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Every Adele Song, Ranked

Pour some wine, grab a box of tissues and call your therapist before digging into our ranking of every officially released Adele song

Over just four albums, Adele has built the type of airtight canon other artists spend decades trying to achieve. She launched her career as a heartbroken teenager with 19 and is now in her thirties, digging deep into motherhood, love, regret and, of course, more heartbreak. She has written more modern pop standards than anyone else in her generation, each single becoming an instant classic.

It’s no easy feat choosing what makes for the best Adele song — there’s not a single dud in the bunch. This list includes every officially released song that she’s released as the lead artist, from her four albums and a few live records. We included a number of officially released covers she has done, as well as bonus tracks and rarities (though many are still not on streaming, dedicated fans have uploaded them to YouTube for everyone to enjoy). Only two songs are missing from the list (for now): 30 bonus tracks that are still best (and exclusively) heard on physical deluxe editions of the album.

For now, pour some wine, grab a box of tissues, and call your therapist: Here’s our official ranking of Adele’s songs.

From Rolling Stone US

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“Set Fire to the Rain”

“She wasn’t looking for an acoustic track,” producer and co-writer Fraser T. Smith told RS in 2012 about this 21 flamethrower. “She wanted something quite driven.” No kidding. One of Adele’s most cathartic songs — just listen to the way her voice vaults from pensive in the verses to unleashed in the choruses, especially in the phrase “watched it pour” — “Set Fire to the Rain” started simply, with piano, drums, and Adele singing melody lines. Musically, Smith envisioned meshing Adele’s lung power with what he called “Ennio Morricone strings, spaghetti-western style.” When it came to the lyrics, we can thank a breakup and Adele’s cigarette breaks outside the studio. During one, Smith recalled, “She had finished with her boyfriend and was trying to light a cigarette in the rain, and her lighter wouldn’t work. At that point, she was at her lowest and thought, ‘All I want to do is put this behind me — if I had a fire, I would set fire to the rain.’” As with several other tracks on 21, Adele wound up ditching producer Rick Rubin’s version for the rawer early take with Smith. —D.B.

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“Hold On”

As Adele says, each song with producer Inflo began with a “six-hour therapy session.” “Hold On” is the kind of song where it feels like the therapy session never ended. It begins in hushed secrecy, with Adele opening up about her deepest doubts and fears. “Right now, I truly hate being me,” she admits. “Every day, feels like the road I’m on/Might just open up and swallow me whole.” But the music lifts her up; halfway through, the drums kick in as the the song builds into a full-band R&B extravaganza. According to the credits, the backup choir is “Adele’s crazy friends,” who keep telling her to hold on. —R.S.

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“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”

Adele wraps her voice around a slippery guitar in “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” which starts out impressively minimal — an intricate blend of finger-picking and muted thumps — before reaching an arena-ready roar. The singer takes aim at another old flame, sketching the chasm between his words and actions in a few cutting lines. She lands one fierce jab (“Send my love to your new lover/Treat her better”), but this time, she’s more interested in heading to the high road. “I’m giving you up,” she notes. “I’ve forgiven it all/You set me free.” —E.L.

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“Hometown Glory”

Adele is known as pop’s heartbreak queen, but that leaves her love songs sorely underrated. And her best love song? Well, it’s the first song she ever wrote, the tribute to where she grew up. She wrote the track at age 16 in just 10 minutes. It was her response to her mom’s request that she move from West Norwood to attend university. The result is a stirring piano ballad that triumphantly celebrates the various wonders of the place that helped mold her into the young woman she is. Eventually, “Hometown Glory” would be the song to kick off everything for Adele: It was released in 2007 as her debut single. It didn’t take off straight away, instead getting a major boost after it was featured in various popular TV shows a year later, like Skins, One Tree Hill, and Grey’s Anatomy. —B.S.

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“When We Were Young”

The young wisdom of Adele has always been something she just got, this ability to craft the complexity of emotion into these timeless ballads it’s hard to believe hadn’t already been written, as though they had been waiting for her all along. “When We Were Young” may be the most wrecking of her parlays into this notion, not because it recounts any particular instance of heartbreak but because in under five minutes, she spins the existential crisis-inducing topics of time and aging into what feels like a snapshot of our own past, present, and future. “Let me photograph you in this light/In case it is the last time that we might/Be exactly like we were before we realized/We were sad of getting old, it made us restless,” Adele offers on a ravaging chorus coming from the queen of marking each passing album and era with an age — unable to escape to confines of time. It’s as much about all of the people we have and will ever love and the ones we’ll never have a chance to as it is about the ever-changing versions of ourselves and how we’re forever changed by each other. —L.P.

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“Someone Like You”

There are a handful of songs in music history where an emotional response can be elicited by just the first few notes. Adele’s 2011 single “Someone Like You” is one of them. The simple piano ballad was co-written with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and is one of the biggest heartbreakers in pop history, a gorgeous combination of Adele’s effective lyricism and even more persuasive voice. On the single, she mourns the end of a relationship, not quite yet having come to terms with the loss of someone she loved so much. She goes on the defensive: showing up and claiming, in spite of herself, that they are replaceable. It is one of the best breakup songs of all time, and its emotionality was most perfectly captured in a Saturday Night Live sketch where each character immediately sobs upon hearing the song’s opening piano strains. —B.S.

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“I Drink Wine”

30 is by far Adele’s best album in an already pristine discography, and by no short feat is “I Drink Wine” the best song on that album. Written to express remorse for not being as present for a close friend as she would like to be, Adele reflects on her limitations as a person who is plagued by insecurity, regret, and fear. All she wants is to love and be loved with no strings. She called the song her tribute to Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s great Seventies collaborations, a piano-driven track that is equal parts love song and pub singalong. The track ends with a voice memo recorded for a different friend, a naked and honest moment from one of the most famous people in the world. And as a bonus? There’s a 15-minute version of “I Drink Wine” sitting out there and originally placed on 30 before some label feedback. This repeat-worthy song could easily go for an hour, and it still wouldn’t be enough. —B.S.

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“Rolling In the Deep”

Adele was hardly a rookie when she dropped “Rolling in the Deep” — but this is the hit that made her a legend, as far as the whole world was concerned. Reeling from the “rubbish relationship” that inspired her breakthrough 21, Adele poured all her pain into this smash. “Rolling in the Deep” sounded like nothing else on the radio in 2011, but right from the dramatic opening moments, you could tell this was a song — and an artist — here to stay. Despite the downbeat vocals, the music is pure exuberance: that gospel-into-disco chorus surge, the church handclaps, the Nashville country-blues guitar. The ultimate compliment? Aretha herself covered it. “Carole King is the last person [before Adele] who wrote the kind of lyrics women immediately could relate to,” Aretha Franklin told Rolling Stone. “I love to hear a schoolgirl on the school bus yellin’, ‘We coulda had it all!’” —R.S.

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Is there a stronger flex than taking a word as common and universal as “hello” and taking ownership of it? Only Adele can. The four years following the release of 21 felt like a lifetime back then, and her 2015 return with blockbuster follow-up 25 was long-awaited and much-needed. “Hello” was the first single and a cheeky nod to not only our waiting but to her past: friendships, relationships, regrets, and younger self. She says “hello from the other side” of adulthood, older, wiser, and world-weary after the experiences of her youth. The song itself is a massive, ambitious showcase of Adele’s star and vocal power. Her voice glides over her songwriting partner Greg Kurstin’s multi-instrumental talent, as he plays every instrument on the track. It was an explosive return that paid off well: “Hello” quickly skyrocketed up the charts and eventually became Adele’s biggest song yet. —B.S.