow from the very first notes.

When it comes to ranking her songs, Adele has so many incredible tracks that it can be difficult to choose, especially as it gets closer to the top. However, that’s a part of what makes the challenge so intriguing. Whether you’re a huge Adele fan or you’re looking to get into her music for the first time, here are some of her best songs to check out and explore.

The 21 best Adele songs ranked from worst to best:

21. ‘All Night Parking’

Adele knew exactly what the world needed after a global pandemic: an album that alternated between heartbreak and uplifting anthems. In other words, the world needed another Adele album.

But within the divorce subtext and sweeping grandiosity of 30 comes ‘All Night Parking’, a sample-based jazz song featuring a 1964 recording of pianist Erroll Garner and a light trap beat. If there’s a look into what Adele could evolve into over the next few years, here’s hoping that it sounds like ‘All Night Parking’.

20. ‘Love in the Dark’

The greatest asset Adele possess is simplicity: in the hands of anyone else, her signature sentimental ballads would come off as schlocky and overwrought. Because of the magnetic power of her voice, however, Adele is able to deliver lines like “you have given me something that I can’t live without / You mustn’t underestimate that when you are in doubt” without a hint of irony.

To buy into the Adele experience is to belt out songs like ‘Love In The Dark’ without any acknowledgement of the outside world. Adele creates her own world, crafting a safe space to be unrepentantly emotional without having to apologise for it. ‘Love In The Dark’ is filled with the kind of sweeping majesty that immediately transports you to Planet Adele, one heartbroken line at a time.

19. ‘Oh My God’

The smokey piano bar is one place to rule the world, but how about the dance club? Adele never had to pick between the two: her brand of belters can translate to good times and bad in equal measure. Whether you need a good beat or a good cry, Adele is there for you.

‘Oh My God’ is the perfect example of the Adele that the world doesn’t automatically imagine in their brains. Slick, slinky, and filled with fun, there’s nothing tragic about ‘Oh My God’. Instead, it’s a rollicking groove song that brings up topics like anxiety and uncertainty without turning them into world-ending events. Adele just wants to have fun, and ‘Oh My God’ is the vehicle for her audience to join her.

18. ‘When We Were Young’

‘When We Were Young’ is simply heartbreaking, but in that special Adele way that keeps you coming back for more. Adele is, indeed, the queen of ballads, and this is one of them. It’s slow and crooning, and her voice sounds both emotional and technically brilliant on it.

Taken from her 2015 album 25, this is definitely one of the album’s heavy hitters—perfect for car karaoke, or, heck, literal karaoke if you and your pipes are willing to go there.

17. ‘Easy On Me’

It had been too long. Half a decade to be exact, but who’s counting? After the release of 25, Adele needed to handle a divorce, a changing music scene, and a pandemic all at once. Her audience had to weather those five years without her as well, so when she decided to come back, Adele needed to remind the world just what they were missing.

That’s what ‘Easy On Me’ is more than anything else: a reclaiming of the throne. The queen of the ballad is back and better than ever, doling out earth-shattering choruses like they were going out of style. We knew Adele could do something like ‘Easy On Me’ in her sleep, but we all yearned for her to show us how easy it was again.

16. ‘One and Only’

On an album as ubiquitous as 21, it’s hard to find deep cuts anywhere. An album that sells over 30 million copies worldwide doesn’t have any corners that are unexplored. Still, if you revisit 21 today, you’d be surprised how many songs don’t automatically jump out as all-time classics, leaving quite a few hidden gems to explore.

‘One and Only’ is Adele at her most gospel, bringing in blaring organ lines and church-level belting. As she builds and builds to the chorus, Adele taps into that kind of glorious release that the genre’s best music exemplifies. 21 was the end of the album era, which makes ‘One and Only’ one of the last great true album cuts from one of the last monumental albums.

