100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #1: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

And now we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s, and the song at #1 is the magnificent “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. It’s fitting that the British singer-songwriter would have my #1 song of the 2010s, as her song “Chasing Pavements” was my #100 song of the 2000s. It’s also owing to the fact that Adele is one of the greatest female vocalists of our time, and that “Rolling in the Deep” is a spectacular fucking song!

Released in November 2010, it was the lead single and opening track of her phenomenal second album 21, which is now one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album in the world both in 2011 and 2012, and as I write this at the end of 2020, 21 has spent 495 non-consecutive weeks (that’s nine and a half years!) and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. “Rolling in the Deep” was itself named the #1 song of 2011 on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end list, as well as in Canada, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands. Rolling Stone ranked it #8 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the 21st Century”. It also won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Short Form Video.

It’s been well-documented that Adele conceived of and wrote many of the songs on 21 after a painful breakup with her then-boyfriend. She had begun writing and recording songs for the album while still with him, but couldn’t seem to find much inspiration. Then, the day after her break-up, Adele contacted producer Paul Epworth (who’s co-written and produced songs for Foster the People, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Bloc Party & Coldplay, among others), wanting to capture her seething emotions in a song. She told London newspaper The Sunday Times: “We’d had a fuming argument the night before … I’d been bubbling. Then I went into the studio and screamed.”

She and Epworth began restructuring a song she’d been working on, rewriting the lyrics and renaming it “Rolling in the Deep”.  The melody and instrumentation evolved as they went along. After trying out various jazz riffs, Adele sang the first verse “There’s a fire, starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark” a cappella, which then inspired Epworth to come up with a melody on his acoustic guitar. They came up with the strong thumping drum beat to mimic her racing heartbeat. (Wikipedia)

Essentially a song of revenge, Adele called “Rolling in the Deep” a “dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune written as a ‘fuck you'” to her ex-lover after his disparaging remarks that she was weak and that her life without him would be “boring and lonely and rubbish.” As the song unfolds, Adele’s emotions, as told through the lyrics, run the gamut from angry: “Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare / See how I leave with every piece of you / Don’t underestimate the things that I will do“, to defiant: “Baby, I have no story to be told / But I’ve heard one on you and I’m gonna make your head burn / Think of me in the depths of your despair / Make a home down there as mine sure won’t be shared“, to wistful: “We could have had it all / Rolling in the deep / You had my heart inside of your hand / But you played it. You played it, You played it, You played it to the beat.”

The dark and rather surreal video, directed by Sam Brown, shows Adele singing the song while sitting on a chair in an abandoned house. Various scenes show a room filled with hundreds of water-filled glasses vibrating to the beat, a drummer playing his drums under a staircase, and a ghostly figure dancing about a room kicking up white dust, while in yet another room, white china is thrown against an illuminated piece of plywood suspended from the ceiling. Finally, a white model of a city on a large table is set afire by five bursting light bulbs, all of which signify a relationship that’s gone up in flames. In addition to its Grammy for Best Short Form Video, the video also won 2011 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. As of the end of 2020, it’s been viewed more than 1.76 billion times.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #34: “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele

At last, British superstar Adele makes her first of two appearances on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s with her stunning anthem “Set Fire to the Rain“, which bows in at #34. Born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, the remarkable singer-songwriter first came to prominence in 2008 with her debut album 19 and hit single “Chasing Pavements”, for which she was awarded Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal. In 2011, she released her second album 21, which became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album on the planet both in 2011 and 2012. As I write this in November 2020, 21 has spent 492 continuous weeks and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. That’s nearly nine and a half years!

The album’s third single, “Set Fire to the Rain”, was also her third consecutive single to reach #1, and is one of my favorites of Adele’s many songs. The song was co-written and produced by Fraser T. Smith, and it’s a sweeping, piano-driven anthem, with the kind of lush orchestration that I love (though a few prickly critics called it ‘over-produced’ and a ‘misfire’, and to them I say fuck off!). The dramatic arrangement creates a cinematic wall of sound befitting Adele’s soaring, emotionally-charged vocals. The lyrics speak to the contradictions that occur in some relationships, how a partner can seem so wonderful at times, yet awful at others: “You and me together, nothing gets better. But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew. All the things you’d say, they were never true, never true. And the games you play, you would always win.”