The bestselling artist of the 21st century, a Vevo record-breaker, a frankly greedy Grammy winner – sometimes it feels as if Adele Adkins is all about the numbers. But while her marketing department’s keeping the statisticians occupied, she’s doing the important stuff: rewriting the UK songbook. Her singles are the new standards, and, in the week in which she will release the long-awaited ’25’ album, here they are ranked in (possibly) contentious order.
11. ‘Turning Tables’
A tough rap for ‘Turning Tables’, but that’s what you get for being the fifth single off a 30 million-selling album, neither frontline nor deep cut. Released in November 2011 to give ’21’ that extra Christmas-present rinse 10 months after it came out, its anxious urgency overpowers the Disney strings, and Adele’s final “Say goodbye…” is husky to the point of breaking down entirely. ‘Turning Tables’ was written with songwriter-for-hire Ryan Tedder, but it’s Adele’s experience that reaches out.
10. ‘Cold Shoulder’
A rare uptempo moment, but possibly an indication why Adele doesn’t do this stuff more often. Although Mark Ronson and Adele might have looked a dream team on paper, the results sound like Jamiroquai covering Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ (and, OK, there’s one decent element in there). This may be because Jay Kay’s old bassist Stuart Zender plays on the track. It may also be because Ronson is an adept, um, archivist of other people’s records.
9. ‘Rumour Has It’
Talking of “rare” uptempo records, here’s another one. Ostensibly a blues-soul stomper, a closer listen reveals what this really is: Adele’s somewhat unlikely take on Tune-Yards. Those stark, thumping drums, the joyous harmonies – just admit you can hear it. The crowning glory, though, is the killer pay-off (“Rumour has it he’s the one I’m leaving you for”), topped off with a little trill of piano, like a sly wink.
Quantum Of Solace must’ve come too early in her career, or Adele would’ve recorded a Bond song three years sooner. She’s a natural fit, with the lung-power of Shirley Bassey and the affinity with dramatic, string-drenched ballads, and regular production sidekick Paul Epworth acquits himself admirably too with little interpolations of the classic horn-parped theme. And it’s a sensuous vocal, just right for silhouettes of naked models.
7. ‘Set Fire To The Rain’
Another for the compendium of Adele break-up songs, ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ starts with the kind of Vegas piano you expect to find Céline Dion draped across, before a shuffle of near-Mumford beats. Big fat strings on the second chorus make this a job application for the Skyfall theme, but it’s Adele’s phrasing that really captivates. Her vocal dexterity’s underestimated when we’re all flattened by the power; that skipping delivery of “to-the-rain” is the earworm.
6. ‘Hometown Glory’
Adele’s debut single – originally released on Jamie T’s Pacemaker Recordings – took about six months to enter the charts, eventually boosted by unbundled download sales of ’19’ and a Brits Critics’ Choice Award, and finds the singer softer, more vulnerable than we’ve become used to. She’s not calling out an old boyfriend, mind, just doling out props to – presumably – her native Tottenham, whom, she croons, is not “gonna stand shit“. Well, the football club might.
5. ‘Make You Feel My Love’
This has one clear advantage over Bob Dylan’s 1997 original – it doesn’t sound as if Adele’s croaking into a bucket. That it’s become the ‘standard’ version of the song, covered specifically in various X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent performances to Adele’s chart benefit, is down to her interpretation. Reined in on the affecting verses, even when she cuts loose it’s with the fireside warmth of a Christmas No.1, or Carole King in a quality-knit sweater.
4. ‘Chasing Pavements’
The agony of not granting this a Top 3 spot. Seven years on, Adele’s breakthrough feels somewhat hackneyed and mannered in the jazzy chords of its drawn-out verses, but that show-stopping chorus lays waste to the environment, confirming a genuine star. This is where we all started to believe in Adele, a sweary everywoman who could lamp an ex-boyfriend and then make the whole confrontation sound soulful over soft-pad electric piano.
With Vevo numbers that knock those old Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special viewing figures into a cocked hat, ‘Hello’ is already a blockbuster just three weeks after its release. On the surface a power ballad (and “power” doesn’t quite do justice to the might of that “HELLO FROM THE OUTSIDE”) Adele’s new single initially finds her drawling like she’s spent more time in Nashville than in “California, dreaming,” but once she gets into gear it’s a shutdown to rival Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’. Maybe steer clear of karaoke bars for a bit.
2. ‘Someone Like You’
Seventy-seven weeks on the chart – that’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood territory, to pluck a natural rival out of the air – and Adele’s first No.1 single, ‘Someone Like You’ has a claim on legendary status before its ubiquity’s even considered. Then there’s the multi-million sales, its lofty placing in all-time polls and the revelation that Pixie Lott has covered it live. Staggering stuff for a wounded stalker’s anthem, a feat of committed roleplay that leaves Adele in ruins with its final chorus, her falsetto creaking at “Don’t forget me, I beg…”
1. ‘Rolling In The Deep’
And after all those ballads too. It’s the classic combo of Adkins and Epworth, letting rip this time on a gospel/soul bruiser that could’ve come straight off the Ike and Tina Turner hymn sheet – with an opening curveball thrum that might have been Young Marble Giants, if you lose control of your imagination. Once the pounding bearskin drums get going though, this is a rollicking, epic two-fingers to an ex-lover who’s going to regret he ever crossed Adele, the flames licking higher in a thrilling bridge before that big, bellowed release. Power, retribution and soul – textbook Adele recipe.