15. ‘Hometown Glory’

‘Hometown Glory’ is one of Adele’s first big dramatic ballads. Off the 19 album, there’s a sombre, dark, and absolutely beautiful quality to the way her voice blends with the piano. This is a song that could easily have sounded too polished—too produced, but Adele’s voice lends it that raw quality.

This track has that infectious quality that just makes you want to hit repeat, and yet again, this came out when she was just 19, making her talent all the more impressive.

14. ‘Hello’

Even though this song has become somewhat of a meme in recent years, that doesn’t strip away its objective quality—in fact, it might contribute even more to its icon status. Even just the opening line of this song is enough to catch your attention, and there’s something amazing about that.

Additionally, this is yet another ballad from the master of the form, and the way it picks up in the middle is unmatched. This song is definitely a keeper.

13. ‘I Drink Wine’

A song with the title ‘I Drink Wine’ would have been a disastrous moment in any other singer’s career. It should have been the sign that Adele had become too self-aware, too ironic, and too tuned into what listeners tend to stereotype her music, and her public persona, as being.

Thankfully, ‘I Drink Wine’ is completely genuine in its dealing with the sadness of being on your own for the first time in years. Channelling the best singer-songwriters of the 1970s, Adele transcends the meme-worthy title of ‘I Drink Wine’ to deliver a truly stirring vocal performance.

12. ‘Set Fire to the Rain’

If it’s capital D Drama you’re looking for, and if we’re being honest that’s what most of us have come to expect from Adele, then ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ is the song to turn to in the singer-songwriter’s vast catalogue of dramatic turns.

Ramping up the jealousy and paranoia to maximalist levels, ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ surrounds Adele with a tornado of drums, pianos, and strings that almost engulf her completely. That’s until her powerhouse voice reaches its apex during the belted out chorus.

11. ‘Make You Feel My Love’

It’s strange to remember that one of Adele’s initial signature songs was actually a Bob Dylan cover. The two artists seemingly couldn’t be any different in style: Adele lives and dies by the power and perfection of her voice, while Dylan’s voice has devolved into a strained whine. It’s nearly impossible to imagine them singing the same song, and yet ‘Make You Feel My Love’ fits Adele to a T.

‘Make You Feel My Love’ had actually been kicking around for a number of years before Adele got a hold of it, being taken by everyone from Billy Joel to Garth Brooks. But in the hands of Adele, the song finally found its permanent home.

10. ‘I’ll Be Waiting’

If you need a reminder that Adele isn’t just a major ballad singer, put on ‘I’ll Be Waiting’. A searing stomper of a song that owes more to rock music than soft piano pop, Adele commands the role of a woman scorned, knowing that her subject will return to her in good time.

Everything from the vulnerability of the song’s message to the badassery of her delivery, Adele is completely in her element on ‘I’ll Be Waiting’. While ballads and bops are her bread and butter, the rock and roll side of Adele should come out to play a little more often.

9. ‘Skyfall’

This track brings the drama, as it should. Not only is it a brilliant song in its own right, but composed for the James Bond film of the same name, this song swept award ceremonies, including winning her an Oscar for Best Original Song. Even just listening to it on its own, though, it gives the air of a Bond flick right away.

The track is catchy, but in a way that shows off unique and interesting songwriting. Plus, her voice sounds like pure liquid gold. It definitely ranks among her best.

8. ‘My Same’

It’s usually quite obvious, but Adele doesn’t really get enough credit for being so fully formed so early in life. She sounds older and more weathered on 19 than she does on 30 as she’s completely dedicated to channelling the old school soul artists of the past. Like her immediate predecessor Amy Winehouse, Adele could have been a damn good jazz singer had she not been embraced by the pop mainstream.

‘My Same’ is a reminder that jazz is never too far away from Adele’s purview. It’s in her DNA, and her voice still has the creaks and quivers of an experienced lounge singer. It’s just that she has sleek modern production on her side, and it never gets sleeker than on ‘My Same’.

