This article originally ran in 2021, but we’re bringing it back around for Adele’s birthday on Thursday (May 5th).
It’s sometimes surprising to remember just how long Adele has been part of the pop culture conversation. Her breakout, “Hometown Glory,” was released when she was only nineteen years old, and it’s a track the singer-songwriter penned at just sixteen.
Since then, Adele has obliterated records to the tune of fifteen Grammy awards across three full-length studio albums. Her crossover appeal is the result of a unique mix of gifted vocals, vulnerable songwriting, and a personality overflowing with sharp wit.
It’s been over five years now since Adele released new music — a curious stint as host of Saturday Night Live in 2020 was more of an opportunity for the vocalist to try her hand at comedy and acting than it was a hint of a musical comeback — but finally, new tunes from Adele are on the horizon after all.
As we prepare ourselves for getting in our feels tomorrow (October 15th) when Adele makes her musical comeback with “Easy on Me,” (and next month when she unleashes her new album 30), we’ve rounded up ten of our favorite Adele songs and organized them into a playlist.
— Mary Siroky
10. “Rumor Has It”
The second track on 21 flips the script a bit: whereas Adele is most known for heartbreak songs, especially on the massive (and largely devastating) 21 LP, this track is a glimmer of hope. It’s more confident, even sarcastic in places, conjuring small-town drama and pervasive gossip. “Bless your soul, you’ve got your head in the clouds/ You made a fool out of me and, boy, you’re bringin’ me down,” she says. Throughout the story she spins, she never confirms whether or not she started the titular rumor herself, or even if she even wants the subject of the song back — it’s up to the listener to write the ending. — M.S.
09. “Chasing Pavements”
Adele’s second single ever was the bold and beautiful “Chasing Pavements,” which brought her music to thousands of new listeners. Even though she was only nineteen years old when it was recorded, Adele sings with the wisdom and precision that singers twice her age can’t pull off. Adele soars on “Chasing Pavements,” but the track is moody, yearning, and full of tension.
And rather than leaning fully into the jazz-adjacent, coffeehouse-core that was unavoidable in the late 2000s, she brings the song to a massive, anthemic climax in each chorus, demonstrating that she’s more than just a singer — she is a true artist. — Paolo Ragusa
08. “When We Were Young”
Frankly, only Adele could make looking back from the old age of 25 as deeply nostalgic and tender as she does on “When We Were Young.” Addressing a long-lost loved one, the singer faces her fear of getting older head-on by capturing the sentimentality of youth in a warm amber glow. Over soothing piano chords and the steady muffled beat of a tambourine, Adele paints a picture that both looks like a movie and sounds like a song, and will have you reaching for your camera to catch the people you love in the perfect light before the perfect moment passes. — Glenn Rowley
07. “Set Fire to the Rain”
Compared to most of the other tracks on this list, “Set Fire to the Rain” has a pretty standard pop structure. In fact, there’s very little in the first minute that makes it stand out as an all-time great tune. But, boy, when that bridge comes in and you can feel Adele building herself up for that surge of a wail on the hook, you know you’re about to be taken on a journey. Yeah, it’s kind of balladry at its most melodramatic, but that knockout chorus just is undeniable. — Ben Kaye
06. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
By the time 25 rolled around, Adele had the industry at her feet. Enter Max Martin, Swedish pop music expert, and the bubblier “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” was born with a bit of help from songwriter and producer Shellback. In an interview with the New York Times, Adele shared that she’d had the song’s signature bass guitar line in her pocket since she was fifteen years old. It found its home a decade later in the bouncy track — and as one of the more straightforward pop offerings in Adele’s catalogue, it’s a refreshing listen. — M.S.
In the pantheon of James Bond songs, Adele’s “Skyfall” is by far the most cinematic and gripping edition. Adele and mastermind producer Paul Epworth imbue “Skyfall” with mystery, drama, blaring horns and silky strings, treating the song like it’s the climax of its own film. She sounds right at home over the jazzy, decidedly minor track, and rather than show off her incredible belt at every turn, Adele crafts a more subtle and ethereal feel, choosing only a handful of moments to command us with her full-throated roar. Released shortly after her massive sophomore LP 21, “Skyfall” is both a victory lap for Adele and a stunning entry into the legacy of Bond themes. — P.R.
04. “Make You Feel My Love”
“Make You Feel My Love” is far from an Adele original — in fact, Bob Dylan’s dreamy love song has been covered so many times that it’s become one of the few 21st-century tracks to achieve the status of “standard.” Despite having been thoughtfully interpreted by names like Garth Brooks and Kelly Clarkson, Adele’s take on the song is a clear standout.
The majority of the recording is just Adele and a piano. Later, harmonies and strings bring it home, but the simplicity of the track makes it a perfect vehicle for her masterful vocals to shine. It feels honest, and in Adele’s voice, every word feels true. It’s difficult to breathe new life into a song more than a decade old, but, like a perfectly executed run or belt with impeccable placement, Adele makes it look easy. — M.S.
“Hello… it’s me.” With those three words, Adele came roaring back in the fall of 2015, setting the world ablaze with the lead single to her third album 25. By the time the album dropped four weeks later, the song was inescapable, prompting tears, phone calls to long-lost lovers and friends, a resurgence of flip phone memes, and even a true Thanksgiving miracle. Nearly six years on, “Hello” remains one of the greatest and most affecting ballads in contemporary music history. Just like the little girl at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, the only thing we can say is, “Thanks, Adele.” We’re so glad you called. — G.R.
02. “Rolling In the Deep”
While not technically her first hit, the percussive perfection of “Rolling in the Deep” was Adele’s massive breakout. It does everything the best of her work is known for: pulses with fervor, rides her vocals from soulful rasp to a head-turning belt, grips your heart with its emotional core. When this song hit the radio waves and introduced American audiences to the powerhouse vocalist that is Adele, the question of who has the best pipes in modern pop music was answered. — B.K.
01. Someone Like You
Pop music indisputably matters, and upbeat tracks are a joyful, necessary, and cathartic part of the music landscape. Even so, calling “Someone Like You” a pop song doesn’t feel quite right. The sensational ballad is a true heartbreaker: “Don’t forget me, I beg/ I remember you said/ Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead” is a chorus that still holds up a decade later.
As the second single and the closing track of 21, “Someone Like You” stuck the landing as a track that honestly explored heartbreak, retained enough listenability to become a quick radio hit, and hooked people who still might not have connected with Adele.
The word iconic probably gets tossed around a bit too easily these days, but “Someone Like You” is worthy of the descriptor. The opening piano notes are instantly recognizable, and the lyrics feel collectively (and permanently) burned into the zeitgeist. It’s still a bit of a mystery how she pulled off a single-take music video roaming the streets of Paris without a single other human or vehicle in sight. Whether it’s for a heartbreak big or small, a nostalgia trip, or just the occasional good cry, “Someone Like You” remains that song. — M.S.
Adele’s Best Songs Playlist: