The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
When I set out to make this list, I did not intentionally put Kelly Clarkson and Adele right next to each other. That’s probably easy enough to believe right now, but won’t be after I tell this story.
Back when Kristin and I played Geeks Who Drink pub quizzes at least once a week, our favorite Quizmaster was a guy named Johnny. And while revealing the answers after an audio round one time, he said this, “I want Kelly Clarkson to start dating Adele. And then I want them to break up with each other in a very acrimonious way. And then the gift to us will be two of the most epic albums any of us will ever hear.”
I think about this joke constantly because it still makes me laugh. But no, I did not put these songs next to each other on purpose. Subconsciously? Probably. Do I wish them to actually start dating? No. At this point in my life I mostly just want people to be happy and fulfilled. Kelly’s gone through a very ugly public divorce, but reigns supreme on her own daytime talk show. Adele is one of the best-selling recording artists of all-time and is married for a second time.
Back in 2007, Adele was a spry 19 years old and she recorded her debut album, appropriately titled 19. Right around that time, my brother-in-law asked me to make him some mix CDs. In his own words, he had tuned out of new music for like the last decade and wanted to hear some good stuff while he drove around with his infant son. Since I never shut up about making mx CDs, he tasked me with the project.
Problem was I was a total fucking fraud. Beneath all my talking was the absolute thinnest slice of taste you could imagine. So I leaned once again on someone who actually knew what they were talking about. Say hello again to my wife Kristin! Her radar for cool music is unbelievable and her taste is impeccable. It would irritating how goddamn good she is at this if I didn’t enjoy what she finds so much.
I raided her iTunes library for all sorts of stuff I’d heard, but dismissed – Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand – and mixed it with some of the stuff I already enjoyed like Wolfmother or The White Stripes. I quickly pumped out 5 CDs worth of stuff and mailed it to him. Kicking off Mix #4 is “Right as Rain” by Adele.
I’d never heard of Adele before, and it wouldn’t be until 2010 that Adele released her album 21, which had “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” that launched Adele into the stratosphere. We all knew who Adele was after that, and that album 21 is an absolute fucking masterpiece. I listened to it from start to finish, over and over again for probably three months straight after I bought it.
But my favorite Adele song is still this one. This one hums along in 3rd gear with its little, punchy piano note stabs and snare/hi-hat hits as Adele spits a lot of words not quite in rapid succession, but in a relentless, stream-of-consciousness cadence that makes this thing feel like it has a ton of copy to it. It ponders the question of whether the juice is worth the squeeze in a relationship considering that basically every relationship you ever start is going to end at some point, and that ending is going to hurt and be messy. Maybe it’s just easier to be alone, she seems to ponder.
Adele only hints at her vocal power on this track, which was not even a single on her album 19. The song is a little bit quieter, more intimate, and a bit more light-hearted. It’s a fun one to picture her singing on a stool in a bar where no one knows her, but by the end of it, she has everyone’s attention based on talent and vibe by themselves. She inflects personality into vowel sounds (“I get excitement in my bohhhhnes”) that make the words immediately more captivating.
Generational artists like Adele pull off a nifty trick of offering something for everyone, while still somehow managing to feel like they did something just for you, and you alone. Whether it’s a turn of phrase, a unique sensibility, an anachronistic instrument arrangement, you find moments in songs, or whole songs themselves that feel like they belong to just you and her. Taylor Swift does this too and anyone who tells you they don’t like ANY Taylor Swift song is either lying or being needlessly and boringly contrarian.
Ask 10 random people in your life what their favorite Adele song is. How often does “Right as Rain” come up? I doubt it’s much at all. Not to sound too much like a hipster here, but “Right as Rain” is ours. It’s Track 8 on her debut album 19. Kristin plucked it from that obscurity before Adele went supernova, and that tiny little sliver of exclusivity (how ever exclusive it actually is) is a fun feeling when you’re thinking about an artist of Adele’s stature.
Up next: The politics of personal autonomy and punk rock.