7. ‘Cold Shoulder’

It’s no wonder that Adele eventually got tapped to do a Bond theme. Her command of stirring string sections and hardened horn stabs is evident from the very beginning of her career. Whether she’s doing reinterpretations of jazz or stripping things down to just her and a piano, Adele knew the power of painting a sonic picture.

With a groovy breakbeat and violins that practically shake like icicles, ‘Cold Shoulder’ does wonders to evoke the chilly atmosphere that Adele details in her lyrics. It’s also got quite a club-ready feel for someone who was at her most loungey at this stage of her career, which makes ‘Cold Shoulder’ a fascinating look at things to come.

6. ‘Rumour Has It’

This song is absolutely fire, and everybody knows it. Adele doesn’t always pull out the stops with an intense beat, but when she does, boy is it worth it. This is Adele at her sassiest. She ploughs through this song with an attitude, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

In addition to the mood and the tone of the song, she sounds incredible on the track, as her voice tends to do every time. This song is just one of those tracks that makes you want to smash something, in the best way, of course.

5. ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’

Adele is basically everything that Ed Sheeran wishes he was: commanding of gentle instrumentation and heart-stopping emotional power without the eye-rolling trend-chasing. The difference is that Adele’s hooks can translate through pop without sounding contrived or silly. Adele isn’t a ballad singer – she’s a pop star in the highest regard.

A song like ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ is all monster earworms and catchy melodies, packing as much punch into three-and-a-half minutes as humanly possible. It doesn’t matter if Adele is backed up by a piano or an acoustic or just a series of handclaps: she and an army of her own overdubbed harmonies dominate the arrangement of her purest pop moment to date.

4. ‘Rolling in the Deep’

Arguably one of Adele’s most popular songs and one of the tracks that catapulted her into radio-chart-topping mainstream pop status. Normally, songs like this get an overrated reputation, but we have to be honest with ourselves here. Sometimes, a song gets popular because it’s infectious and technically great. This is one of those cases.

From the unique beat to the sweeping chorus, ‘Rolling In the Deep’ is one of the best songs Adele has in her pocket, and it’s a good thing the world appreciates it the way it was meant to be appreciated.

3. ‘Best For Last’

Going with a bit of a deeper cut here, but ‘Best For Last’ is one of the songs that just doesn’t get enough attention from the 19 album. It’s a stripped-down, jazzy, classic-sounding track that shows off her voice so perfectly. It picks up in the middle, but even so, her voice is raw and real and fits this song like glue.

It’s also amazing to hear just how developed and solidified her voice and vocal style is from such a young age. She sounds seasoned beyond her years on ‘Best For Last’, perhaps even more than in some of her later material.

2. ‘Someone Like You’

There was a solid five-year span in which every single singer on the pop charts was doing a bad Adele impression. Such was the cultural impact of 21, perhaps the last album ever that was able to sell massive physical copies all over the world. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ started the mania, but the most affecting emotional gut punch comes from the album’s closing requiem: ‘Someone Like You’. 

Recounting every last excruciating detail of a relationship, from the falling in love to the bitter disappointments and the final closing of the book, Adele wrings the most emotional moments out of her vocal performance, leaving herself and the listener in a state of incredible vulnerability by the time the final piano chords fade. It’s the decade’s most goosebump-inducing performance, one that Adele could have carried her entire career on.

1. ‘Chasing Pavements’

This song is one of Adele’s first claims to fame, and it still ranks as the best all these years later. Not only is it a complex and beautifully written song, but it makes it all the more impressive to think about the fact that she was only 19 at the time of release. The thing is, this isn’t the kind of song that immediately strikes you as a pop landmark, and yet, it became one.

This track is sad, beautiful, and absolutely drenched in nostalgia. All of the reasons why listeners gravitate towards Adele are in ‘Chasing Pavements’, distilling a generational talent into three and a half minutes. Everything about it practically screams Adele, and that’s why it tops this list.